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Team USA notches fifth straight shutout

8/18/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Add another big fat zero for the U.S. softball team.

Five games into the Olympic tournament, the Americans remain
unscored upon and unrelenting.

Jennie Finch pitched a one-hitter with eight strikeouts and Lisa
Fernandez went 3-for-4 with a homer as the Americans posted their
fifth straight shutout, beating Canada 7-0 on Wednesday in five
innings to clinch a spot in this weekend's semifinals.

Crystl Bustos and Lisa Fernandez homered for the two-time
defending gold medal-winning U.S. squad, which has outscored its
opponents 31-0 and appears to be in a class by themselves in the
eight-team field.

Consider this: the Americans have three "mercy rule'' wins in
the tourney; they've won 75 straight games; four of the five
American victories have been one-hitters; and Canada (2-3) was just
the second team to get a runner to third base.

After taking her pregame warmups, Finch threw her first pitch at
precisely 5 p.m. local time. At 5:05, she 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
Okafur watching from the stands behind home plate, the closest
thing the U.S. 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 back-to-back homers to center in
the fourth, after second baseman Lovieanne Jung and catcher Stacey
Nuveman combined to keep the field scoreless against the U.S.

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

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

The Americans didn't waste any time.

In the second, Jessica Mendoza took a fastball off the right
knee leading off against Canadian starter Auburn Sigurdson and
Laura Berg sacrificed. Watley followed with her eighth hit in 15
at-bats in these games as the Americans put the Canadians on their
heels.

One out later, Bustos hit a towering fly ball to center.
Battling the sun and unpredictable Athenian winds _ blowing
opposite of days earlier _ Canadian center fielder Rachel Schill
had the ball pop out of her glove, allowing two runs to score.

Schill had the same problem in the third as Kelly Kretschman's
double sliced harshly, sailing over her head and scoring Nuveman to
give the U.S. a 4-0 lead.

Canada nearly became the first team to score on the United
States when they put runners at first and third with nobody out in
the fourth. Kristy Odamura led off with an infield single and raced
to third on an error.

Finch struck out Angela Lichty and Alison Bradley hit a grounder
to Jung, who immediately threw home to get a sliding Odamura, who
appeared to sneak her hand around Nuveman but was called out
anyway.

For the fourth time in five games, the U.S. landed the first
punch by scoring their first time up.

The Americans loaded the bases with two outs before Sigurdson
came too tight on Jung and hit her in the arm, forcing in a run.