Team USA notches fifth straight shutout
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.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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