BEIJING, China (Courtesy USA SoftballUSA Softball)– A first inning nine-run inning was too much to overcome as the U.S. defeated China 9-0 on Monday at Fengtai Stadium. With a 7-0 record, the U.S. has secured a No. 1 seed in the playoffs where they will face No. 2 Japan at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, August 20 as they continues the road to the fourth-consecutive Olympic Gold Medal. 

The team strung together seven hits in the first inning, including a three-run homerun by Kelly Kretschman (Indian Harbour Beach, Fla.) to give the team a first inning 9-0 lead. Natasha Watley (Irvine, Calif.) is currently on a seven-game hitting streak while Lovie Jung (Fountain Valley, Calif.) has reached safely in all seven games, with a walk today. 

“Well obviously the first inning was huge,” said Head Coach Mike Candrea. “I know this team is very capable of exploding offensively and I think you saw one of those kinds of innings today where everything fell into place.” 

Lefty Cat Osterman (Houston, Texas) made her third start of the 2008 Olympic Games, allowing two runners to reach but none to reach home. The first batter of the game Yi Zhou got a hit off Osterman and three batters later Ai Zhang drew a walk, but Osterman issued her 22nd strikeout of these Games and left two runners stranded to close the inning. 

The Red, White and Blue jumped out to an early lead in the first going on a two-out rally for nine runs. Leading off was Natasha Watley (Irvine, Calif.) who landed on first off a walk. Jessica Mendoza (Camarillo, Calif.) would be hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. A pop up by power hitter Crystl Bustos (Canyon Country, Calif.) looked to silence the bats with two outs. However , Kretschman a strike away from being the third out, came through clutch with a home run to right field for her second home run of her Olympic career to put up three runs with one swing. After Kretschman, eight straight USA batters would reach base including two doubles, two walks and four singles for the team to take its 3-0 lead to 9-0. Highlighting the inning was an RBI single by Stacey Nuveman (La Verne, Calif.) and a two RBI double by Tairia Flowers (Tucson, Ariz.). 

“The big thing with this game is we have a chance to see some innings for Cat (Osterman) and (Jennie) Finch and everyone go in the game” said Candrea. “I think this team is in a good place right now, that they understand that the journey is just beginning. We have put ourselves in a good position but its really going to come down to these last two days.” 

After the nine-run inning, China made a pitching change that would prove to be the right choice as Qi Li allowed only two hits in the remaining three innings including four strikeouts. 

Osterman allowed another runner to reach in the third when Yanhong Yu was hit by a pitch but a flyout to left field again left a Chinese runner stranded. Osterman worked three innings of play for her third win of the Games. She finished with three strikeouts while allowing one hit. Jennie Finch (La Mirada, Calif.) entered at the top of the fourth, retiring all six batters faced with two strikeouts. 

The U.S. will face one of its top rivals in Japan on Wednesday. The winner of that game will automatically advance to the gold medal game while the loser will have to battle through the bronze medal game to advance to the gold medal game. The No. 3 seed is Australia and the No. 4 seed is to be determined between Canada and Venezuela. 

Through seven games, the team has set many records including today’s record of runs scored with 53, breaking a previous record of 51 set by the team in 2004. Japan is currently 5-1 with its last game of round robin play tonight versus Canada.

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