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Japan beats China, faces Aussies next

8/22/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Reika Utsugi hit an RBI double in the
eighth inning and Yukiko Ueno pitched a shutout, giving Japan a 1-0
win over China and at least a bronze medal in softball.

However, Japan's victory wasn't sealed until Li Chunxia was
thrown out at the plate to end the game.

Utsugi's liner to center off Lu Wei advanced the defending
silver medalists to Sunday's bronze-medal game. Japan (5-3) faces Australia, which lost to the United States in its semifinal on Sunday.

The loser of that game gets the bronze, with the winner
advancing to play the unbeaten Americans for the gold on Monday.

Because the teams were tied after seven innings, the game went
to the international tiebreaker in which both teams begin their
at-bat with a runner at second.

In Japan's eighth, Kazue Ito sacrificed the runner to third. One
out later, Utsugi singled in front of diving center fielder Zhou Yi
to break the scoreless tie.

China (3-5) got a runner to third with one out in the eighth.
Zhang Ai hit a fly to medium center, and Eri Yamada made the catch
and a perfect throw to catcher Noriko Yamaji, who dropped down and
made the tag.

Ueno pitched the first perfect game in Olympic history on Friday
against Japan in the finale of the preliminary round, and for three
innings, the right-hander looked as if she might do it again.

She retired the first 10 batters before Zhou blooped a single to
left. Zhou stole second on a strikeout, but Ueno, throwing harder
than any pitcher in the tournament, ended the threat by getting a
groundout.

Japan wasted scoring chances in nearly every inning.