USA adds two more wins
CLEARWATER, FL – With over 2,000 fans in the stands, Team USA pulled out an intense 3-0 victory Saturday night over Speedline tournament host University of South Florida. Its toughest competition thus far, the U.S. was held scoreless through five innings, before combining three runs in the bottom of the sixth to take home the win. Starting pitcher Lisa Fernandez (Long Beach, CA) completed five innings before relief pitcher Lori Harrigan (Las Vegas, NV) captured her fourth win for the U.S. tossing the sixth and seventh. In the second match up of the evening, the U.S. offense came alive defeating No. 16 Oregon 7-0. Tallying 13 hits, the U.S. moved to 16-0 in tour action while improving its pre-Olympic tour win streak to 131.
Silent through the first three innings in a pitchers duel, Natasha Watley (Irvine, CA) connected on the first hit of game one in the bottom of the fourth. Reaching on an infield single thanks to her speed, Watley was then caught stealing as the pitching of USF lefty Leigh Ann Ellis and the Bulls solid defense halted the U.S. effort.
USF saw its first and only runner on board shortly after in the top of the fifth with a base hit through the left side from Tiffany Stewart. She was later caught stealing after a perfect toss from U.S. catcher Jenny Topping as Fernandez and crew continued to silence the Bulls leaving the game scoreless after five.
But it was right fielder Kelly Kretschman (Indian Harbour Beach, FL) who kick started the three-run U.S. effort in the sixth to put the home team on top. Leading with a single through the right side followed by a wild pitch, Kretschman moved into scoring position. Then it was two-time Olympian Laura Berg (Santa Fe Springs, CA) who advanced Kretschman to third on a ground out. Next, Watley advanced to first after being hit by a pitch to put two runners aboard with one out. A possible play at the plate after a fielder’s choice from Amico (Chino Hills, CA) resulted in an error by Ellis as Kretschman crossed home plate for the 1-0 lead. Adding two more insurance runs, Crystl Bustos (Canyon Country, CA), currently hitting .604, sent a two RBI double to left center for the 3-0 advantage.
Harrigan would then seal the win striking out the side in both the sixth and seventh to earn the 3-0 U.S. victory.
“Any situation we get into is a good one for us,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “I thought Leigh Ann Ellis through a good ball game and I also thought that we finally made some adjustments at the plate and got the job done which was what we need to do.”
For USA assistant coach and University of South Florida head coach Ken Eriksen (Temple Terrace, FL) it was a game of mixed emotions. Currently on a leave of absence from South Florida to assist with Team USA, he spent the weekend coaching with both South Florida and USA.
“Moving from one field to the next was the toughest thing tonight,” Eriksen said. “I give USF a lot of credit for playing a great game as they did. It was exciting and amazing to be in my home town in front of all these people and see Lisa Fernandez, the greatest pitcher in the world, as far as I am concerned match up against one of the top pitchers in the college game. It gives those people in the other dugout and it gives those kids in the stands the hope that they too can be on this field with USA on their chest. It is nothing but hard work and determination.”
In game two, the U.S. bats finally opened up notching 13 hits in a 7-0 win over Oregon. Led by the swing of catcher Tairia Mims Flowers (Tucson, AZ) who went 3-for-4 for the game, the win ended Speedline tournament action for the U.S. and improved the tour record to 16-0.
A Flowers lead off single through the left side in the second inning resulted in the first run of the game as she later crossed home off an Amanda Freed (Cypress, CA) base hit. With a 1-0 jump, Team USA added two more runs in the third after Bustos advanced on a fielder’s choice and Fernandez connected on a line drive single through the left side to put the runners on base. Lovieanne Jung (Fountain Valley, CA) then drove a long ball deep into centerfield for the sacrifice fly to score Bustos. Left handed hitter Kretschman then stepped to the plate with an RBI single through the right side for the 3-0 advantage.
Contributing four more runs in the bottom of the sixth as Watley led the effort with a single to shortstop before Bustos smacked a bullet up the middle to score Watley. A double to right center from Fernandez plated Bustos for run No. 5 while Flowers put another RBI base hit together plating Fernandez. Jung then doubled to left center to score Flowers for the eventual 7-0 margin of victory.
Coming off a no-hitter from Friday night, U.S. pitcher Jennie Finch (La Mirada, CA) didn’t let up against the Ducks as she moved to 5-0 on the tour allowing no hits with 9 strikeouts in her five innings pitched. Cat Osterman (Houston, TX) closed the game tossing the sixth and seventh allowing just one hit with four strikeouts.
“This was a good weekend after a month on the road,” Candrea said. “This team has come out and played with energy everyday and I can’t ask for anymore than what I seeing from this group. I am excited and we just need to keep moving ahead.”
Moving to 16-0 on the ‘Aiming for Athens’ tour, the U.S. has outscored its opponents 148 to 8 thus far hitting .395 as a team. In Speedline Invitational play, they recorded six wins, five of which were shut outs and four mercy rule wins. Bustos leads the hitting ranks batting .604 with 34 RBI and has recorded at least one hit or one RBI in every game played. A strong offensive weekend, Kretschman is No. 2 batting .480 with five RBI. From the circle, Finch is currently 5-0 with a 0.00 ERA as the pitching staff has allowed only seven total earned runs and has a combined 0.53 ERA for the tour.
The Red, White and Blue will continue travel along the collegiate portion of the tour as they head to Austin, TX to battle No. 20 Texas on Tuesday, March 9.