Americans rolling on court, in field

Basketball team defeats Spain, 71-58

softball team reaches semifinals, 4-0

Women's Basketball And Softball

Athens Olympics 2004

August 21, 2004|By Bill Dwyre | Bill Dwyre,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATHENS - There was unexpected drama at softball and expected dominance at women's basketball yesterday, as each U.S. Olympic team furthered its image of invincibility.

The softball team actually allowed an opponent to play a full regulation game against it, rather than having the game called after five innings because the lead was seven runs. It was only the third time in seven preliminary-round games that a team went the distance against the United States. And it even let Taiwan get a runner to third base for only the third time in these Olympics.

But as Taiwan and its six predecessors learned, you don't just score against these Americans easily. Matter of fact, you don't score at all.

Yesterday's final was 4-0. The seven-game tally, going into the semifinals tomorrow and the final Monday, is: USA 42, Rest of the World 0; USA 55 hits, Rest of the World 10.

The United States has already clinched a medal. The only question is which color. It will be top-seeded going into the semifinals, drawing its usual medal-round rival, Australia. The winner of that game tomorrow, No. 1 seed vs. No. 2, is in Monday's gold-medal game. The loser has to play back through a second game tomorrow against the winner of the first semifinal to get to the gold game. The loser of the first semifinal, No. 3 seed vs. No. 4, is eliminated.

The U.S. women's basketball team is not that far along in its pool play, but it appears to be only a matter of time.

Led as usual by its star, Lisa Leslie, the basketball team beat Spain, 71-58, erasing Spain as the only other undefeated member of the pool. The United States is 4-0; Spain is 3-1. The Americans have one preliminary game left, tomorrow night against China, and quarterfinals will begin Wednesday, presumably with the Americans seeded No. 1 against the last-place team from the other group.

Leslie scored 19 points, added nine rebounds and dominated the middle. Teammates Tina Thompson and Yolanda Griffith led a spurt midway thought the final period that finished Spain.

"We were proud that we put pressure on the American team for at least 35 minutes," said Spain's Madariaga Valdemoro, leading scorer with 22 points.

Said U.S. coach Van Chancellor: "I knew Valdemoro would come out and play big. She played for me in Houston [with the WNBA Comets], and I knew she wanted to show me she could still play."

The softball team was led to victory, as well as to some bumps along the way, by Catherine "Cat" Osterman, a 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher. She went five innings, allowed one hit, walked four, struck out 10 and made one very scary error.

In the Taiwanese third, after two were out, Osterman walked a batter and then fielded a slow grounder from the next batter and tossed it well over the head of first baseman Tairia Flowers. When she followed that with another walk, the bases were loaded and the U.S. streak of shutout perfection was on the line. But facing the cleanup hitter, Wang Ya Fen, she got Wang to strike out on a 1-2 count.

"I wasn't thinking about the streak," she said. "I was just thinking about getting out of the jam."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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