One more victory and the U.S. softball team will have its goal: a third Olympic gold.
Right now, the Americans aren't just a Dream Team -- they're more like the Perfect Team.
Lisa Fernandez pitched a three-hitter Sunday and Crystl Bustos drove in two runs as the Americans rolled to their eighth shutout in eight days, 5-0
over Australia, putting them into the gold medal game.
On Monday, the United States will play the winner of Sunday's bronze medal matchup between the Aussies and Japan. At this point, the opponent might
And here's a scary thought: U.S. coach Mike Candrea says his club has yet to play its best game.
"That one was pretty good,'' he said. "But I'm still waiting.''
Natasha Watley had three more infield hits, Kelly Kretschman homered and the U.S. team (8-0) dominated again. The Americans have won 78 straight games
since last July, and have yet to yield a run in the Athens Games. They've outscored their opponents 46-0 while allowing just 14 hits.
After being shut out for the second time by the United States, the Aussies now have to dry the sweat off, reapply the sun block and play Japan later
for the bronze medal. The winner of that matchup advances to Monday's game against the Americans.
In the first semifinal, Reika Utsugi hit an RBI single in the eighth to drive in the only run and center fielder Eri Yamada sealed Japan's 1-0 win
when she threw out Li Chunxia at the plate to end the game.
Fernandez had the Aussies off balance from the start. She tossed mostly junk at the two-time defending bronze medalists' potent lineup, getting them
to pop up or hit weak grounders. It was vintage Fernandez, who at 33 is still the best all-around player in the game.
"That's what makes Lisa Fernandez so good,'' Candrea said. "She had a whole different game plan.''
Instead of starting Tanya Harding, the only pitcher to beat the United States twice in Olympic play, Australian coach Simon Roskvist went with Melanie
Roche, a former star at Oklahoma State who got rocked in a 10-0 loss to the U.S. team in the preliminary round.
Harding will now have to beat Japan for the Aussies to have a chance at gold.
"I was surprised,'' said U.S. assistant coach Ken Eriksen. "We saw Roche once already and look what we did to her.''
Bustos' two-run single highlighted the Americans' three-run fifth, set up when Roche double-clutched after fielding Watley's one-out slap bunt and
didn't make a throw to second.
The Americans made her pay for the mental misplay.
Leah O'Brien-Amico followed with a single to load the bases for Bustos, who hit a two-run single to put the Americans ahead 3-0.
Fernandez was hit by a pitch and Stacey Nuveman followed with a sacrifice fly, making it 4-0 against Australia and 44-0 against the field.
Kretschman homered in the sixth as the Americans kept the peddle down.
Fernandez, who hit just .097 four years ago in Sydney, gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the fourth with an RBI double. She came into batting .556 in
In the first inning, Fernandez had an illegal pitch called against her by first base umpire Leanna Pacini, who ruled the three-time Olympian's foot
had left the rubber before she delivered the ball.
That led to a five-minute delay as a grounds crew member dug out dirt at the center of the pitching circle.
If that one pitch was illegal, then some of the Fernandez's over the next few innings were flat out wrong. She teased the Aussies with her
knee-buckling change-up, floating the ball up to the plate and daring them to hit it.
"I felt like I had to try and keep them off balance,'' Fernandez said. "They were going to make adjustments and I had to stay one step ahead.''
Tracey Mosley guessed right on a fastball, getting Australia's first hit when she blooped a single over second baseman Lovieanne Jung's glove to start
the third. But pinch-runner Amanda Doman was thrown out by catcher Stacey Nuveman -- the first runner to try and swipe a base off the United States in
With two outs in the fifth, Simmone Morrow got the first extra-base hit off the U.S. pitching staff in nearly 47 innings, one-hopping a double off the
wall in left. But Fernandez again went to the change-up, retiring Mosley on a weak grounder to third.