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BEIJING 2008

Softball legacy is hard to beat

After '04 dominance, this U.S. team tries to leave its own mark, beginning the Games with two no-hitters.

August 13, 2008|Melissa Isaacson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- With each game, the USA softball team finds itself playing not just one opponent but two. Always looming along with the teams from Canada, Australia and Japan is the Americans' legacy, none of that more prominent than the 2004 Olympic gold medalists.

That team, which went 9-0 by a combined score of 51-1, may forever stand as the most dominant Olympic team in any sport. But it also has the potential to haunt the Americans if they allow it.

"People ask, 'How can you top '04?' I don't think you can top '04," said Jennie Finch, who pitched a combined no-hitter with Monica Abbott in an 11-0 victory over Venezuela on Tuesday, striking out five and walking two in four innings. "That was '04's statement and we're looking to make a statement for 2008."

The three-time defending gold medalists, playing their first game, set an Olympic record for most runs scored and tied an Olympic record for most home runs with three.

Today, the U.S. defeated Australia, 3-0, on a no-hitter by Cat Osterman, giving the Americans a 16-game Olympic win streak.

The U.S. next meets Canada on Friday in the eight-team round-robin competition, a team it has defeated three times in three previous Olympics by a combined score of 17-2.

In their first game Tuesday, the Canadians defeated Chinese Taipei, 6-1, behind the pitching of Lauren Bay Regula.

Canada has six new Olympians on its team, while the Americans have five "rookie" players, including outfielder Caitlin Lowe, who was three for four in her Olympic debut against Venezuela, including an inside-the-park home run.

.But it is a veteran-dominated team that competes in Beijing with 10 players returning from the '04 gold medalists.

"Experience is a factor you can't teach, so I feel very good about the 10 people that have been with us before, because I know they understand what it takes," USA Coach Mike Candrea said. "They've worked very hard at this game, they have a strong passion for this game and that's why they're playing this game -- they're great competitors.

"We went out and tried to find five more with that same drive and aspiration and I think we have five young kids who are very talented and also have a strong work ethic and understand we're built around team play.

"This is a group that plays well together. They know it will take 15 strong to get where we need to go. Our veterans set the table in many different ways both on and off the field and our young players have bought into it."

It would appear the only thing they must avoid is to beat themselves.

"We've got all the tools, but surely, maturity is one of our strengths," catcher Stacey Nuveman said. "We have a lot of unbelievable athletes. On paper, we're phenomenal, but we have to get it done on the field."

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