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ATHENS 2004

U.S. Routs Aussie Rivals

Fernandez pitches a one-hitter in a 10-0 win, the second consecutive mercy-rule decision for the Americans.

August 16, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — The U.S. women's softball team has traveled this road before, and it's determined to avoid the potholes that nearly derailed its gold-medal hopes at the Sydney Olympics.

Just as in 2000, the U.S. has opened Olympic play with two easy victories. A 10-0 victory over Australia on Sunday was the U.S. team's second mercy-rule victory and second successive shutout. International softball's mercy rule takes effect when the trailing team is more than seven runs behind after batting in the fifth inning. Pitcher Lisa Fernandez gave up one hit to a surprisingly meek Australian team and drove in three runs, putting the U.S. in a strong position before it meets Japan today.

But in a similar situation, after its fast start at Sydney, the U.S. lost in succession to Japan, China and Australia and almost missed the medal round. This time, catcher Stacey Nuveman vowed that she and her teammates won't be overconfident as they continue preliminary-round play.

"We saw in Sydney that a couple of wins doesn't necessarily mean we'll continue on that roll," she said. "We learned from that."

They've learned since Sydney that speed and scrapping will carry them through the kinds of batting slumps that put them in peril, and they took advantage of their versatility to score two runs in the first inning and eight in the fourth. Nuveman led the offense with a three-run home run, the U.S. team's first homer of the Athens Games.

"We are so well-rounded," Fernandez said. "I told Stacey that if I can get two, three runs a game, I'd be good to go."

Oddly enough, Fernandez recorded no strikeouts. "The last time I pitched a game without a strikeout, I might have been 8," said the UCLA graduate and Long Beach resident. "I don't know the last time. Being the Olympics, I just want a win."

And they got it, with the first hits of these Games by Crystl Bustos and Leah O'Brien-Amico. First-time Olympians accounted for nine of the team's 11 hits in its 7-0 rout of Italy on Saturday.

Earlier, Jennifer Spediacci pitched a shutout into the fifth inning, and Italy hung on to stun China, a potential medal contender, 7-5.

Hiroko Sakai pitched a two-hitter for Japan, which defeated Taiwan, 6-0, and Sarah Farnworth pitched a three-hitter to lead Greece, 2-0, over Canada.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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