ATHENS – Yukiko Ueno became the first pitcher in Olympic softball history to throw a perfect game and helped Japan earn a semifinal berth with a 2-0 triumph over China on the final day of round-robin play at the Athens Games on Friday.
In her third start in seven games, Ueno, who pitched 3 2/3 innings in relief in a 1-0 win over Italy a day earlier, struck out nine in a 65-pitch outing as Japan improved to 4-3 and finished the preliminaries in third place behind the United States and Australia.
The U.S. softball team remained unbeaten for the Olympics, beating Taiwan 3-0 on Friday for its seventh straight Olympic shutout and 77th win in a row. Cat Osterman struck out 10 in six innings, and the Americans completed a perfect run through the preliminary round, setting up a U.S.-Australia showdown in the semis.
Ueno said she battled some nerves during her stellar performance.
“The pressure that we couldn’t lose made me all the more pumped. I was really tense in the seventh because I knew what I was pitching for,” the 22-year-old said.
“After what happened the other day, I was ready to persevere even if the game had gone into a tiebreaker,” Ueno said, reflecting on Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Canada in which she came within an out of a perfect game.
The no-hitter was the first at an Olympics since Chinese pitcher Qin Xuejing accomplished the feat against Cuba at the Sydney Games in 2000 and third overall. U.S. pitcher Lori Harrigan also pitched a no-hitter in Sydney.
Ueno retired the 21 batters she faced with 10 groundouts and two flyouts in addition to nine strikeouts.
Japan will meet China again in a semifinal game in a format unique to softball.
A victory against China will pit Japan against the loser of the Australia-U.S. semifinal.
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