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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 20, 2003

Greece begins Olympic run

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Team USA's Jessica Mendoza, left, was tagged out at third base by Greece's Jeana Gevas in the first inning of yesterday's contest.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Six years ago softball wasn't even a blip on Greek radar. Last night Team Hellas — as Greeks prefer to call their national side — had the tying run at bat in the last inning of its first international game and lasted six innings against the best team in the softball world the past 17 years, the United States.

Hellas adds an intriguing wrinkle to the third annual U.S. Cup, played before some 600 at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium last night.

Greece fell to Canada 4-1 in its opener and lost to the United States, 11-1.

As next year's Olympic host, it automatically qualifies for every sport, even those that were totally "foreign" to the country a few years ago.

"It's quite the honor to be in the Olympic Games," Hellas head coach Linda Wells said. "And quite the challenge to, within a year, put a team together that every game will face the world's powers."

Softball's first appearance in Greece came in 1997, said Wells, the Arizona State coach hired by Hellas less than a year ago (Cal's Diane Ninemire is her assistant). After watching 100-plus videos sent by players of Greek descent and several hundred athletes in Hellas, Wells now has a team.

All but two of her Greek players here have dual citizenship in America, including the three Farnworth sisters and two Bashor sisters who used to play against each other as kids in Iowa. The Greek nationals are Joanna Bouziou and Katerina Koutougkou, who are PE teachers. Their softball skills are somewhat rudimentary, but their athleticism and intellect have created a warp-speed learning curve.

All the Hellas players met for the first time at Los Angeles International Airport on the way here. They practiced seven times before playing Canada and the United States yesterday.

Team USA scored six runs in the bottom of the sixth to end the Hellas game an inning early via the mercy rule. Hellas led after a half inning.

"I was shocked we'd be on the field against the United States the whole game," Wells admitted. "I know what a strong team they are. It isn't like I don't understand what we're up against. At the same time, all the players are very dedicated and now very aware of their Greek heritage. It's been a very positive cultural thing. I think we can credibly represent the country. If the Greek Federation was here tonight to see our first games ever I think it would be happy."

Bouziou and Koutougkou, both fluent in English and 2-year softball veterans, were thrilled.

"I think it was great first of all to be here," Koutougkou said. "And to compete very hard against teams that have competed so many years in softball."

Before Olympic construction, there was one softball stadium in Greece, on what used to be a WWII American military base. Greek Cup softball, the 16-team national league, has been around for two years. But the influx of American college players and the talent of those who actually live in Greece provided a little drama and lots of intrigue in the team's debut.

Lindsey Bashor lined the second pitch of the game into left and raced to second when the ball rolled by Jessica Mendoza. Vanessa Csarnecki bunted her to third and, on the fourth ball to Jamie Farnworth, USA catcher Jenny Topping tried to pick Bashor off.

The ball hit Bashor in the middle of the back and ricocheted into left, allowing her to score. It was the first run against U.S. pitching in this tournament since last year's opening night. Team USA won its second U.S. Cup by shutting out its final four opponents. It won its first by not allowing an earned run.

Jennie Finch hit the next batter. The runners moved up on another bunt but stayed there when Finch struck out Katina Kramos.

Team USA caught Greece in the bottom of the inning when cleanup batter Crystl Bustos singled in Natasha Watley. A batter and a balk later, Topping singled in Bustos to put the U.S. up for good.

SHORT HOPS: Canada beat Chinese Taipei 5-4 in the 10-inning of a 3-hour and 10-minute opener. It ended when Angela Lichty hit her second homer, in the bottom of the 10th. Former University of Hawai'i-Hilo player Kristy Odamura scored ahead of Lichty. ... The U.S. beat Taipei, 7-0, in yesterday's final game.