<
>

Fast start for Team USA

It's tempting to say different team, familiar results for the United States through the first four games of the ISF World Championship in Yukon, Canada, but that's not quite right for this new-look American roster.

After all, few of this team's predecessors have ever started a world championship like this.

After Monday's 17-0 win against South Africa, the United States sits atop Group A with a 4-0 record and three games remaining in pool play. Team USA needed the full seven innings just once in its first four games, following an opening win against Venezuela that went the distance. It played run-rule wins against the Czech Republic, Puerto Rico and South Africa in four or fewer innings (the international run rule comes into effect if a team leads by 15 runs after three innings, nine runs after four innings or seven runs after five innings).

The Americans outscored their first four opponents by a combined 47-0. That's the second-most runs through four games for any American team in 13 world championship appearances, topped only by the 49 runs scored by the 1994 gold-medal winners. The pitching isn't far behind the hitting. With the four starts distributed equally among all four members of the staff, Keilani Ricketts, Jordan Taylor, Chelsea Thomas and Jackie Traina have allowed just four hits in 18 innings, striking out 25 batters in the process.

Lauren Gibson was among several fixtures in coach Ken Eriksen's lineup who earned a day off against overmatched South Africa, but the All-America second baseman from the University of Tennessee has been the brightest star in Whitehorse (not that she has much celestial competition at a latitude at which the sun rarely exits). Gibson hit a key three-run home run against Japan in the final of the recent Canadian Open and carried the momentum north. Also a defensive whiz, she has three home runs in three starts and has reached base in all nine plate appearances. The home runs match Jennie Finch's team-leading total for the United States from the entire 2010 tournament.

Replete with young players making their first appearances in a major international event, like Gibson, Sam Fischer (2 HRs, 8 RBIs) and Valerie Arioto (2 HRs, 6 RBIs), Eriksen's team arrived in Whitehorse fresh off a reminder that it is not an unbeatable juggernaut: a 9-6 loss in extra innings against Japan in the Canadian Open. And as impressive as the first four games in the current tournament look, nobody will argue against the notion that the toughest assignments in Whitehorse are ahead. The two teams most likely to present a challenge in pool play await in back-to-back games: China on Tuesday and the Netherlands on Wednesday. Both Japan and Canada, which is set to add Danielle Lawrie and Jenn Salling after their National Pro Fastpitch commitments, potentially await from Pool B in the medal round beginning Friday.

But for a team constantly measured against the players who wore the uniform before them, 47-0 is a nice way to start.