Nuveman hits walk-off home run
Oklahoma City, OK---The USA Softball Women’s National Team faced its toughest competition of the 2004 ‘Aiming for Athens’ tour tonight when it battled the National Profastpitch All-Stars at Don E. Porter Hall of Fame Stadium. The U.S. shutout the East All-Stars 5-0 in game one, and battled back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the West All-Stars 5-3 in nine innings in game two.
East starter Jocelyn Forrest held the powerful U.S. offense in check the first time through the line-up but things went array in the fourth. Natasha Watley (Irvine, CA) led off with an infield single and Leah O’Brien-Amico (Chino Hills, CA) reached on an infield single to shortstop. With one-out, U.S. starting pitcher Lisa Fernandez (Long Beach, CA) helped her cause lacing a two run double to left field to continue the rally. Stacey Nuveman (LaVerne, CA) followed her battery mate with a double of her own to center field that scored pinch-runner Jaime Clark (Tustin, CA).
After a walk to Kelly Kretschman (Indian Harbour Beach, FL) and a pitching change by the East All-Stars, Jessica Mendoza (Camarillo, CA) ripped a triple down the right field to push the U.S. lead to 5-0. Fernandez scattered two hits, walked two and struck out three in a complete game effort. With the win, she improves to 13-0 on the ‘Aiming for Athens’ tour and improved the U.S. record to 49-0.
In game two the U.S. found itself in unfamiliar territory trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning. The U.S. had not allowed a run in the last 12-games and hadn’t trailed since March 4 in Tampa, FL.
U.S. starter Jennie Finch (LaMirada, CA) was perfect through the first three innings but things began to unravel in the third inning. Kristen Zaleski opened the inning with a single and moved the third when Finch fielded a bunt by Lindsay Gardner and made an errant throw into center field. It was ruled by the umpire that U.S. shortstop Natasha Watley (Irvine, CA) obstructed Zaleski at second therefore she was awarded third base.
Julie Marshall executed a perfect squeeze play to score Zaleski and give the West a 1-0 lead and put the U.S. behind for the first time since trailing the University of Illinois on March 4th.
The West chased Finch from the game in the fifth after Zaleski scored Cheryl Bolding on a triple and Gardner singled in Zaleski for a commanding 3-0 lead. Cat Osterman (Houston, TX) entered the game to stop the rally and keep the U.S. in the game.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Christa Williams entered the game in the bottom of the fifth as the closer and looked dominant as she retired the side.
After a lead-off single by Leah O’Brien-Amico (Chino Hills, CA) in the sixth inning, Crystl Bustos (Canyon Country, CA) put the U.S. right back in the game sending a Williams’ offering over the left field fence to cut the lead to 3-2.
Down to its final three outs and a 163-game pre-Olympic tour win streak on the line, the U.S. knotted the game at 3-3 after two costly miscues by the All-Star defense. Bolding dropped a routine fly ball to left that allowed Mendoza to advance to second. Williams then fielded a Laura Berg (Santa Fe Springs, CA) sacrifice bunt and threw a dribbler to first that could not be handled placing runners on the corners.
Amico, who has been labeled as one of the most clutch players in the game, singled in the tying run to send the game into extra innings. With tension building on both sides, the game moved into the ninth inning. The West All-Stars loaded the bases after a walk and two singles but Osterman got out of the jam to give the U.S. a chance to win it in the bottom of the inning.
Fernandez reached on a walk and Nuveman hit a dramatic walk off home run to center field to give the U.S. the 5-3 win and the Red, White and Blue its 164th consecutive pre-Olympic tour win.
“This team showed what it’s made of tonight,” said head coach Mike Candrea. “Although I saw a lot of things we need to work on before we take the field in Athens, I was also pleased with a lot of things this team did tonight. A challenge like this only makes you better as a team.”
“We haven’t been tested all that much as this tour has progressed,” Nuveman said. “We came out tonight and got behind three runs and had to find a way to get some runs back on the board to get back in the ballgame. It’s a boost for us and a good learning experience as we head into Athens.”
After visiting 28-cities since February, the ‘Aiming for Athens’ tour will conclude this week as it makes stops in Stevens Point, WI on Thursday, July 15 and Stratford, CT on July 17th. The USA squad departs for Athens, Greece on July 28th in pursuit of its third consecutive Olympic gold medal.