Thursday, September 21, 2000

Softball team loses third straight

13th-inning HR stuns Americans again

AP Sports Writer

        Lisa Fernandez gave up a two-run homer Thursday as Australia rallied in the bottom of the 13th inning to win 2-1, leaving the United States reeling after a third straight loss.

        Fernandez struck out 25 and gave up just two hits. But the Americans were unable to score until Christie Ambrosi's RBI single in the top of the 13th, scoring the tie-break runner who is placed at second base to start every inning after the ninth.

        Fernandez retired the first two batters in the bottom half of the inning before Peta Edebone hit it over the left-field wall for two runs to send the Australian crowd into a frenzy.

        While the Aussies dropped to the ground in exhaustion around home plate, the Americans retreated to the dugout, crying.

        The Americans should still make the medal round, but they would have to win five consecutive games to win the gold.

        “I don't think I've ever been a part of a bigger challenge than we're in right now,” said Fernandez, who had allowed just one hit, one walk and one single before the homer.

        It was the third consecutive U.S. game that was scoreless into extra innings, and the third that ended with the defending Olympic champions looking dazed.

        “It's like this voodoo that's over us,” Ambrosi said. “But it's got to end sometime.”

        The three-game losing streak is a stunning turnaround for a team that had won 112 in a row heading to Sydney and has never lost three straight international games.

        The last U.S. loss, before this week, had been to Australia at the 1998 world championships. The Americans' only loss at the '96 Olympics came when Australia's Joanne Brown homered off Fernandez with two outs in the 10th to spoil her perfect game.

        Fernandez retired Brown on a groundout for the second out of the 13th on Thursday before Edebone homered.

        “I was sitting in the locker room, thinking, 'It can't happen again.' But one thing about Atlanta is, we won the gold,” Fernandez said. “Take these games and give me the gold medal.”

        The history was enough to make Thursday's matchup the focus for both teams. But the game became increasingly important when both teams lost to Japan — and then the Americans lost to China, which has yet to play Australia.

        The top four in the eight-team tournament advance after the round-robin. But the medal round is set up so that the third and fourth place teams would have to win an extra game to win the gold medal.

        Having lost to the top three teams in the standings, the Americans — heavy favorites coming in — are likely headed for fourth. They will have to beat non-contenders New Zealand and Italy in the round robin and then win three straight in the medal round to win the gold.

        After the game, a fire alarm went off and Olympic officials asked everyone to vacate the stadium. But the stadium crew continued its cleanup work as firefighters walked through the stands.


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