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Friday, August 20, 2004
Perfect game paves path to semis

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Yukiko Ueno pitched the first perfect game in Olympic softball history, leading Japan to a 2-0 win over China on Friday and a spot in the tournament semifinals.

The 22-year-old Ueno overpowered the Chinese in a game the defending silver medalists had to win. A loss would have dropped Japan (4-3) into a tie with Canada, which would have won the tiebreaker and the No. 4 spot in the semis because it beat Japan in Tuesday's preliminary round.

Ueno, though, took it into her own hands. She struck out nine and allowed China (3-4) to hit just one ball into the outfield.

"That was just great pitching,'' said third baseman Reika Utsugi. "Everyone in the dugout knew it was a perfect game, but I'm not sure anyone knew it was the first perfect game in the Olympics.''

Softball joined the Olympics in 1996, and before Ueno's perfect game, many pitchers had flirted with one but come up short.

In the seventh, Ueno, popping the radar gun at 70 mph all night, got two quick outs before getting the final batter, Deng Xiaoling, to hit a grounder to second baseman Mishina Masumi.

Masumi bobbled it briefly before throwing to first for the 21st out.

There was no celebration as Ueno walked off the field, bowed to her countryman sitting behind the third-base dugout and joined her teammates in a circle around coach Taeko Utsugi.

Despite the loss, China (3-4) advanced to the semifinals and will play Japan on Sunday. The United States (7-0) will play Australia in the other semi.