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Americans not perfect but win 6-1

Published Sep. 16, 2005

The pitching-strong U.S. Olympic softball staff showed its human side Tuesday night, finally giving up a run in the third day of competition.

It didn't matter.

Japan's Haruka Saito hit a solo home run in the fifth, but Michele Smith shook it off and threw a three-hitter, striking out 11 as the undefeated Americans won 6-1.

"I threw only one flat pitch and it got cranked," Smith said. "Anything's possible in this game. That's what makes pitching so nerve-racking. You can throw 99 perfect pitches and the 100th is a bad one, and you get crunched."

Teammate Kim Maher did some crunching of her own, bullying a fastball from Japan's Kyoko Kobayashi and sending it over the fence.

Maher gave the U.S. team (3-0) all the runs necessary with a three-run homer in the first inning. Her drive over the left-centerfield fence followed one-out singles by Julie Smith and Lisa Fernandez.

Fernandez added a three-run homer in the sixth after Laura Berg was hit by a pitch and Julie Smith singled.

The United States also had a pair of three-run homers in Monday's victory, by Dot Richardson and Sheila Cornell.

The Americans knocked out 10 hits, drew three walks and had two batters hit by a pitch, but wasted several scoring opportunities, stranding eight runners.

"I was a little disappointed until the sixth inning," U.S. coach Ralph Raymond said. "I thought we had ample opportunities to put them away earlier, but we just didn't deliver in the clutch."

Julie Smith had a perfect night, going 3-for-3 with a walk. Berg was 2-for-2 and reached when she was hit by a pitch.

Michele Smith, one of five overpowering American pitchers, allowed only a bunt single until the fifth.

After giving up Saito's leadoff homer, she retired the next two before running into further trouble. Noriko Harada drew a walk and Misako Ando reached on an infield single. But she struck out pinch-hitter Kyoko Mochida to get out of the jam.

"I didn't worry about it (home run) being embarrassing. It just got me mad, and I just told myself to come back stronger," the left-handed pitcher said.

Smith played in Japan last season against many of the players she faced in the Olympics.

"I knew most all of the batters, but I don't think it was an advantage," she said. "If anything it was an advantage for them, because they knew me."

The United States, favored to take the gold in the Olympic debut of the sport, is the only unbeaten team in the eight-team field.

Michele Granger and 18-year-old Christa Williams each had two-hit shutouts and struck out 10 in lopsided wins over Puerto Rico (10-0) and the Netherlands (9-0), respectively.

The Americans have dominated women's softball internationally since 1986, losing only once in 114 games. That loss was 1-0 to China last year.

In other games Tuesday at Golden Park, 120 miles southwest of Atlanta, China edged Canada 2-1 and Taiwan beat the Netherlands 7-1.