Star-Bulletin Sports


Team USA pitcher Lisa Fernandez pitched a shutout to beat Japan 1-0 in yesterday's U.S. Cup final.

Americans avenge
loss, take Cup

Mendoza's double makes Fernandez's
shutout stand up for the softball title

By Jason Kaneshiro

Coach Mike Candrea has a simple formula for winning softball games -- pitching, defense and timely hitting. And the United States national team fulfilled all three phases yesterday to pull out a 1-0 victory over Japan in the gold medal game of the U.S. Cup at the Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.

The U.S. got contributions from a newcomer and a veteran as Jessica Mendoza's two-out double at the top of the seventh inning scored Leah O'Brien-Amico to break a scoreless tie and Lisa Fernandez tossed a three-hit shutout to lead Team USA to its second U.S. Cup title.

The U.S. also avenged its only defeat of the tournament with the victory, rebounding from a 6-1 loss to Japan in round-robin play Thursday.

Both teams finished the weekend with 4-1 records and could meet again in August as both are preparing for the International Softball Federation World Championships in Canada.

"This is a tremendous boost," Fernandez said. "This team has some confidence going into the world championships that we can do it. And we also know where we're at, we have a barometer to let us know the things we need to work on."

Team USA's Leah O'Brien-Amico scored the only run in the U.S. Cup championship game against Japan yesterday.

Fernandez, a member of two Olympic gold medal and three world championship teams, struck out four batters and was perfect for all but the third inning, when she surrendered singles to Reika Utsugi, Masumi Mishina and Naomi Arai to load the bases with one out.

After Fernandez struck out Misako Ando, an adjustment in the outfield proved critical as Kazue Ito lined a shot straight into the glove of a perfectly positioned Laura Berg in center field.

"(Assistant) coach (John) Rittman, who works with our outfielders, had just moved her over," Candrea said. "It was a big play, but that's what we're here to do."

Berg's mere presence in center also may have impacted the outcome as Utsugi held up at third on Arai's single and was stranded there.

"(Berg) probably did win the game because they didn't attempt to run on her," Fernandez said. "That's important because, in my mind, it will always take more than three hits to beat our team.

"The work Coach Rittman has done with the outfield definitely showed, because with any other team, that girl might have gone. That's a credit to Laura Berg and the respect she demands because of who she is and what she's proven."

The U.S. offense peppered three Japan pitchers for eight hits, but was frustrated much of the afternoon. Team USA left five runners in scoring position through the first five innings.

"As a coach you're looking for opportunities," Candrea said. "If you have enough opportunities, you're bound to knock the door down."

The U.S. finally broke through with two outs in the seventh.

After a groundout and a strikeout, O'Brien-Amico singled to left. With one ball and two strikes on her, Mendoza drilled a Yukiko Ueno pitch off the fence in right-center field, allowing O'Brien-Amico to round the bases with the winning run.

"I really wanted Leah to come up with that clutch hit and I wanted to be in that position, it's the kind of thing I dream about," said Mendoza, one of 11 players on the U.S. squad without world championship experience. "To come up with a hit when the team needs it most is the best part of the game."

Team USA will head north to continue its preparation for the world championships by playing in the Canada Cup. The world championships are set for July 26-Aug. 4 in Saskatoon, Canada.

"One thing we need is at-bats, and we need to play games," Candrea said. "The more that we can play in big games like this the better we're going to be.

"We have some very talented people on this team, it's just exciting the potential we have. But obviously potential doesn't win ballgames, we have to become a little more clutch in some situations and we will."


Australia 1, China 0, 8 innings: Natalie Ward singled in Kerry Wyborn with the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth as Australia claimed the bronze medal.

Wyborn was placed at second to open the bottom half of the inning. Sally McCreedy sacrificed Wyborn to third and Ward followed with a line drive to left field to end the game.

Kellie Hardie scattered six hits, struck out five and walked none to earn the complete-game win for Australia. China's Zhang Lixia took the loss despite limiting Australia to three hits.

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