The zeros are beginning to line up like Olympic rings for the U.S. softball team.
Lori Harrigan allowed only a first-inning bunt single and Crystl Bustos homered Tuesday as the Americans posted their fourth straight shutout of the
games, 4-0 over China.
Harrigan, a security supervisor at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas when she's not whipping fastballs past hitters, struck out eight as the U.S. (4-0)
coasted past another of the tournament's medal contenders.
"She was awesome,'' said catcher Jenny Topping, who added two hits. "She had her full arsenal.''
Lovieanne Jung had two RBIs and Leah O'Brien-Amico drove in a run as the Americans ran their winning streak to 74 games and their international record
against China (2-2) to 10-1. The U.S. has outscored its opponents 24-0 in the preliminary round of the Olympic tournament.
Unlike their thrilling win Monday against Japan, this one was easy for the Americans, who have blanked Italy, Australia, Japan and now China in
succession. Since softball joined the Olympics in 1996, the United States has recorded 14 shutouts in 23 games.
Harrigan, a three-time Olympian, only allowed two baserunners in the second straight dominant performance by a U.S. pitcher. On Monday, Cat Osterman
pitched a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts as the Americans beat Japan 3-0 in eight innings.
Harrigan doesn't get the publicity of teammates Jennie Finch, Lisa Fernandez or even Osterman. But the left-hander has been one of the mainstays for
the U.S. team for more than a decade.
"She's the one who keeps us together,'' said Finch. "Lori's our team mom. If your shirt is not tucked in, she'll tell you about it. She's a fighter,
too. No one is tougher than Lori.''
Harrigan dominated from the start. After allowing Mu Xia to reach on the leadoff bunt, the left-hander closed the first by striking out the side and
retired the next 16.
Only one other Chinese hitter reached base when Harrigan, who was shaky in a relief appearance in the opener against Italy, threw away a comebacker in
the sixth. She finished the shutout by striking out Tao Hua for the final out.
"I felt a lot better today,'' the former All-American at UNLV said. "I had all my pitches working. I was trying to be too perfect the other day.''
China was one of three teams to beat the U.S. during round-robin play four years ago in Sydney, winning 2-0 in 14 innings. However, the Americans
avenged that setback -- and the two others -- with a 3-0 victory in 10 innings in the semifinals on their way to a second straight gold medal.
For the third time in four games, the Americans scored in the first inning, taking a 2-0 lead off Chinese starter Lu Wei.
Natasha Watley reached on shortstop Wei Qiang's error leading off, and Lisa Fernandez walked on four pitches with two outs. Topping also walked and
Jung, whose walk after a 17-pitch at-bat keyed Tuesday's win over Japan, dropped a two-run single into shallow left-center.
The U.S. tacked on a run in the second -- again with two outs -- as Watley walked, stole second and scored when O'Brien-Amico sliced a double that
fell just inside the left-field foul line.
Bustos, considered the world's best power hitter, connected for his first homer of the games in the fifth inning.
The muscular Californian had been 1-for-10 in the tournament before pulling a pitch from Li Qi over the 220-foot wall in left. As she left the
batter's box, Bustos did a Sammy Sosa-like hop before heading toward first.
As she came to the plate where her teammates were waiting to greet her, Bustos let out a big exhale as if relieved to have finally contributed to one
of the U.S. wins.
"That was a big step for Crystl,'' said U.S. coach Mike Candrea. "When Crystl gets confident you can't get her out. If she's 0-for-8, you had better