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U.S. Evokes Cry of Mercy Again

August 19, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — The U.S. softball team has won its first five games by shutout. Three of its triumphs were so lopsided that international softball's mercy rule kicked in and shortened the game, as in the five-inning, 7-0 rout of Canada on Wednesday that put the team into Saturday's semifinals.

Lisa Fernandez, however, emphatically disputed the suggestion that the women's path has been effortless and might lead to overconfidence.

"There are no easy games," she said.

Perhaps not, but the performance against Canada appeared to come close.

Pitcher Jennie Finch gave up one hit over five innings and Crystl Bustos and Fernandez hit consecutive home runs in the fourth inning, delighting a lively, flag-waving crowd of 3,215.

Finch retired the side in order in every inning but the fifth, when an infield hit and an error put Canadian runners on first and third with none out.

After striking out Angela Lichty, Finch got Alison Bradley to hit a grounder to second and Lovieanne Jung's fine throw -- and a good block of the plate by catcher Stacey Nuveman -- preserved the shutout streak. Finch then struck out the next hitter.

"Our main goal out there is to win," said Finch, of La Mirada. "Obviously, you don't want to give up runs, but whether it's a pretty win or an ugly win, it doesn't matter."

Jung, however, acknowledged that the shutout streak had become significant.

"We take a lot of pride in that because that's due to our pitching and our defense, and that has to be solid if we're going to win," she said. "Those are things we can control. Things like an umpire's call, we can't control."

They seized control of Wednesday's game in the fourth, after they'd scored four runs in the first three innings but stranded seven runners. Bustos started the inning with a towering home run to center, her second homer in two games, and Fernandez followed with a similarly impressive drive over the center-field fence.

Fernandez singled in the final run in the fifth, invoking the mercy rule.

"Today she showed why she's so special," Coach Mike Candrea said of Fernandez. "This is the moment in time when Lisa shines. I can't think of a player who prepares herself better for success than Lisa Fernandez."

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