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U.S. Puts It on Cruise, 6-0

Softball: Harrigan no-hits Canada, but in final analysis it's no surprise.


BLACKTOWN, Australia — Softball's version of the 1927 Yankees opened defense of its Olympic gold medal today with a yawner.

As in:

* The United States, playing in the Olympic tournament opener, beat Canada, 6-0. Yawn.

* The U.S. pitcher, 6-foot-3 left-hander Lori Harrigan, pitched the first Olympic solo no-hitter--two pitchers combined for one in in Atlanta in '96--and only missed turning in a perfect game when she muffed a ground ball in the first inning. Yawn.

* Team USA had 10 hits, including home runs by Crystl Bustos, Dot Richardson and Jennifer Brundage. Yawn.

* With the victory, the Americans' winning streak is 111, which goes back to the world championships in Japan in '98 and a loss to hated rival Australia. That streak includes 48 international games, plus 60 summer touring matches and three exhibitions. So beating Canada, 6-0, was, well, a yawner.

It is not that this team is blase, arrogant or in any way disrespectful of its opponents. Nor does it take its victories, no matter how high they pile up, for granted.

"It's always exciting," said second baseman Richardson, the team veteran and orthopedic surgeon, who recently finished a residency in Los Angeles with the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic and is probably playing in her last international competition.

But Richardson, who will turn 39 Friday, also fully understands what it is like to be part of a well-oiled machine.

"Playing behind pitching like we have is awesome," she said.

So are the statistics this group has rung up, making it, as star pitcher Lisa Fernandez said, "The 15 greatest athletes in the sport."

Harrigan, a security guard at a casino in Las Vegas when she isn't throwing 60-mph strikes, is pretty much considered this team's fourth-best pitcher. On the U.S. staff of six, she ranks fifth in earned-run average with 0.10, after committing the unforgivable error of allowing a catcher at Notre Dame to hit a homer off her in the recent summer tour.

The rest of the pitching staff ERA: Fernandez, 0.00; Michele Smith, 0.00; Amanda Freed, 0.00; Christa Williams, 0.09, and Danielle Henderson, scheduled to pitch Monday here against Cuba, 0.13. This group gives up runs about as often as the sun is eclipsed.

In the summer tour that started in June, Fernandez not only had a perfect ERA, but actually struck out all 21 batters she faced in one game. Now that's a perfect game.

The team's public relations coordinator, Brian McCall, was asked to describe the last earned run given up by Fernandez. He said he couldn't remember it.

Harrigan wears No. 21 and has been nicknamed everything from "Blackjack" to "Vegas" to "Showgirl" by her teammates. She said that the baseball tradition of teammates staying away from pitchers who are pitching no-hitters was kind of the same in this game.

"They didn't make me sit down on the end of the bench alone, or anything like that," she said. "But they didn't mention anything directly when they talked to me."

It wouldn't have mattered. One of the Canadian players said afterward that this U.S. team is beatable, that people shouldn't even count out Canada at this stage.

Wrong. Turn out the lights. Head for bed.


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