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ATHENS 2004

U.S. Women's Teams Still Perfectly Sound

Softball team remains unscored upon heading into the medal round after a 3-0 victory over Taiwan; Leslie leads a 71-58 win over Spain.

August 21, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — There was unexpected drama in women's softball and expected dominance in women's basketball here Friday, as each U.S. Olympic team furthered its image of invincibility.

The softball team actually allowed an opponent to play a full regulation game against it, rather than having the game called after five innings because the lead was seven runs. It was only the third time in seven preliminary-round games that a team went the distance against the U.S. And the U.S. even let Taiwan get a runner to third base for only the third time in these Olympics.

But as Taiwan and its six predecessors learned, you just don't score against these Americans easily. Matter of fact, you don't score at all.

Friday's final was 3-0. The seven-game tally, going into the semifinals Sunday and the final Monday, is: USA 41 runs, Other Guys 0; USA 55 hits, Other Guys 10.

The U.S. already has clinched a medal. The only question is which color. It will be top-seeded going into the semifinals, drawing its usual medal-round rival, Australia. The winner of that game Sunday, No. 1 versus No. 2, advances to Monday's gold-medal game, whereas the loser has to play back through a second game Sunday against the winner of the first semifinal to get to the final. The loser of the first semifinal, No. 3 versus No. 4, is eliminated.

The U.S. women's basketball team is not that far along in its pool play, but it appears to be only a matter of time.

Led as usual by its star, Lisa Leslie of the Sparks, the basketball team defeated Spain, 71-58, erasing Spain as the only other undefeated member of the pool. The U.S. is 4-0, Spain 3-1. The Americans have one preliminary game left, Sunday night against China, and quarterfinals will begin Wednesday, presumably with the U.S. seeded No. 1 against the fourth-place team from the other group.

Leslie scored 19 points, added nine rebounds and dominated the middle. Teammates Tina Thompson and Yolanda Griffith led a spurt midway thought the final period that finished Spain.

"We were proud that we put pressure on the American team for at least 35 minutes," said Spain's Madariaga Valdemoro, leading scorer with 22 points.

Said U.S Coach Van Chancellor, "I knew Valdemoro would come out and play big. She played for me in Houston [with the WNBA Comets] and I knew she wanted to show me she could still play."

The softball team was led to victory, as well as to some bumps along the way, by Cat Osterman, a 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher. She went six innings, gave up one hit, walked four, struck out 10 and made one very scary error.

In the top of the third, after two were out, Osterman walked a batter and then fielded a slow grounder from the next batter and tossed it well over the head of first baseman Tairia Flowers. When she followed that with another walk, the bases were loaded and the U.S. shutout streak was on the line. But she struck out cleanup batter Wang Ya Fen on a 1-and-2 pitch.

"I wasn't thinking about the streak," she said. "I was just thinking about getting out of the jam."

In Taiwan's last at-bat in the top of the seventh, the U.S. team found a different star. With Lori Harrigan replacing Osterman on the mound, Tung Yun Chi led off with a single and Yang Hui Chun followed with a shot to right-center field. But Amanda Freed, running hard to her left, dived to make the catch and then had the presence of mind to come up throwing, doubling off Tung with a throw in the dirt that was dug out by Flowers at first.

Coach Mike Candrea said afterward that he hadn't decided whether Lisa Fernandez, his 33-year-old veteran, or Jennie Finch, his 23-year-old new star, would pitch the semifinal Sunday against Australia. Interestingly, Aussie star Tanya Harding, always a major roadblock to the U.S. hopes, pitched against Greece in Australia's final, and meaningless, pool game later Friday night, won by the Aussies, 3-2. Also, Canada defeated Italy, 1-0.

In women's basketball, it was unbeaten Australia over Greece, 77-40; Russia defeated Japan, 94-71; New Zealand edged China, 79-77; the Czech Republic defeated South Korea, 97-75; and Brazil stopped Nigeria, 82-63.

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