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USA Nips China, 1-0, in World Championship Opener

 CARACAS, Venezuela – Less than 24 hours after a spectacular opening, the USA Softball National Team returned to the same field to take on China in the opening game of the XII ISF Women’s Softball World Championships in Caracus, Venezuela. Seeking its ninth World Title, USA Softball, now 7-0 against China in World Championship play, clinched game one in a 1-0 victory thanks to an RBI single by two-time World Champion Natasha Watley (Irvine, Calif.) in the seventh inning. 

After holding the top of the lineup hitless in the first inning, Zhou Yi took the first pitch of China’s at bat for a base hit to center field. After a popup bunt, another Chinese runner reached after drawing a walk off starting pitcher Cat Osterman (Houston, Texas). Osterman found her groove and recorded two strikeouts to leave the runners stranded. 

Both pitchers were stingy with the hits as both Osterman and China starting pitcher Lan Wang allowed one hit a piece through the first three innings. 

"As a pitcher, you always want to come out and get ahead in the count. When we figured out China was swinging at the first pitch, we really worked on getting them guessing. We worked both sides of the plate and made them chase it a bit." 

China threatened in the fourth when leadoff batter Li Chunxia hit a single to left field. Guo Jia reached on a fielders choice when first baseman Jennie Finch (La Mirada, Calif.) went for the out at second but Chunxia was called safe. With no outs and two runners on, Osterman issued a strikeout but two runners advanced on a stolen base. The USA defense came into play when catcher Lauren Lappin (Anaheim, Calif.) went for the runner at third base, catching her in a pickle. Andrea Duran (Selma, Calif.) threw back to Lappin who threw to Natasha Watley (Irvine, Calif.). Finch came over from first and would be the final USA player to assist in the out, tagging out Chunxia. 

The fifth inning saw a U.S. player reach base for the first time since the second inning with Ashley Charters (Beaverton, Ore.) reaching after getting hit by a pitch. After allowing only three to reach, China starting pitcher Wang Lan was removed from the game during a full-count Lappin at bat. Li Qui hit Lappin with a ball to allow two runners to reach with two outs. Watley reached on a walk for a bases loaded opportunity but a flyout by Caitlin Lowe (Tustin, Calif.) left three runners stranded. 

China and the United States entered the seventh inning tied at zero, with a combined four hits between them. Only one was a hit for the red, white and blue, a Duran single to leadoff the second inning. In the top of the seventh, a USA runner reached third base for the first time all game. Ashley Hansen (Chandler, Ariz.) reached on an error by the third baseman and stole a base to reach second. Lappin advanced her to third with a groundout to second base. The two-time Olympian and World Champion Watley came through with a hard hit ball to pitcher that allowed Hansen to score. 

"Definitely any time you have runners on base, you want to look at getting in a situation where you can make something happen. We didn't have our best day today at the plate,” said two-time World Champion Watley. “We were struggling and not real aggressive so I really just wanted to get on base and do whatever I could to get a run in." 

Osterman returned for the final half of the inning, allowing no one to reach base. Osterman worked the full seven innings with 11 strikeouts, one walk and one hit by pitch. 

“We struggled offensively at the beginning and made adjustments later in the fifth, sixth and seventh inning. We are a good offensive team and that didn’t really come through today. You really only need to score one more run than the other team and when you have a pitcher like Cat in the circle, sometimes all you need is one. We came to win and that’s what we did,” said Head Coach Jay Miller (Starkville, Miss.). 

Tomorrow will be the only day of two-game action as USA will face New Zealand at 10:30 a.m./CT before taking on host team Venezuela at 6:30 p.m./CT of which will assumedly be a rowdy and packed stadium. The United States is 9-0 with New Zealand in World Championship play with the latest win a 15-0 victory in four innings at the 2006 Worlds. This will be the first meeting between Venezuela and the United States in Worlds, dating back to 1965. Live stats will be provided for all games so please be sure to check out www.usasoftball.com for live stats along with recaps, box scores and photo galleries. 

- Courtesy of USA Softball