Olympic Softball Roundup
BLACKTOWN, Australia (AP) _ Top-seed and unbeaten Japan struggled to get past New Zealand in a final tuneup before the Olympic softball medal round, winning 2-1 after shutting down a Kiwi rally in the last inning.
Australia (6-1) got a combined no-hitter, and China (5-2) had only a little more trouble in its last game of the round-robin on Saturday (Friday night EDT).
Melanie Roche struck on nine in four innings and Brooke Wilkins fanned six for Australia, which is guaranteed at least a bronze medal. The hosts will play Japan, the only team to beat them in the preliminaries, in the second semifinal Monday for a chance at the title.
``I’m happy to have another game with them,″ Australia coach Bob Crudgington said.
The Australia-Japan loser plays the winner of the other semifinal for the other berth in the gold medal game.
China had already clinched a berth in the other semifinal. The United States (3-3), defending champions and the heavy favorites going in, needed to beat Italy (2-4) later Saturday to clinch the remaining semifinal berth.
``We consider it the four best teams remaining,″ Crudgington said. ``It’s a whole new tournament.″
Misako Ando hit a two-run single in the first inning for Japan. But Italy rallied in the seventh with three singles to make it 2-1 and put runners on second and third with one out.
But Taeko Ishikawa got Char Pouaka to line out to left and Kiri Shaw to pop up to second to end the game.
Yan Fang had two hits and scored the only run for China. Zhang Yanqing struck out nine and allowed just two hits as Canada (1-6) joined Cuba (1-6) and New Zealand (2-5) in failing to make the medal round.
Making its first Olympic softball appearance, Cuba held the Aussies scoreless on two hits for the first four innings. But they broke out with five runs in the fifth.
Natalie Titcume and Natalie Ward hit consecutive homers to make it 3-0, and Kerry Dienelt added a two-run single. The Aussies got two more runs in the sixth on RBI singles from Sally McCreedy and Selina Follas, and another in the seventh when Dienelt doubled and scored on Titcume’s single.
Cuba spoiled the shutout when Maria Zamora walked in the bottom of the seventh and scored on three wild pitches.
Roche pitched against Japan in the teams’ first meeting, losing 1-0 in the first extra inning when she allowed a double, a walk and an RBI single.
As the only Australian pitcher to have lost in the tournament, she was eager to make amends.
``It hurts, and there have been some words flying around, that ’she can’t do it,‴ she said. ``It shook me up. It’s like a bomb that hit me.
``You have to deal with it, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few days.″