MSU's Miller guides Team USA's golden summer

STARKVILLE – Team USA has regained its status as the world’s best softball team. Now it hopes the sport will regain its place in the Olympics.
Mississippi State coach Jay Miller, who led the U.S. squad to a 22-0 record and three tournament titles this summer – including the World Cup – will be watching closely as the process to get softball back in the Games unfolds. On Thursday, the 15-member executive board of the International Olympic Committee will select two sports to be voted on for inclusion in the 2016 Games.
Softball is expected to have a good chance of getting back in after being voted out of the 2012 Games. The final vote on the two sports is set for Oct. 9 in Copenhagen.
“That’s a very political arena you’re dealing with,” Miller said last week after returning from a Japan Cup triumph. “I think we’ve done a good job of promoting our sport and selling it.”
Don Porter, president of the International Softball Federation, told the Daily Journal that he is “optimistically guarded” about softball getting voted back in.
The irony of Team USA’s success so far this year is that the sport was voted out ostensibly because of the Americans’ dominance. But they lost to Japan in the gold medal game in Beijing last summer, and the New York Times reported Sunday that some IOC members regret eliminating softball.
The thing about U.S. domination, though, is that it draws good ratings from a key country. See: Michael Phelps.
“The winning of the U.S. I don’t think will make a difference,” Porter said.
Miller’s task is to make sure Team USA returns to the squad that won the first three gold medals awarded in Olympic softball. Seven of the 15 players from the Beijing team returned this summer.
It was a partial national squad that won in Japan, as national team members were split between that tournament and the Pan American qualifier in Venezuela, which the U.S. won Saturday without Miller.
“I feel good about this team,” Miller said. “I think that we’ve got a good nucleus of players that have great international experience.”
Among the returnees are pitchers Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman. Among the newcomers is Chelsea Bramlett, who’s entering her senior year at Mississippi State.
She saw spot duty as catcher and pinch runner this summer. She was just happy to be there.
“It was a lot of fun just being in the bullpen and being able to catch Finch and Osterman, two of the best pitchers in the nation, just doing that was fun,” Bramlett said.
She was encouraged by what she saw in her travels. It’s not just the Americans that want to see softball back in the Olympics.
“Everywhere we went, especially Japan, they had T-shirts that said ‘Back Softball 2016,’” said Bramlett, referring to a campaign by the ISF. “It was everybody, not just the U.S., that’s trying to get softball back in the Olympics.
“I think it’s got as good a shot as any other sport to be back in it, especially with the continued support that we are getting.”
Brad Locke (brad.locke@djournal.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal