Team USA has outscored foes 24-0 in Games

Updated: August 18, 2004, 7:56 PM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press