Piagno Ready for World Cup
by Rick Woelfel
As the Olympic Games wind down in London, another group of athletes, nearly half a world away is preparing to pursue their own dreams.
Eight nations will participate in baseball’s fifth Women’s World Cup beginning Friday in Edmonton, Alberta.
The host nation will be joined by the United States, the Netherlands, Australia, Cuba, Chinese Taipei, Venezuela and two-time defending champion Japan.
Twenty players make up the U.S. roster, among them pitcher/infielder Stacy Piagno. A native of St. Augustine, Florida, the 21-year old played softball at the University of Tampa last spring, after spending two seasons at Flagler College.
But though Piagno has softball experience, she’s a baseball player at heart.
She started out playing Little League baseball, a not uncommon occurrence for a girl.
But even after she outgrew Little League, Piagno stayed with baseball. “As I get older, I luckily had coaches that allowed me to play baseball,” she said, “so I just stuck with it.”
Piagno was a right-handed pitcher at Menenendez High School, which was the chief reason she concentrated on baseball.
“I love to pitch,” she says. “In softball I wouldn’t have had that same opportunity pitching-wise.”
Piagno first tried out for the national team in 2008 although she failed to make the final roster. She skipped the tryouts two years later because of her college softball commitments but will be in uniform when the United States opens the round-robin portion of the tournament Friday against the Netherlands. When she doesn’t pitch she’ll likely play third base, or perhaps spend some time at first.
Piagno says those who haven’t watched women play baseball before would be impressed with the caliber of play at the international level.
“Everybody here is so amazing and such a good athlete,” she says. “We can throw balls across the diamond and we can hit balls in the gaps. We have a woman on our team who has hit a home run over a 400-foot fence.
“That to me is awesome. I think when people see women who can throw across the diamond or throw from the outfield to home plate that proves we can play this sport. There are so many good athletes.”
Team USA worked out and played exhibition in Utah prior to traveling to Edmonton. Piagno says the group came together fairly quickly.
“We’re told all summer to get in shape,” she say, to practice ourselves so when we do get here we all have a good feel for the game.
“As a softball player and a baseball player the biggest difference (between the two sports) would be hitting. You have to learn to keep your weight back and let the ball come. (Baseball) is a bit of a slower-paced game.”
The United States will play seven round-robin games in a span of eight days before four teams advance to the medal rounds on August 18th and 19th.
The U.S. hasn’t taken the gold medal since 2006 but Piagno is confident about her team’s chances.
“I think we have a really good chance this year,” she said. “I feel like every year more girls are getting involved and the competition is getting a lot better.
“ I think we have a very good team and it’s going to be a good year for us.”
International women’s baseball competition began with the Women’s World Series, which was staged annually from 2001-2004. The Women’s World Cup was played for the first time in 2004 and has been played every two years since, replacing the World Series.
The United States won the World Cup in 2004 and ’06 while Japan prevailed in 2008 and ’10.