Finch homers as U.S. wins opener

Updated: July 23, 2010, 12:47 AM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- With time running out on her softball career, Jennie Finch is savoring every swing. Especially when she sends another ball flying over the outfield fence.

Finch hit a two-run homer in her first at-bat after announcing she'll retire from softball, leading the United States to a 9-0 victory against Canada on Thursday night in the opening game of the World Cup of Softball.

[+] EnlargeJennie Finch
AP Photo/Alonzo AdamsJennie Finch hit a two-run homer in her first at-bat after announcing she'll retire from softball.

"I'm just trying to enjoy the moment," Finch said. "Normally, I would have probably had a little bit more serious of a face running around the bases being that early in the game, but I just had to smile. It was just kind of like, 'You can't hold it in anymore.'

"You've just got to enjoy the moment, and that's what I'm trying to do," she said.

With a full count, Finch lined a pitch over the left-field fence against two-time college player of the year Danielle Lawrie (0-1) to put the U.S. up 3-0 in the first inning. Kaitlin Cochran and Jessica Mendoza also homered, and Monica Abbott (1-0) struck out 16 in a two-hitter.

"I'm just enjoying this moment with my teammates and trying to soak it all up, and at the same time compete," Finch said. "We're here to win. That's first and foremost, and that's our job here."

Finch announced this week that she'll stop playing internationally when the World Cup concludes on Monday and end her professional career with the Chicago Bandits when the National Pro Fastpitch season wraps up next month.

She said she gets emotional when she stops to think that the end is near, so she's doing her best to avoid doing that.

"Obviously, it's there and I know that the days are kind of counting down, but at the same time I'm trying to focus on the task at hand and that's winning," Finch said.

A two-time Olympian, Finch first made her name as a dominant pitcher who won 60 straight games -- including the 2001 Women's College World Series title -- at Arizona. Her ravishing looks helped her transcend the sport, and she became a household name with appearances on shows like "This Week in Baseball" and "The Celebrity Apprentice."

But she can still play, too.

Finch led Team USA with three home runs as the Americans won the world championship three weeks ago in Venezuela, and she continued her power-hitting streak after fighting out of an 0-2 hole against Lawrie. Finch trotted around the bases as fans stood to cheer, and her teammates greeted her with pats on the helmet when she reached home plate.

She'll be back in the circle Friday night when the U.S. faces Japan, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist and the runner-up to the Americans at the world championships. The Japanese won their World Cup opener 3-2 against a USA Futures team made up of the best American players who didn't make the national team.

"I love watching her play. I don't like to think about it like 'last this' or 'last that,' but I'll tell you what: I'm appreciating every moment I have to play with her," Mendoza said.

Finch is giving up the game so she can spend more time with her husband, Casey Daigle, and her 4-year-old son, Ace. She and Daigle, who has split this season with the Houston Astros and Triple-A Round Rock, also want to have more children.

"You don't see A-Rod retiring when he's 29 years old. You don't see [Roger] Clemens retiring when he's 29 years old," U.S. coach Jay Miller said. "So, it's sad that Jennie's doing that because we're going to miss her."

Abbott struck out Canada's first nine batters before Melanie Matthews reached on a bunt single.

Abbott ended up striking out 16 of the 20 batters she faced, with Canada's only other hit coming on Erin Cumpstone's line single to right field to start the sixth inning.

Cochran added a solo shot in the third inning and Mendoza smacked an eye-high pitch for a three-run homer to right during a five-run sixth inning for the U.S., bringing the game to an early end because of the mercy rule.

Japan got a key insurance run when Haruna Sakamoto scored on Stacey Nelson's second wild pitch of the sixth inning and then held off a rally for its win. Shawna Wright had a two-run single in the seventh for the USA Futures team, but Brittany Lastrapes lined out with the potential tying run on second to end the game.

The United States has won the last three World Cup titles, after losing to Japan in the finals of the inaugural tournament in 2005.

Cat Osterman, the ace of the U.S. staff, won't play at the World Cup due to a torn bicep.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press