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U.S. coach tries to keep his team hungry for victory

Chicago Tribune

Cat Osterman was almost apologetic.

“It was bound to happen,” said the U.S. softball team pitcher. “I’m not too worried about it.”

And the crisis?

The first hit off Osterman in the Beijing Games in 11 innings. Osterman also has struck out 21 in two victories, but U.S. Coach Mike Candrea apparently was trying to keep his players on their toes as the round-robin tournament heads into its last three days of play before the semifinals.

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Candrea didn’t tell pitchers who would start against Japan, or in the final four innings of the game against Canada, which was postponed by rain the night before.

“We had a little bit of nervousness going because I made a late change in the pitching and kind of got everyone going a little bit,” he said with a smile.

The U.S., the only undefeated team of eight entrants, next plays Taipei, 1-3 in the tournament. Its victory was 3-0 over Venezuela, a team the U.S. defeated, 11-0. And as hard as it seems, Candrea said he’d like his team to go into every game feeling as if it’s trailing by a couple of runs.

“It’s just a ready state that you’re in, it’s kind of like walking into a dark alley,” he said. “You don’t know what’s in front of you and you get that adrenaline rush when you get your back against the wall. Good teams will refocus, where sometimes others kind of lose it.”

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That was surely the case with Canada, which led the U.S., 1-0, before rain halted the game Thursday. By the time it had picked up Friday, the Americans’ 18-game Olympic win streak in danger, the pressure got to one team and it was not the three-time defending gold medalists.

Rather, three errors and a passed ball by Canada led to four runs in the sixth inning by the U.S., which piled on four more in the seventh for an 8-1 victory.

In Friday’s first game against Japan, a 7-0 victory that included an Olympic record four home runs by the U.S., Monica Abbott was the winning pitcher, giving up one hit and striking out five in five innings. Jennie Finch, who has yet to give up a hit and has struck out five in four innings of work, will start against Taipei.

“It’s just all about matchups right now and what’s going to work out in our favor,” Osterman said of Candrea’s pitching strategy. “I was ready to go [against Japan] if he needed me to go and he changed up at the last second, which was fine. Mentally, we have to be ready at any point in time right now. There are only three of us, so if one goes down, we have to be ready at any time.”

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And if there is any nervousness involved, Candrea hopes it is a positive kind.

“You live for four years for that one moment in time and obviously as that moment gets closer, you get a little more ready and a little more anxious, but ‘nervousness’ is a bad term,” Candrea said. “All these kids have been through it before and that’s something you try to train them for.

“This is a game of relaxation. There’s a good nervous and a bad nervous. If you’re good nervous, it’s going to work to your advantage. If it’s a bad nervous, you’re not going to be able to play very well.”


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