Fernandez plays for U.S. team after left off Olympics roster

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- A single tear rolled down the cheek of three-time Olympic champion Lisa Fernandez as she stood near a fence after practice, the only sign she allowed to show that her tenure with the U.S. national softball team was nearing an end.

Fernandez allowed the emotion after the U.S. team practiced a day before its "Bound 4 Beijing" tour game against New Mexico State -- a 21-0 win -- on Sunday in Las Cruces.

The 37-year-old signature star of softball for more than a decade rejoined the American team 10 days after she was left off the 15-player roster for the Beijing Games and was named one of three replacement players. The team will attempt to win its fourth straight gold medal this summer in China.

Against New Mexico State, Fernandez scored one run and drove in a run as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning.

"It is emotional because it is a reality that there will be a separation, but I come out here and play the game because I love the game," Fernandez said. "Hopefully, when I compete people are going to watch how much I love the game. That's what I hang on to."

U.S. coach Mike Candrea said Fernandez didn't meet the expectations of the Amateur Softball Association Selection Committee by the time the roster was announced March 28. Fernandez took three years off from international competition to start a family before rejoining the U.S. team earlier this year.

"It is a four-year process, and the process possibly took its toll," Candrea said. "You are looking for the needs that you have and the best way to expand that 15-person roster and it's never easy. That's why there are seven members on the committee, and everyone has input."

Fernandez will remain with the team through the July 1 deadline, when Candrea must submit the final list of players to the United States Olympic Committee for approval. The only way she could return to the roster is if there are injuries.

After July 1, Fernandez will compete in the Pro Fastpitch Xtreme Tour and continue as an assistant coach at UCLA.

This year will be the first time in team history that the U.S. national team has taken only three pitchers to the Olympic Games, but Candrea said the change does not concern him as long as starters Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott stay healthy.

The U.S. team's game against New Mexico State was its first since a 1-0 loss to Virginia Tech on March 26. That defeat snapped the American team's 185-game winning streak in pre-Olympic competition.