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Japan Olympic Softball head coach Utsugi evaluating players ahead of finalising roster

Japan Olympic Softball head coach Utsugi evaluating players ahead of finalising roster
Utsugi recently gave some hints about Japan's final roster selection.

Japanese Olympic Softball Team head coach Reika Utsugi has some big decisions to make over the next few days. The team is holding a training camp in Okinawa, the first of the year, which is set to conclude on 19 March. Four days later, the Japanese Softball Association will announce the 15 players who will represent the country on home soil at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

During an interview with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic website, Utsugi gave some hints about the final roster.

Nobody is expecting big surprises at the top of the pitching staff with Yukiko Ueno and Yamato Fujita the leading force of the Japanese squad.

“We have Yukiko Ueno and Yamato Fuijta as our two ace pitchers,” said Utsugi.

She also mentioned that Yukari Hamamura and Nozomi Ozaki must demonstrate what they are capable of; while youngers Misaki Katsumata and Miu Goto are working on their breaking balls. “For the future, Goto should master a rise ball.” 

Three catchers are fighting for potentially two spots on the roster. Haruka Agatsuma has been training to become the first-string catcher. “I hope she develops her skill to mix pitches, so our hurlers can throw their best pitch with confidence.”

She pointed out the difference between Yukiyo Mine and Nayu Kiyohara, who might be fighting for the backup catcher position. Mine has caught Ueno and she has also paired with Fujita, so she knows how to mix their pitches.

On the other hand, Kiyohara is really talented, but she has never paired up with Ueno or Fujita, so she’s working hard with them to get used to their pitches.

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Utsugi’s main concern among the infield is second base.

“We have many great players in the infield. Learning from our [past] mistakes...we’re now putting more emphasis on second base," said Utsugi. "Hitomi Kawabata is young (24-years-old) and full of energy. She has a strong arm and also bats well.

"Yuka Ichiguchi doesn’t throw as strong, but I’m teaching her techniques and body movements to maximise her abilities so she can throw using smooth, continuous motions immediately after she catches the ball.” 

Utsugi has more certainty with the national team's outfield, where Saki Yamazaki, Eri Yamada and Nodoka Harada have won the jobs in left, center and right field, respectively.

“In terms of batting and defense, they are the best outfielders in Japan, and probably in the world as well," Utsugi said. "Yamazaki and Harada have a lot of defensive range, and I’m sure they will use that to display good defense.”

Tokyo 2020 – Olympic Softball