49ers play Japanese team in exhibition game

Kyusung Gong

The Toyota professional team celebrates on the field after a home run.

Daniel Astle, Staff Writer

The Long Beach State softball team gave a warm welcome to team Toyota of the Japanese Professional League, but the 49ers fell 8-4 in a game that was as unconventional as it was unofficial.

The exhibition game proved to be as untraditional as a college softball game can get, as batting lineups were expanded past the typical nine slots in a contest that had no bearing on either team’s record. Former American Olympians Natasha Watley and Monica Abbott traveled with the opposing team in the 49ers’ home opener.

Watley and Abbott are entering their fifth year playing for Team Toyota, but they are sitting out the team’s current California road trip.

“For some of [my teammates], it’s their first time in America,” Watley said.

Watley played softball with LBSU assistant coach Stephanie Swenson at UCLA before joining Team Toyota. Abbot, who grew up playing softball in California, said she was having a good time during the team’s West Coast road trip.

“To me, Southern California and California in general is the softball hotbed,” she said. “It’s fun to experience [playing here] with my Japanese teammates.”

At the end of the day, the exhibition game was not merely a Team Toyota showcase but a game for the 49ers as well.

“We definitely did not have the intensity that we have in a regular season game,” Sowder said, “but it was still good practice for us, and we learned some things today. It was a good experience.”

Pitcher Erin Jones-Wesley started the game for The Beach and pitched two innings, allowing two runs in the first. She settled down in the second inning to retire all three batters in order.

The third inning was when Toyota began to take possession of the game. Third baseman Haruna Sakamoto launched a two-run home run over the left field wall off pitcher Amanda Hansen and doubled the Toyota lead to 4-0.

Pitchers Christian Carbajal, Arianna Erceg and Selene Pola pitched the remainder of the game, combining for four earned runs. Toyota left fielder Maki Ono also hit a home run.

Down 8-1 in the bottom of the seventh, the 49ers came up to bat not only to soak in their last inning of international play but to threaten Toyota with a thrilling comeback.

After a pair of LBSU batters reached base, first baseman Ashley Holmes came up to bat with runners on second. Holmes, who hit a walk-off grand slam on Sunday against Syracuse, hit a single to load the bases this time instead of clear them.

The ‘Niners narrowed their deficit to five with a two-run double by designated player Dana Garcia. A Toyota error that followed allowed left fielder Brianna Stephan to score.

The Beach’s comeback effort would be cut short, though, as Toyota second baseman Mika Suzuki trapped a ball hit by center fielder Leilani Tupua-Tautalatasi and ended the game with the bases loaded.

The Beach will resume its regular season this weekend at the San Diego State Classic I, which will start Friday afternoon.