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US beats Australia 4-0 at World Cup of Softball
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Jessica Moore thought she pitched only “OK” on Friday night against Australia in the World Cup of Softball. At least as OK as one can be throwing a one-hit shutout.

The Oregon standout handcuffed the Australians while her teammates produced one big inning offensively, enough to lift the United States to a 4-0 win.

The U.S. improved to 2-0 in the eighth World Cup and 41-4 all-time in the event heading into a Saturday showdown with Japan, which beat the U.S. in the gold-medal game at last year’s world championships.

“I’d like to see it when she’s great,” U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said. “If she said she pitched ‘OK,’ I’m going to sleep really, really well tonight. I have no problems with that. When you have a defense like that — and you saw the leather being thrown around really, really neat tonight — and with a drop-ball pitcher like Jess Moore, you’re going to see a lot of ground balls.”

Moore, an Oregon standout, threw a perfect inning of relief in a U.S. win over Canada on Thursday. She looked equally sharp against Australia (0-2), not allowing a baserunner until the fourth or a hit until Stacey McManus smacked a changeup to left field for a single to lead off the fifth.

Moore struck out four batters and walked two, relying mostly on her defense. Australia hit only three balls out of the infield, providing second baseman Lauren Gibson, shortstop Kourtney Salvarola and third baseman Amanda Chidester plenty of fielding opportunities.

Salvarola had the most spectacular defensive play, diving to snare a low line drive by Michelle Cox for the final out of the game.

“Jess really made it easy for us, being able to get ground balls and help us get outs,” Gibson said.

Moore credited her defense for allowing her to “kind of free-throw. I didn’t have any worries. I didn’t feel like I had to strike everybody out. I definitely used my defense to my advantage.

“I was mixing speeds pretty well and threw some pretty good change-ups,” Moore said. “They kind of had that in the back of their mind, I think. I did an OK job of hitting my spots. I was just able to get them out and kind of kept them guessing on which side of the plate I was going to throw to. It worked out in my favor tonight.”

Salvarola and Michelle Moultrie began the U.S. half of the third with infield singles off Australia starter Vanessa Stokes (0-1). Taylor Hoagland sacrificed them over and Gibson followed with a bouncer into left field that scored both runners.

Gibson stole second and scored on a two-out double to right-center field by Valerie Arioto. Aimee Murch relieved Stokes in the circle for Australia and promptly walked Lauren Chamberlain on four pitches, then gave up an RBI single to Nicole Hudson. That put the U.S. ahead 4-0.

Moore walked Stacey Porter and Jodie Bowering in the fourth, giving Australia its first baserunners of the game, but Moore recovered to strike out cleanup batter Chelsea Forkin and coaxed a fielder’s choice grounder from Stacey Webber to end the inning.

Australia’s only other threat came in the fifth. After McManus singled to lead off, Cox reached when Gibson dropped a soft toss from Salvarola who was trying to force out McManus. But Moore retired the next three batters, striking out two of them.

Much of the talk surrounding the U.S. team at the World Cup has concerned the absence of standout pitcher Keilani Ricketts. Ricketts, the collegiate player of the year who led Oklahoma to the NCAA title, seemed set to return to the U.S. squad for a third year, but had a disagreement and a parting of the ways with USA Softball earlier this month. But even in her absence, the U.S. has recorded two shutouts.

“We’re making plays,” Eriksen said. “With the speed that we have, infield and outfield, I think that I would like to pitch for a team like this, and I couldn’t break a pane of glass. So that bodes well.

“I think everybody is talking about the 18 players that are here right now that are really focused on what this group has been brought together to do, and that’s to play great softball. . I think it’s time to move on. The young lady has made a great decision in her life. She’s a phenomenal person. I love her to death. We are Team USA right now and that’s what we’re going to go to bat with tomorrow against Japan.”

In other World Cup games Friday, Canada (2-1) posted a pair of wins, beating Puerto Rico 13-3 and upsetting Japan 2-1. Japan fell to 1-1, while Puerto Rico is 0-1 in World Cup play.

The five teams are playing a round-robin tournament, with the two highest finishers to play Sunday for the title.