Stacey Nuveman’s two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth gave Team USA a 5-3 win over the NPF West All-Stars and preserved a pre-Olympic winning streak to 164 games over the past eight years.
The streak looked to be in serious jeopardy, as the All-Stars comprised of players from the Arizona, California and Texas NPF franchises, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning.
Chrystl Bustos delivered a two-run shot that cut the lead to 3-2 in the sixth inning, and Leah O’Brien-Amico had an RBI single in a crazy seventh inning.
The bottom of the seventh began with two errors by the All-Stars. Mendoza reached on a routine fly ball that was dropped by Cheryl Bolding in left field, and Laura Berg reached on a fielding error by West pitcher Christa Williams.
“This time of the year, winning is the bottom line,” said Team USA head coach Mike Candrea. “We will take a lot of things from this game. There were some very good situations that our kids were put in.”
Team USA threatened early, putting runners on second and third with one out in the second. All-Stars starter Peaches James struck out Amanda Freed and forced a line out from Mendoza to end the inning.
The All-Stars got their first hit in the fourth, when Kristen Zaleski led off with a single through the left side. She advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and interference call, and was scored on a perfect suicide squeeze bunt from Julie Marshall.
The All-Stars would extend their lead on USA starter Jennie Finch in the fifth, when Zaleski scored on a RBI single by Lindsay Gardner.
Cat Osterman would replace Finch, throwing 4 1/3 innings of scoreless softball to pick up her 15th win of the “Aiming For Athens” Tour.
Team USA looked to win the game in the eighth, loading the bases with two outs before James forced a flyout from Natasha Watley. The All-Stars would also load the bases in the top half of the ninth, but Osterman fanned former Oklahoma State star Jaime Foutch to end the threat.
After Amico and Bustos were retired to begin the ninth, James walked Fernandez, then Nuveman delivered a 1-2 pitch over the center field wall.
“I was hoping that she would give me something on the outside part of the plate,” said Nuveman. “She left it over, and I took advantage of it.”
Team USA improved to 50-0 in its pre-Olympic warm-up tour. It was only the second time that the Red, White and Blue had trailed – the other being in a 3-2 win over Illinois on March 4. It was the first extra-inning contest of the tour.
Team USA concludes its “Aiming for Athens” tour this week, traveling to Stevens Point, Wisc., and Stratford, Conn., on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. The NPF West All-Stars will face their counterparts from the East on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. You can follow the action of NPF’s inaugural All-Star Game via Gametracker on NFCA.org.
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