Team USA has outscored foes 24-0 in Games


ATHENS, Greece -- Nada. Nothing. Or in Greek, tipota. It's a
word the U.S. softball team keeps repeating.

"We don't like to give up runs," Lisa Fernandez said. "If
someone's going to score a run, they're going to have to earn it."

Showing extraordinary depth and a killer instinct, the Americans
posted their fifth shutout in five games, rolling to a 7-0 victory
over Canada on Wednesday in a game called after five innings by the
"mercy rule."

So far, this tournament has been truly O-lympic for the U.S.,
which has already qualified for this Sunday's semifinals.

Jennie Finch pitched a one-hitter with eight strikeouts and
Fernandez and Crystl Bustos homered as the United States
steamrolled through another opponent on its quest for a third
straight gold medal.

In five games, the U.S. has outscored its opponents 31-0 and
appears to be in a class by itself in the eight-team field.

Consider: three of the American team's wins have been shortened
by the run-difference rule; the U.S. has won 75 straight games;
four of the five victories have been one-hitters; and the Canadians
(2-3) were just the second team to get a runner to third base.

O Canada indeed. And O everyone else, too.

"We're going to stop teams from scoring no matter what," said
catcher Stacey Nuveman, who after picking second baseman Lovieanne
Jung's low throw, slapped a tag on Kristy Odamura in the fourth to
preserve shutout No. 5. "At that point, it was still only a 4-0
game. Every run is huge."

After taking her pregame warmup tosses, Finch threw her first
pitch at precisely 5 p.m. local time as a large contingent of fans
began the first of many "USA" chants. At 5:05, the former Arizona
star whose looks have gotten her more attention than her
athleticism, was back in the dugout after striking out the side.

Moments later, the rout was on.

With Olympic basketball team members Richard Jefferson and Emeka
Okafor watching from the stands behind home plate, the closest
thing the United States has to a Dream Team anymore made it
business as usual.

Speed, power, defense and pitching. The Americans have it all.

Natasha Watley, whose wheels kickstart the U.S. engine, turned
infield grounders into base hits in the first and second, setting
the tone. Bustos and Fernandez hit their back-to-back homers to
center in the fourth, after Jung and Nuveman combined to keep the
field scoreless against the United States.

And then there was Finch, who ran the U.S. pitching staff's
scoreless streak to 30 innings. She overpowered the Canadians, who
could manage only an infield single.

"We do not want to give up runs," Finch said, repeating
Fernandez's words and apparently the mantra of the awesome American
pitching staff: Fernandez, Finch, Lori Harrigan and Cat Osterman,
now 5-for-5 in shutouts with 37 strikeouts and an ERA that doesn't
require a calculator to compute.

With the U.S. up by six runs in the fifth, Fernandez's RBI
single scored Bustos to make it 7-0, ending the game as required by
international rules that state any team leading by seven after five
innings is declared the winner.

The American team then filed out of the dugout for handshakes,
high fives and a wave to the largest crowd to venture over to the
softball venue at these games. Many of the Greek fans, whose soccer
knowledge far exceeds their softball intellect, may not have
grasped everything that went on between the foul lines.

But they could understand what they saw on the scoreboard. Zero
is zero in any language.

"This team hates to give up runs," U.S. coach Mike Candrea
said. "Runs are precious."