FUKUSHIMA, Japan, July 23 (Reuters) - After failing to score in their Olympics debut, Mexico's softball players came good on their promise that a different team would show up on the second day of the Games.
With their bench ramping up cheering at each turn, Mexico erased deficits against defending gold medallists Japan and nearly won in extra innings.
Now, Mexico will need to bring even more fighting energy, as their players described it, to avoid sinking to a third straight loss in the Olympics tournament when they take on United States on Saturday.
Fortunately, it may be easy to muster: nearly all of Mexico's roster hail from the United States, but were effectively passed over for the Olympics run and are qualified to represent Mexico through dual heritage.
Several played for United States previously. Danielle O'Toole, who pitched Mexico's entire 3-2 loss to Japan on Thursday, played on the U.S. team in 2017 and 2018 before being cut.
Lead-off hitter Sydney Romero previously competed for the United States, as did starting pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who struggled in a loss to Canada on Wednesday.
The strong links between the two teams are even more personal for some: Shortstops and former pro-league teammates Amanda Chidester of the United States and Anissa Urtez of Mexico last November became engaged to marry.
Urtez, like others on Mexico, said she tried out for Mexico because she knew "USA wasn't in the cards for me".
Chidester said she and Urtez are "beyond proud of each other for living out our dreams."
U.S. Coach Ken Eriksen told Reuters that his counterparts had excelled at identifying players of Mexican heritage "that were just on the cusp of making it and didn't for whatever reason it was."
"You can't argue with what they are doing right there," he said.
The assemblage was not by chance. Mexico coach Carlos Caro began scouring rosters of U.S. colleges for Latinas in 2013, when Tokyo was named Olympics host. He contacted coaches, cousins, everyone he could think of in a years-long recruiting push.
Catcher Sashel Palacios was among the first on board. She roped in Escobedo and the line continued from there.
Mexico Softball President Rolando Guerrero used personal credit cards and sold off real estate to get the team to tournaments, Caro said. After qualifying for the Olympics, the government upped funding.
Palacios said she and others receive criticism on both sides of the border for being a roster of Mexican Americans. Critics in Mexico at least could be silenced by a medal.
"We're representing Mexican blood," Caro said.
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