ATHENS, Greece - Not sun. Not wind. Not Japan. Right now, nothing can stop the U.S. Olympic softball team. Helped by two errors, one on a ball lost in
the unforgiving Mediterranean glare, the Americans scored three runs in the eighth Monday for a 3-0 win over Japan. The victory extends the U.S.
team's winning streak to 73 games.
Cat Osterman, the U.S. team's youngest player, pitched a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts as the United States (3-0) remained the only unbeaten team in
the eight-team Athens tournament. After two blowouts to open round-robin play, the U.S. team couldn't get a hit for the first seven innings. But Japan
couldn't score either, and the game went to the international tiebreaker where each team gets to start the eighth inning with a runner at second
In the nerve-racking inning, Kelly Kretschman hit a sacrifice fly, pinch-hitter Jenny Topping had an RBI single and Lovieanne Jung, who walked after
battling Japan starter Juri Takayama during a 17-pitch at-bat, scored when Natasha Watley beat out an infield single. Japan (1-2), which lost to the
Americans 2-1 in the gold medal game four years ago in Sydney, made two costly errors in the eighth. One came when third baseman Reika Utsugi couldn't
see Jung's easy foul pop.
The timing of the Americans early-round matchup with Japan was oddly similar to the U.S. team's game against them in 2000. Just as they've done in
Greece, the Americans shut out their first two opponents in Australia then they had a 112-game winning streak snapped as Japan beat them 2-1 in 11
Takayama got the win in that game with 2 2-3 innings of relief, but she took the loss in the gold medal game when Laura Berg's eighth-inning single
popped in and out of falling left fielder Shiori Koseki's glove. Takayama and her teammates have to be heartbroken following this one, too. With
pinch-runner Amanda Freed at second to start the eighth, Stacey Nuveman sacrificed.
Jung, who was out front of Takayama's pitches all afternoon, then ripped foul balls into the left-field stands and against the netting in front of
Japan's dugout before working the count to 3-2. On Takayma's 16th pitch, Jung hit an easy pop that Utsugi couldn't find, keeping Jung alive. She
walked and Kretschman followed with a sacrifice to medium center, scoring Freed. Jessica Mendoza followed with a solid single to center the U.S.
team's first hit.
Topping then pulled her single to right and Jung scored when the ball was bobbled by outfielder Yumi Iwabuchi. The speedy Watley then beat out her
infield hit, and Mendoza raced home. Neither team could get anything going on offense through the first three innings as Osterman and Takayama traded
pitches. The hitters that they couldn't strike out or induce into hitting weak grounders were humbled by Greece's famed Meltemi wind, which whipped
from left to right through stadium.
Japan didn't get its first hit off Osterman until the fifth, when second baseman Masumi Mishina dropped a soft, one-out single into left. The closest
the U.S. team came to a hit prior to extra innings was in the sixth, when Natasha Watley reached on a slap bunt that tipped off Takayama's glove. The
official scorer ruled it was an error, although the 5-foot-4 Takayama had to reach high above her head.