Softballers move step closer to Tokyo

Stacey Porter will lead the Aussie Spirit softball squad in the NPF League in the US.
Stacey Porter will lead the Aussie Spirit softball squad in the NPF League in the US.

Australia's Olympic softballers are headed to the US for a crucial block of competition that will decide the final Tokyo team.

Captain Stacey Porter and Justine Smethurst are the only members of the 20-woman squad, named on Tuesday, who won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games.

The national softball team is branded as the Aussie Spirit, but the squad will be known as the Aussie Peppers when they plays in the American National Professional Fastpitch League from May.

The final Olympic team of 15 will be named in late June and the Aussie Spirit lineup will come from the NPF League squad.

Softball will return to the Olympic program in Tokyo after a 12-year wait and Australia will aim to continue their medal streak in the sport.

They have a silver and three bronze since softball debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and Porter also won silver in 2004 at Athens.

Selectors confirmed the squad after the Australia Pacific Cup and Summer Slam tournaments in Sydney, from January 30 to February 5.

Most of the squad comes from the Aussie Spirit national team that convincingly won last September's qualifying tournament in China.

Smethurst missed that tournament because of work commitments, while Tahli Moore also regains her spot in the national squad.

Jess Torpey and Verity Long-Droppert, who were reserves for the China tournament, have missed out on selection for the NPF League squad.

The Aussie Peppers, to be based in Minnesota, also played last year in the NPF League.

The national squad is using the competition, in the sport's American heartland, as a key part of their Tokyo buildup.

The US have won three gold and a silver at the Olympics.

SQUAD: Stacey Porter (NSW) captain, Janice Blackman (Qld), Michelle Cox (NSW), Chelsea Forkin (Qld), Leigh Godfrey (WA), Rachel Lack (NSW), Stacey McManus (NSW), Tahli Moore (NSW), Kaia Parnaby (NSW), Leah Parry (WA), Gabbie Plain (NSW), Ellen Roberts (NSW), Justine Smethurst (Qld), Carmelle Sorensen (Qld), Tarni Stepto (NSW), Taylah Tsitsikronis (NSW), Jade Wall (Qld), Clare Warwick (ACT), Belinda White (SA), Tamieka Whitefield (Qld).

Australian Associated Press