ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Jennie Finch and the U.S. softball team made an Olympic debut that was sweaty, short and thoroughly satisfying.
Finch didn't allow a hit in three innings, and the Americans began their run toward a third straight gold medal on Saturday with a shortened 7-0
victory in over Italy in their tournament opener.
Natasha Watley went 4-for-4, hitting a two-run double in the fifth inning to put the United States up by seven runs, invoking the mercy rule that
ended the game.
Three-time Olympian Lisa Fernandez had an RBI single as the U.S. team extended its winning streak to 71 straight games since July 2003.
Finch, who has received more pre-Olympic publicity than her teammates because of her stunning looks, struck out five of the 10 batters she faced
before being pulled by U.S. coach Mike Candrea.
By then the Americans led 4-0, and the lead allowed Finch to get some rest on a draining 95-degree afternoon. Candrea also was able to get some work
for pitchers Lori Harrigan and Cat Osterman, who shut out Italy over the final two innings.
The U.S. has posted 11 shutouts in 20 games since softball joined the games in 1996.
The Italians didn't get their first hit until the fourth, when Marta Gambella singled on reliever Lori Harrigan's first pitch. Italy got runners to
second and third with one out in the fifth off Harrigan, but Osterman came on and struck out the next two batters.
Showing off the speed and depth up and down its lineup, the U.S. team scored three runs in the second inning for a 4-0 lead.
Kelly Kretschmann led off with a double and Jessica Mendoza followed with a triple off the base of the wall in right. Laura Berg, whose eighth-inning
single won the gold medal game over Japan in Sydney four years ago, drove in Mendoza with a base hit.
Natasha Watley reached on her second infield single, and Crystl Bustos' RBI groundout made it 4-0.
The Americans then ended it in the fifth, when Mendoza hit a run-scoring single and Watley tripled.
Fernandez singled in the first inning to put the Americans up 1-0 against starter Leslie Malerich, a former All-American at Florida State who didn't
make it out of the second inning.