U.S. 3, China 2
COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) _ With one swing of her bat, Sheila Cornell restored the reputation of the U.S. Olympic softball team.
Cornell drove a pitch from Lihong Wang, China’s ace who had just come on in relief, over the center-field fence for two-run homer in the sixth inning and a 3-2 victory over China on Saturday.
Kim Maher opened the sixth with a walk off Yaju Liu, who was replaced by Wang. Cornell followed with her third homer of the Olympics.
With the victory, the U.S. team _ stunned 2-1 by Australia on Friday for only its second loss in international play _ reclaimed the role of gold medal favorite.
U.S. pitcher Michelle Smith, with the screaming, partisan sellout crowd of 8,500 chanting ``U-S-A, U-S-A,″ survived a rocky fifth inning _ giving up a two-run homer by Xuqing Liu _ for the victory.
The victory gave the Americans (6-1) the best record in the seven-game round-robin tournament and the important No. 1 seed for Monday’s semifinal round. The medal games are Tuesday.
The Americans managed to shake off the 10-inning loss to Australia, only their second defeat in 118 games since 1986.
In that game, Lisa Fernandez had a perfect game for 9 2-3 innings before Joanne Brown hit a two-run homer. The Americans would have won 1-0 in the regulation seven innings, but Dani Tyler’s apparent homer was aborted when she failed to touch home plate and was called out.
The other previous defeat by the U.S. was to China 1-0 in a preliminary game at the 1995 Superball Classic. The U.S. team came back to beat China 8-0 for the title.
The Americans scored first Saturday in the second inning following consecutive singles by Kim Maher, Cornell and Dionna Harris. China starter Ying Ma was replaced by Yaju, who was greeted by a sacrifice fly by Gillian Boxx.
The U.S. threatened to break it open when Leah O’Brien singled to left, reloading the bases. But Laura Berg bounced into a force out at the plate and Dot Richardson struck out.
Smith allowed five hits _ four in the fifth _ and struck out 12.
China (5-2), Australia (5-2) and Japan (4-2), which played Taiwan in a late game Saturday, are the other Olympic semifinalists. The seeding order will be determined after the Japan-Taiwan game.
The Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Canada and Taiwan were eliminated.
In other games Saturday, Australia beat Canada 5-2 and the Netherlands defeated Puerto Rico 2-0.