U.S. continues its shutout run, 5-0

Unscored-upon Americans to face Australia for gold

Softball

Athens Olympics

August 23, 2004|By Bill Dwyre | Bill Dwyre,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATHENS - The U.S. women's softball team has worn out not only the opposition in this Athens Olympic tournament, but also the media covering it. There are no superlatives left. Words cannot describe, because they've all been used.

When the U.S. women met Australia in the gold-medal qualifying game yesterday, the issue at hand was not whether they won, but whether the other team had scored. It didn't. Australia lost, 5-0.

That marked eight consecutive games, seven in the pool play plus yesterday's semifinal, in which the opposition has not scored (51-0). Against Team USA, the rest of the world is 0-for-August.

Years from now, when she is older and nostalgic, Simmone Morrow of Brisbane, Queensland, will be able to gather her family around her and tell them, proudly, of the day in Athens when she got a double off Lisa Fernandez. So far, it stands as the only extra-base hit that the United States has allowed in this tournament.

There is, of course, the chance Australia will break through today in the gold-medal game. Japan won the first game of the modified semifinal format yesterday, eliminating China, 1-0, and gaining the playback game against Australia later in the afternoon. Then Australia won that game, 3-0, and will face the United States today, while Japan settled for the bronze medal.

If winning the gold medal isn't a foregone conclusion for the United States at this point, based on what has transpired here during the past 10 days, then the Alps aren't mountains.

Laura Berg, the team's center fielder, said afterward: "We are on a mission. We want to dominate."

The Dominator herself, Fernandez, was asked afterward whether it was a team goal not just to win, but also to shut everybody else out.

"That's vital," she said. "That's the game plan. We take it personally when anybody touches one of our bases."

Yesterday, Fernandez pitched a three-hitter, batted cleanup and went 1-for-2 with an RBI and kept a decent-hitting Australia team leaning and out of sync at the plate with a variety of change-speed pitches.

Her victory brought her tournament pitching line to 17 innings pitched, three wins, five hits, three walks, six strikeouts and, of course, an ERA of 0.00.

The force around which U.S. women's softball has been built also swings a mean bat.

Fernandez's RBI double gave her a batting line of 11-for-20, with four doubles and one home run. Her .556 batting average in pool play set an Olympic record. Playoff games are not considered for that.

"My mom always told me," Fernandez said, "that if I could hit, I would always get to play."

So she can, and so she does.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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