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Perfect game paves path to semis

8/20/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Yukiko Ueno pitched the first perfect game
in Olympic softball history, leading Japan to a 2-0 win over China
on Friday and a spot in the tournament semifinals.

The 22-year-old Ueno overpowered the Chinese in a game the
defending silver medalists had to win. A loss would have dropped
Japan (4-3) into a tie with Canada, which would have won the
tiebreaker and the No. 4 spot in the semis because it beat Japan in
Tuesday's preliminary round.

Ueno, though, took it into her own hands. She struck out nine
and allowed China (3-4) to hit just one ball into the outfield.

"That was just great pitching,'' said third baseman Reika
Utsugi. "Everyone in the dugout knew it was a perfect game, but
I'm not sure anyone knew it was the first perfect game in the
Olympics.''

Softball joined the Olympics in 1996, and before Ueno's perfect
game, many pitchers had flirted with one but come up short.

In the seventh, Ueno, popping the radar gun at 70 mph all night,
got two quick outs before getting the final batter, Deng Xiaoling,
to hit a grounder to second baseman Mishina Masumi.

Masumi bobbled it briefly before throwing to first for the 21st
out.

There was no celebration as Ueno walked off the field, bowed to
her countryman sitting behind the third-base dugout and joined her
teammates in a circle around coach Taeko Utsugi.

Despite the loss, China (3-4) advanced to the semifinals and
will play Japan on Sunday. The United States (7-0) will play
Australia in the other semi.