Monica Abbott reaches a new level with perfect game
By BOB BERGHAUS
Gannett New Service
By BOB BERGHAUS
BEIJING — Pitching has been at the forefront of the United States' dominance in softball since the sport became an Olympic event in 1996.
American pitchers have thrown 24 shutouts in 31 Olympic wins while allowing just 17 runs.
Even with those numbers, nobody had ever thrown a perfect game in the Olympics before Sunday. Monica Abbott, a former All-American at the University of Tennessee, changed that when she struck out nine batters from the Netherlands in an 8-0 victory at Fengtai Softball Field. The game was shortened to five innings because of the run-ahead rule.
"That was definitely a big thing and I was a little overwhelmed," said Abbott, who threw 23 no-hitters with six perfect games during a college career that ended in 2007.
"I didn't realize that it was the first one. I thought surely somebody wearing an American uniform would have thrown one."
Lisa Fernandez, who played in three Olympics, was perfect through nine innings against Australia in 1996, but lost the extra-inning game in the 10th when she gave up a two-run home run.
Abbott, a 6-foot-3 left-hander, pitched one inning in the opening game to combine with Jennie Finch on a five-inning no-hitter against Venezuela, and Kat Osterman followed that with a seven-inning no-hitter to beat Australia 3-0.
The U.S. concluded round-robin play on Monday with a 9-0 win over China. Abbott is 2-0 in four appearances. She's allowed one run (unearned) and has given up one hit while striking out 19 in 14 innings.
Abbott said when she came out for the fifth inning Sunday, knowing she was three outs away from perfection, she pitched the only way she knew how.
"I was just taking it one pitch at a time," said Abbott, who entered the Olympics with a 7-0 record in international competition. "I just kept throwing hard and throwing gas and do what I do best."
The 23-year-old Abbott is the youngest member of the U.S. team, but her performance has not surprised U.S. catcher Stacey Nuveman, who is playing in the Olympics for the third time.
"Monica to me has been a different pitcher when she has the USA uniform on and I take nothing away from her phenomenal career at Tennessee," Nuveman said. "She's learned how to play at this level and accept the responsibility that goes with it."
Softball will not be in the 2012 Olympics. The earliest it could return is 2016. There is some sentiment that U.S. dominance played a role in the sport being dropped. The Americans outscored nine opponents 51-1 in 2004, and following Monday's win they had a 53-1 edge over seven foes in these games. It has been suggested that if a team other than the U.S. wins this tournament, it could help the sport.
"If Michael Phelps can win eight gold medals, why can't USA softball dominate?" she said. "This is what the Olympics are about, extraordinary performances and making the viewers watching on TV get chills when they watch us play.
"If we do that every game, that's a success for softball."