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U.S. exorcises offensive demons in 2-0 winPosted: Thursday September 21, 2000 12:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday November 08, 2000 3:25 PM
BLACKTOWN, Australia (CNNSI.com) -- The defending Olympic champion United States followed a semi-serious cleansing ritual with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand Friday.
They gathered in their house at the Athlete's Village, still wearing the uniforms they had soiled with a third consecutive loss.
It was Lisa Fernandez's idea.
It was Lori Harrigan's shower.
"It just seemed like we were cursed," Fernandez said. "I said, 'We've got to get the curse off.'"
Jennifer Brundage went 3-for-3 with a homer, and Harrigan pitched a one-hitter for 5 1-3 innings as the Americans moved just one victory from the medal round.
Harrigan, who pitched a no-hitter in the tournament opener, struck out eight before she was lifted with one out in the sixth. Christa Williams got the last five outs for the save.
More importantly, the Americans scored their first runs in regulation after three games without one. "It was a big sigh of relief to get that first run in the first seven innings," Brundage said.
The Americans had never lost three games in a row, and they had not lost at all in two years. But their 112-game winning streak was a receding memory and their gold-medal hopes were in danger when they piled into the shower and scrubbed their uniforms of the bad luck they knew must be there.
"We're just Down Under, and things are a little opposite," said Dot Richardson, who made two errors in the loss to Japan that was the Americans' first in two years. "We needed to start thinking a little differently."
They brought along the uniforms -- the same ones they wore against New Zealand -- for those who couldn't be there and washed them down, too. They jumped up and down, chanting, "Voodoo, Gone!"
And as the water washed down the drain, so did the losing streak.
"It just got all the bad stuff off," Fernandez said. "The voodoo's gone. We're ready to rock and roll."
The Americans (3-3) would advance to the medal round with a victory over Italy on Saturday. Once there, they would need to win three consecutive games to repeat as gold medalists.
"Everybody talked about how many games in a row we won," Richardson said. "We would take a five-game winning streak right now over any 112-game winning streak."
The team also held a more serious, less soapy meeting in which the players threw a softball around the room. The person who caught the ball had to talk about something she was doing well.
The U.S. hitters, who came into the game batting just .181, managed six hits off Kiwi workhorse Gina Weber. Brundage homered to lead off the second inning, then scored on Richardson's groundout with the bases loaded in the fourth.
"We knew that they desperately wanted to win this game. They wouldn't have made the playoffs, and that would be the first time," said Weber, whose team was eliminated with the loss.
"I thought they would come back stronger. And they did."
This victory probably had more to do with the competition.
New Zealand (2-4) was tied with the United States entering the game but is now firmly entrenched in the bottom tier in the eight-team tournament. None of the bottom four teams has beaten any of the top four.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.