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Softball: Japan 2, US 1, 11 Innings

September 19, 2000

BLACKTOWN, Australia (AP) _ Oh, Doctor!

Dot Richardson committed two errors in the top of the 11th inning as Japan beat the United States 2-1 on Tuesday (Monday night EDT) to snap the U.S. softball team’s 112-game winning streak.

The United States (2-1) loaded the bases in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. In the 10th and 11th, when each team starts with a runner on second, the Americans had two runners on each time.

But they couldn’t manage the hit they needed off reliever Juri Takayama _ stranding 20 runners in all to suffer their first loss since the 1998 world championships _ and their first loss ever to Japan.

In the 11th, Japan (3-0) moved its free baserunner to third on a groundout. Haruka Saito hit a grounder to Richardson; the erstwhile orthopedic surgeon bobbled the ball, then recovered before throwing it wild to first base and allowing the game’s first run to score.

Richardson’s second error came as she tried to cut off a throw to second to guard against a double steal. The ball rolled into center field and another runner came home to make it 2-0.

Crystal Bustos and Sheila Douty singled to score the free baserunner and make it 2-1. But Douty was caught going to second, then Takayama struck out Jennifer Brundage and Stacey Nuveman looking to end it.

Michelle Smith pitched 5 2-3 innings of relief, striking out eight and walking none and allowing just two hits and two unearned runs. The four-time MVP of the top professional softball league in Japan is also scheduled to pitch Wednesday against China.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, a softball player in a Cleveland ``pigtail league″ as a child, threw out the first pitch before the game.

And pitching was the story during the game, as well, as both teams were scoreless through 10 innings.

Christa Williams, who has a 74 mph fastball that makes her the fastest pitcher on the U.S. staff, gave up a single to the first batter of the game and then retired the next 13.

She struck out 10 in all, allowing five hits _ three of them to start the sixth. But the Japanese ran themselves out of a rally when Laura Berg threw out Haruka Saito with a perfect throw to the plate for the first out.

Smith relieved Williams and, on her second pitch, Nuveman threw out Naomi Matsumoto trying to steal second. Noriko Yamaji struck out on the next pitch to end the inning.

The Americans threatened in the seventh, when leadoff batter Christie Ambrosi was hit by a pitch. With Richardson at bat, Ambrosi got caught in a rundown, but she escaped and slid safely into first when the second baseman held the ball too long.

Richardson bunted her to second, then Berg singled her to third. Lisa Fernandez grounded out, bringing up slugger Crystl Bustos with first base open; she walked to load the bases, but not before hitting one deep, but foul, down the left-field line.

Sheila Douty looked at a 3-1 pitch that appeared to be high but was called a strike. With the full count, she hit a grounder that the shortstop bobbled before scooping it to third to end the inning.

Douty, who homered on Monday (Tuesday night EDT) in a victory over Cuba, also hit into a bases-loaded double play in the first inning, third to home to first. Williams struck out five of the last six batters against Cuba to earn the save.

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