Thursday, August 14, 2008

Osterman no-hitter defeats Australia in softball

BEIJING (AP) -- The U.S. Olympic softball team was not about to go down under.
Cat Osterman pitched a no-hitter, Crystl Bustos belted a two-run homer and the Americans extended their winning streak inside the rings to 16 straight with a 3-0 win over Australia on Wednesday.

Osterman outdueled Australia's Tanya Harding, who has handed the U.S. program two of its four losses in the games since 1996. Pitching in her second Olympics, Osterman was Cat with a K.

She struck out 13, walked just two and dominated the Aussies in a rematch of the gold-medal game from 2004 in Athens.

The Americans, seeking their fourth straight gold, posted their 14th shutout during the winning streak.

Natasha Watley hit an RBI single off Harding to snap a 0-0 tie in the fifth, and Bustos, the most feared hitter in softball, connected for her 10th career Olympic homer in the sixth.

One day after scoring an Olympic record 11 runs in a tournament-opening rout of Venezuela, the Americans were blanked for four innings before finally pushing a run across against Harding in the fifth.

Lovieanne Jung walked with one out, and one out later, the U.S. team's second baseman stole second. Up came Watley for an All-UCLA matchup against Harding, who pitched the Bruins to an NCAA title in 1996.

Watley battled to a full count before slapping a single to left-center, scoring Jung without a throw.

As Watley ran to her spot in the field for the top of the sixth, the stadium's loudspeakers played Beyonce's "Irreplaceable." Watley is a huge fan of the pop diva and occasionally imitated Beyonce during the U.S. team's long bus trips on its "Bound 4 Beijing" tour leading up to the games.

The Americans made it 3-0 in the sixth when Bustos, the ponytailed powerhouse, hit her second homer in China.

Jessica Mendoza walked leading off and Bustos, who normally pulls her homers deep over the fences in left, dropped one over the right-field wall, giving the U.S. and Osterman a cushion for the seventh.

Osterman then struck out the side in the final inning.

Harding's biography was inadvertently left out of the International Softball Federations's 2008 Olympic softball media guide. But the American team knows all about the 36-year-old right-hander known simply as "Tee" to her Aussie teammates.

She handed the U.S. its last loss in the Olympics, beating them in a 13-inning marathon on Sept. 21, 2000 in Sydney. Harding struck out 18 that day in going the distance and outdueling Lisa Fernandez, who fanned 25.

Harding also defeated the U.S. in 1996 at Atlanta, the Americans' lone loss en route to winning its first gold in softball's debut.

For a while, it looked like Harding would bedevil the U.S. again.

Osterman worked her way out of a situation as sticky as the heavy air in Fengtai Softball Field in the third.

She walked Danielle Stewart leading off and Belinda Wright sacrified. With a 3-2 count Simmone Morrow, Osterman was called for taking longer than 20 seconds between pitches by Canadian plate Nancy Morrison, who monitors a clock on the center-field wall. The infraction is an automatic ball and Morrow was awarded first base.

Osterman, though, struck out Kelly Wyborn and Stacey Porter, punctuating the last one with a scream and fist pump as she headed to the dugout.

Earlier, China improved to 2-0 with a 7-1 win over Venezuela.

In the evening session, Japan faces Taiwan and Canada plays the Netherlands.

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