USA softball reaches the title game

Stanford grads Mendoza, Haber, Lappin each record a hit for the Americans

The United States' women's softball national team turned two hits, a walk and an error into three runs in the bottom of the first inning, all it would need as it turned out, in beating Japan, 4-0, in the semifinals of the ISF World Championships in Caracas, Venezuela on Thursday.

Stanford grads Jessica Mendoza and Alissa Haber were right in the middle of the rally, with Mendoza drawing a walk and Haber adding a single. Both players scored in the inning.

Cardinal grad Lauren Lappin led off the fifth with a double and eventually scored on Mendoza's single.

Stanford junior Ashley Hansen came on as a defensive replacement late in the game.

Cat Osterman did the rest, throwing a one-hitter with two walks and 12 strikeouts.

"It was a team effort," Osterman said. "The offense came through early and I had to be at the top of my game because Japan is a great game."

China and Canada were scheduled to play a later semifinal, with that winner facing Japan on Friday in the double elimination tournament.

"We've played every team that's left so we'll be ready," Osterman said. "Everybody who came before us made the championship game and we know that's what is expected of us."

The U.S. plays the survivor on Friday for the World Championship.

"We're ready for anybody," American shortstop Natasha Watley said. "I hope we come out and put everything together."

Women's water polo

Stanford grad Brenda Villa scored twice and the United States women's national water polo team downed Canada, 7-4, in the quarterfinals of the FINA World League Super Final on Thursday night in La Jolla.

The victory sends the U.S. into Friday's semifinal match against Greece at 7 p.m. Australia and Russia play in the other semifinal, with the winners moving on to Saturday's Super Final championship.

The winning team is awarded $50,000, with the second-place team earning $40,000. Reaching the semifinals is worth $25,000.

The United States and Canada are currently the world's top teams, and faced each other in last year's world championships in Rome. The Americans won the title last year and have won four of the past six championships.

The U.S. overcame a 3-0 first-period deficit to beat the Canadians.

"I still wasn't too worried because I knew we'd make a game of it," U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said. "We needed to settle down. We looked a little bit anxious. We hadn't faced adversity yet this year, so I was curious to see how they would respond. They proved to me today what they are made of."

The Americans clamped down defensively, allowing Canada to convert just two of its 15 power-play chances.

"It starts on defense," said U.S. player Lauren Wenger, who also had two goals. "We knew we had a lot of time left and we just focused on our 5-on-6 defense. We wanted to get into our press. The offense comes on its own."

U.S. goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong recorded 12 saves to help insure the victory and knock the Canadians out of medal consideration.

"Our focus is to always get into a medal match," Wenger said, "And to get better as we go."

The U.S. beat Greece, 11-9, on the first day of the tournament.

"The Greeks do a fantastic job," Krikorian said. "They play smart, they play methodical and they know how to keep it close."

A live webcast of the proceedings can be found at the USA Water Polo official website.

— Palo Alto Online Sports

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