On Sunday night, Japan beat the USA in the finals of the World Cup of softball, 6 to 3. This loss, Team USA's second loss in the tournament, is just the latest in a string of defeats in international play.
Historically, Team USA has dominated competition. The team won three straight Olympics and seven straight World Championships. The 1996, 2000 and 2004 American teams were led by superstars such as Dot Richardson, Lisa Fernandez and Crystl Bustos. In the 2004 Olympics, the team held their opponents to just a single run.
Youth softball enjoyed enormous growth in the 1990s and 2000s as a new generation of Team USA players such as Jennie Finch, Jessica Mendoza and Natasha Watley assumed role model status for American kids.
But in a surprise move in 2005, the International Olympic Committee announced softball, along with baseball, had been dropped from the 2012 Olympic games. Many think the IOC's decision came from the lack of international competition for Team USA.
Yet despite outscoring opponents 53 to 1 en route to the gold medal, Team USA lost the final game to Team Japan in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The gold medal loss snapped a 22-game Olympic win streak.
Behind star pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who was among the first pitchers to reach 70 miles per hour with her fastball (with an equivalent reaction time of a 98 mile per hour baseball fastball), Team Japan has risen to the top of international play.
This September, softball is back in the running, along with squash and wrestling, for consideration for the 2020 Olympic games.
International Softball Federation President Don Porter weighs in on what Sunday's World Cup loss means for softball as a global sport, and for the sport's future Olympic chances.