USA Women sweep opening night of 'Aiming for Athens' Tour
Palm Springs, CA---The USA Softball Women’s National Team opened its ‘Aiming for Athens’ Tour in impressive fashion dispatching No. 7 Alabama 11-3 in five innings and No. 8 Stanford 9-0 in six innings. The U.S. extends its pre-Olympic Tour win streak to 117 games dating back to May 3, 1996.
“We were so anxious to get on the field and little sluggish at first,” said head coach Mike Candrea. “But we really came out and did the things that we needed to do. Obviously with this team it is just getting at bats. Tonight was a great start offensively for us. We have some little things that we need to get better at and we will as we progress.”
In the opening contest Alabama came out firing in the top of the first inning. Ashley Courtney hit the first pitch of the game from U.S. starter Lisa Fernandez (Long Beach, CA) to left field for a base hit. A sacrifice bunt by Jackie Wilkins was unsuccessful and resulted in a fielder’s choice that placed Wilkins at first. After a stolen base, a wild pitch and a passed ball, Wilkins crossed home plate to put the Tide up 1-0.
The lead didn’t last long as the Red, White and Blue responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Leah O’Brien-Amico (Chino Hills, CA) collected her first of three hits to get the rally started. Back-to- back walks to Tairia Mims Flowers (Tucson, AZ) and Fernandez loaded the bases. A wild pitch from Bama hurler Stephanie VanBrakle moved the runners 60 feet and plated O’Brien-Amico to tie the game at 1-1. The U.S. took the lead after Alabama third baseman Capper Reed made an errant throw on a Lovie Jung (Fountain Valley, CA) grounder that allowed Flowers to score from third.
Crystl Bustos (Canyon Country, CA) drove in the first of her four RBI of the game in the second inning with a single through the left side that scored Laura Berg (Santa Fe Springs, CA) who had reached on a bunt single.
A run in the third and two in fourth stretched the lead to 6-1 but the offense wasn’t finished just yet. After Alabama closed the gap to 6-3 in the top of the fifth courtesy of a two-run home run by Jackie McClain, the U.S. exploded for five runs highlighted by a walk off home run by Amanda Freed (Cypress, CA) to end the game in the fifth due to the mercy rule.
The U.S. offense was led by O’Brien-Amico, who was 3-for-3 with an RBI, and Bustos, who was 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI. Fernandez picked up her first win of the season going four innings and allowing only three hits and fanning eight. Lori Harrigan (Las Vegas, NV) pitched one inning of relief and allowed two runs on three hits.
“It was great to finally take the field and face real competition,” Fernandez said. “It has been almost four months since our last game and being able to see such strong competition will only make us better as we prepare for Athens.”
In the nightcap U.S. pitchers Cat Osterman (Houston, TX) and Jennie Finch combined to no-hit No. 8 Stanford and cruise to a 9-0 mercy rule victory.
“Our pitching tonight was good and is going to be our backbone,” Candrea said. “Obviously you win with strong defensive pitching and I thought through some crazy conditions with the rain they all did really well. Fernandez finished strong, Harrigan really only got to throw one inning, Osterman moved the ball well and then Finch came in and shut it down throwing really hard.”
The offense picked up where it left off against Alabama jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning courtesy of Bustos second home run of the evening. Natasha Watley (Irvine, CA) led off the inning with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice by O’Brien-Amico and scored on the Bustos blast.
Jenny Topping (Whittier, CA) provided the fireworks in the fourth inning with a two run shot to left field that scored Jung who led off the inning with a single.
The game came to a screeching halt in the bottom of the sixth inning due to the mercy rule when the U.S. posted five runs on four hits. Topping, Freed and Berg each singled in the inning and O’Brien-Amico ended with game with a three-run home run to centerfield.
Bustos and Topping both went 2-for-3 with two RBI, while Amico was 1-for-3 with three RBI. Osterman was perfect in her four innings of work in the circle striking out nine of the 12 batters she faced. Finch fanned five of the seven but hit one batter to end the bid for a perfect game.
In its first two games of the ‘Aiming for Athens’ Tour the U.S. squad outscored its opponents 20-3 and averaged 11 strikeouts per game.
The U.S. continues play at the Palm Springs Classic on Saturday when it faces the Irish of Notre Dame at 5:30 p.m. and No. 18 Tennessee at 8 p.m.