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Saturday, September 23
Americans hope their slump is over

BLACKTOWN, Australia -- Lisa Fernandez homered and had an easy time in the pitcher's circle, too, leading the United States to a 6-0 victory over Italy on Saturday and putting the Americans in the softball medal round.

Sheila Douty scores for the U.S., but it wasn't easy getting around Italian catcher Clelia Ailara.

Heavily favored coming in, the U.S. team had lost three consecutive games and was on the brink of elimination before winning its last two to scrape into the playoffs. It will play China on Monday.

Fernandez recorded each of the first six outs on strikeouts, allowing one hit. After the United States (4-3) took a 4-0 lead in the top of the third, Christa Williams relieved Fernandez so the American ace could rest for the playoffs.

Williams pitched five perfect innings in relief, striking out the side in the seventh to end the game.

The defending Olympic champions arrived in Sydney with a 110-game winning streak, extending it to 112 before their unprecedented losing streak. To repeat as gold medalists, they now have to beat the three teams that beat them in the round-robin -- China, Japan and Australia.

Coach Ralph Raymond juggled his lineup for the game against Italy (2-5), which needed to win to make the medal round.

He used the designated hitter for left-fielder Christie Ambrosi and had Fernandez bat for herself, which he doesn't usually do when she's pitching, so that she try to work out of a 1-for-22 slump. It would also allow her to come back in in relief if the Americans faltered late.

Sheila Douty, who was in a 4-for-22 slump, dropped in the lineup.

The Americans, who were hitting .188 as a team, responded.

After scoring a run in the second without a hit, they broke it open when Laura Berg reached on an error and Fernandez followed with a long homer to centerfield.

She celebrated by dropping her bat and pausing before starting off to first base, pumping her fist once along the way. Her teammates waited for her at home plate with handshakes and hugs.

Crystl Bustos doubled and scored to make it 4-0. Douty doubled as the Americans scored twice to make it 6-0 in the sixth.


U.S. softball ends skid, beats New Zealand

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