Nearing retirement, Finch stymies Japan

Updated: July 24, 2010, 2:15 AM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Jennie Finch's farewell tour at the World Cup of Softball first featured a display that she can still knock the ball out of the park. Then she showed that she can still pitch with the world's best, too.

Finch took a no-hit bid into the fifth inning in one of her final starts for the U.S. national team, Kaitlin Cochran homered in her second straight game and the Americans beat top rival Japan 5-0 Friday night at the World Cup of Softball.

"I love having the ball in my hand, I love being in that circle, I love getting my team back in on offense as soon as possible. It was fun tonight," said Finch, who announced this week that she'll retire from international softball after the World Cup ends Monday. "It was great working with the defense, working with [Lauren] Lappin behind the plate.

"This is what the game is all about, and this is what I love about it."

Finch played first base in the Americans' World Cup opener against Canada (0-3) a night earlier and hit a home run in her first at-bat after the big announcement.

Then, given one of her last chances to pitch for Team USA, she retired 14 of the first 15 batters she faced before losing her no-hitter with two outs in the fifth. Maki Tanigawa lined a single off the glove of third baseman Andrea Duran, and made it to first when shortstop Natasha Watley picked up the deflected ball and threw wide.

Cochran later threw out a runner at home from right field to preserve the shutout after Finch allowed three straight singles in the seventh.

"A shutout against the No. 2 team in the world, that's not too bad," U.S. coach Jay Miller said. "I thought she did a great job on the mound."

Finch, who was backing up the play, hopped and pumped her fist when Lappin blocked the plate and tagged out Satoko Mabuchi to end the game. She and Lappin then ran to the pitcher's circle, where they greeted Cochran with high-fives.

"She's done so much for our program and she's done so much just for the sport of softball. To be able to play behind her for the last time and be on the last team that she'll ever play for for Team USA, it means a lot," Cochran said. "We want to make it special for her."

Finch credited her defense and Lappin's play behind the plate for making her look good.

"I'm nothing without them, and they stood strong tonight," she said.

Finch also singled twice, including once during a two-run second inning. Cochran, Finch and Andrea Duran had consecutive singles before the U.S. (2-0) scored twice on Alissa Haber's grounder to short.

Cochran was safe at home after a collision with Tanigawa knocked the ball away, allowing pinch-runner Chelsea Bramlett to score. Between that play and her game-ending throw, Cochran was involved in a three-run swing for the U.S. -- plus she hit a solo homer to right in the third.

"We did a lot of good little things tonight. A lot of things we still need to work on to get better," Miller said. "That's sort of the problem without having time to work and having time to practice. Those little things slip away from you sometimes.

"I'd have liked to seen us get this thing over in five rather than go seven tonight."

The U.S., which practiced only two days leading up to the World Cup due to funding cuts brought on by the sport being dropped from the Olympics, plays a split double-header Saturday.

Japan (2-1) supplanted the U.S. as the world's top softball team by defeating the Americans 3-1 in the gold-medal game at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Three weeks ago, the U.S. climbed back to the No. 1 spot by beating the Japanese twice on its way to the world championship -- the sport's top event now that it's out of the Olympics for at least the next decade.

A rematch between the teams is set for Saturday night.

Haruna Sakamoto singled in the winning run with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning as Japan bounced back later Friday night to beat Canada 1-0.

The USA Futures team (1-1), made up of the best American players left off the national team, beat Canada 5-4 earlier Friday. Niki Williams scored the winning run on two-time college player of the year Danielle Lawrie's error as the Futures team answered Canada's three-run sixth inning in the bottom of the inning.

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