Topping keeps USA perfect with walk-off home run
CLEARWATER, FL – Moving to 12-0 on its ‘Aiming for Athens’ tour, Team USA captured two wins on Thursday evening during the opening night of the 2004 Speedline Invitational. Pushing the pre-Olympic tour win streak to 127, it was all Jenny Topping (Whittier, CA) in game one whose bottom of the seventh walk-off home run lifted the squad 3-2 over Illinois. An 8-0 mercy rule victory over UNLV, hurler Lori Harrigan (Las Vegas, NV) stifled her alma mater in game two with 11 strikeouts allowing just two hits in the contest.
Struggling at the plate through the first three innings with just one hit, the U.S. bats waited to come alive when they needed it most in game one. Scoreless through three, the Illini took the lead in the fourth after a lead off base hit to Janna Hall put a runner on for an eventual two-run home run to right field by Erin Montgomery. Just shy of the right field foul line, the home run gave Illinois the advantage but it didn’t last long as the U.S. responded.
Kick started by a Crystl Bustos (Canyon Country, CA) double to left field, the Red, White and Blue put run No. 1 on board thanks to Topping who connected on an RBI double to left center. Bringing in pinch runner Jaime Clark (Tustin, CA), it would soon be tied 2-2 after an RBI single from Lovieanne Jung (Fountain Valley, CA) plated Clark for the tie.
Both squads failed to threaten through the fifth and sixth not advancing a runner into scoring position. Relieving starting pitcher Lisa Fernandez (Long Beach, CA), Jennie Finch (La Mirada, CA), entered the game in the sixth inning where she retired six consecutive batters via strikeout. Tied headed into the bottom of the seventh, this would be Team USA’s tightest match up thus far on the tour.
But it was the hot stick of Topping who came through again in the seventh when she blasted a 2-2 pitch to left center for a solo home run and the 3-2 win.
“I had the opportunity to be on time tonight with my at bats,” Topping said. “I was seeing good pitches and had a chance to make some things happen. That’s what I was trying to do and it worked out for me tonight.”
With two hits a piece, Topping, Jung, and Bustos led all hitters while Finch moved to 4-0 from the circle.
In game two versus UNLV, starting pitcher Harrigan showed no mercy to her alma mater Rebels as she completed five innings for the win with 11 strikeouts allowing two hits. The 8-0 victory ended in a mercy rule win after six innings noting Team USA’s ninth mercy rule victory of the tour.
“I was just happy to throw the ball tonight and feel loose,” Harrigan said. “I’d been struggling the last couple weeks and it was nice to work on my mental game and really be able to move the ball.”
Using game one as a warm up, the bats came alive early in game two plating one run on two hits in the first. A lead off infield single from Natasha Watley (Irvine, CA) was all Fernandez needed as she bolted an RBI single up the middle to take the 1-0 lead.
Pushing its lead to 6-0, the U.S. rallied for five runs in the second inning highlighted by a two-run home run from Bustos. A walk to Jessica Mendoza (Camarillo, CA) put a runner on before Watley surfaced her second of three hits on the night to plate Mendoza. Watley’s soon scored on a wild pitch before Leah O’Brien-Amico (Chino Hills, CA) reached on a base on balls. The defying swing of Bustos would then come to the plate to smash a home run to right center for the 5-0 jump. Tairia Mims Flowers (Tucson, AZ) would later score Fernandez who earlier reached on an error.
The U.S. would go on to score two more runs in the bottom of the sixth due to a Nicole Giordano (Saugus, CA) single and a Watley double to left field. The shortstop led the U.S. contingent going 3-for-4 while Bustos connected on her eighth home run of the tour.
On the 2004 ‘Aiming for Athens’ tour the USA has outscored opponents 117-8 and has crushed 29 home runs in just 12 games.
Returning to Speedline Invitational action on Friday, the U.S. will battle No. 22 Iowa at 6 p.m. and Baylor at 8 p.m.