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COLUMNISTS

Wed, August 18, 2004

Win was hardly a hit


ATHENS -- It's a warped and twisted version of what is known in baseball as "small ball."

It's also a weird way to have an Olympic moment in one of the biggest victories in Canadian softball history.

Canada's Jackie Lance found herself in that position here yesterday, scoring the winning run in a 1-0 victory over Japan.

The Grande Prairie native had the thrill of being a bit of an Olympic heroine. Her accomplishment? She struck out to end an inning.

Honest. You strike out to end an inning, if it is the seventh inning and you get to score the winning run in one of the biggest games Canada has ever won in the sport. That's the deal. It's the way it works.

Hey, it's women's softball. They keep changing the rules to try to give somebody a chance to beat the Americans, a team which rips off winning streaks in the 100s.

In Olympic softball this year, you get to plant a player on second base to start every inning after the regulation seven.

Runner on second.

Bunt her over.

Turn it over to the softball gods.

Lance started on second. Allison Bradley bunted her over. Erin White hit a ground ball. Error Emi Naito.

Lance scores!

Canada wins 1-0!

Bring on the U.S.!

"I don't know if we've ever won a game against Japan," said Lance.

"We certainly haven't in my time. Not during my eight years with the team.

"It was a huge win for us. If the international rules work for us, we'll take it."

MANAGED JUST ONE HIT

The Canadians committed two errors and only managed one hit. But it was a win.

"Japan is the No. 2-team in the world. They won the silver in Sydney. I can't remember the last time we beat Japan either," said coach Mike Renney.

With the win Canada kept hopes alive for reaching the medal round. A loss to Japan and it would have been sayonara for Canada's chances of making the final four. If it's a gift runner on second base, a sacrifice and an error, so be it.

Canada's record is 2-2, with the Australians and Italy still left to play. A loss yesterday and the country's medal hopes would have been toast. But by playing for the 1-0 win in extra innings and pulling it off, it left the Japanese at 1-3 and as a team in trouble.

Canada has been a benefactor of this business before.

"We made it into the Atlanta Olympics by beating New Zealand in a qualifying game, which went 10 innings, and the pitcher for New Zealand threw a no-hitter," said Renney of the plant-a-runner-on-second rule which has been around for a while but didn't kick in until the 10th inning and until these Olympics.

They changed a couple of other rules for Athens in softball, too. Moved the pitching mound back from 40 feet to 43. Moved the fences back from 200 to 220 to make a little more room for balls to drop in and keep more of the American drives inside the park.

It's an anti-American conspiracy.

Japan couldn't complain about what happened to them. They were playing the same game the night before against the Americans.

They succeeded at taking the Americans to extra innings without managing a hit, trying to do the same thing. The U.S. scored three in the eighth to win it 3-0.

YANKS ARE UP NEXT

Today, Canada will try to play the same twisted game against the same Americans, a team which rips off winning streaks in the 100-plus-game range and is 4-0 in the Olympic tournament outscoring opposition 24-0 so far.

Beating the Japanese is one thing. Beating the Americans tonight would be something else again.

"It would be huge for us," said Lance, who went south to New Mexico on a softball scholarship and ended up inducted into the Albuquerque Sports Hall of Fame in 2000 and is now one of 21 women firefighters in the Albuquerque Fire Department.

As well as anybody on this team, she knows what a trophy the Americans are in the sport, where they've won both gold medals since softball was made part of the show in Atlanta.

They've been the No. 1-ranked team in the world for the 18 years they've ranked them. The team went 53-0 during this year's Aiming for Athens pre-Olympic tour.

"We haven't been able to beat the Americans since the Pan-Am Games in 1983," said Lance. "I can't think of a better time and place to do it again than this."

Just remember the strategy. Keep them off the scoreboard for seven innings. Get a free runner on second. Bunt her over. Hope.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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