Fernandez Pitches, Hits Team USA To Victory

Aug. 22, 2004

Athens, Greece - By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - One more victory and the U.S. softball team will haveits goal: a third Olympic gold.

Right now, the Americans aren't just a Dream Team - they're more like thePerfect Team.

Lisa Fernandez pitched a three-hitter Sunday and Crystl Bustos drove in tworuns as the Americans rolled to their eighth shutout in eight days, 5-0 overAustralia, putting them into the gold medal game.

The Aussies set up a rematch for the gold when they beat Japan 3-0 laterSunday behind Tanya Harding, who has beaten the Americans twice during herOlympic career and is likely to face them again for the championship.

At this point, the opponent doesn't really matter much to the Americans, whohave been as perfect as any team could be.

And here's a scary thought: U.S. coach Mike Candrea says his club has yet toplay 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 theU.S. team (8-0) dominated again. The Americans have won 78 straight games sincelast July, and have yet to yield a run in the Athens Games. They've outscoredtheir opponents 46-0 while allowing just 14 hits.

Fernandez had the Aussies off balance from the start. She tossed mostly junkat the two-time defending bronze medalists' potent lineup, getting them to popup or hit weak grounders. It was vintage Fernandez, who at 33 is still the bestall-around player in the game.

'That's what makes Lisa Fernandez so good,' Candrea said. 'She had awhole different game plan.'

Instead of starting Harding, the only pitcher to beat the United Statestwice 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. teamin the preliminary round.

'I was surprised,' said U.S. assistant coach Ken Eriksen. 'We saw Rocheonce already and look what we did to her.'

Bustos' two-run single highlighted the Americans' three-run fifth, set upwhen Roche double-clutched after fielding Watley's one-out slap bunt and didn'tmake 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, whohit a two-run single to put the Americans ahead 3-0.

Fernandez was hit by a pitch and Stacey Nuveman followed with a sacrificefly, 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 1-0lead in the fourth with an RBI double. She came into the game batting .556 in Athens.

In the first inning, Fernandez had an illegal pitch called against her byfirst base umpire Leanna Pacini, who ruled the three-time Olympian's foot hadleft the rubber before she delivered the ball.

That led to a five-minute delay as a grounds crew member dug out dirt at thecenter of the pitching circle.

If that one pitch was illegal, then some of the Fernandez's over the nextfew innings were flat-out wrong. She teased the Aussies with her knee-bucklingchange-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 hitwhen she blooped a single over second baseman Lovieanne Jung's glove to startthe third. But pinch-runner Amanda Doman was thrown out by catcher StaceyNuveman - the first runner to try and swipe a base off the United States inthese games.

With two outs in the fifth, Simmone Morrow got the first extra-base hit offthe U.S. pitching staff in nearly 47 innings, one-hopping a double off the wallin left. But Fernandez again went to the change-up, retiring Mosley on a weakgrounder to third.

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