Japan beats China, faces Aussies next

Updated: August 22, 2004, 7:35 AM ET
Associated Press

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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press