U.S. softball falls to Japan

August 21, 2008 6:26:35 AM PDT
Losing for the first time since 2000, the U.S. softball team was denied a chance for a fourth straight gold medal Thursday, beaten 3-1 by Japan in the sport's last appearance in the Olympics for at least eight years - and maybe for good.

Yukiko Ueno, Japan's remarkably resilient right-hander, shut down the Americans and handed them their first loss since Sept. 21, 2000 at the Sydney Games. The U.S. had won 22 straight since then, most of them with outrageously lopsided scores.

Another gold was certainly within reach. Instead, they walked off Fengtai Field with their heads bowed.

The U.S. team never led and made two uncharacteristic errors in the seventh inning to help the Japanese add an important insurance run - one they didn't even need.

When Caitlin Lowe grounded to third for the final out, Vicky Galindo, who led off the U.S. team's seventh inning with a pinch-hit single, wrapped her hands over her helmet and cringed.

Moments later, U.S. coach Mike Candrea huddled his stunned players, many of whom couldn't even look up. Lowe choked back tears as slugger Crystl Bustos tried to console her overwhelmed teammates.

Bustos, who homered in the fourth for the Americans' only run, was first in line to congratulate the Japanese players. As she shook hands with the U.S. team, Japan catcher Yukiyo Mine was overcome by tears.

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