Finch, Leles lead U.S. to mercy win over Italy

OKLAHOMA CITY — Just because the U.S. team has called on Jennie Finch to focus on her top-notch pitching all these years doesn't mean she's forgotten how to hit.

Given the chance to swing away, Finch has become a staple in the middle of the lineup for a new-look American team that has 10 rookies.

She came through with another big hit Friday night, powering a two-run home run to left field during a six-run first inning as the U.S. capitalized on some shaky defense by Italy for a 12-0 victory at the World Cup of Softball.

"That sort of broke things open for us that first inning," U.S. coach Jay Miller said. "She's been swinging the bat great. I think she's seeing the ball well and doing a great job offensively.

"You couldn't ask for anything more."

It's been awhile since Finch was called on to hit regularly. She had a pair of 16 home run seasons at Arizona, where she earned an NCAA-record 60 straight wins and won the 2001 Women's College World Series title.

But in her time with the U.S. national team, Finch has been primarily used as a pitcher. She got only 30 at-bats in the Americans' 60-game tour leading up to the Olympics last summer and then didn't get a chance to hit in Beijing.

"I've always enjoyed hitting. That was one thing that I loved in college. I was playing first base when I wasn't on the mound, and I was always hitting," said Finch, who is 13 for 27 (.481) with two home runs and 14 RBIs this year.

Jenae Leles also hit a three-run home run to continue a hot start at her first World Cup, and the U.S. kept pulling away for a mercy rule win stopped after five innings.

Leles was 2 for 11 earlier this month at the Canada Cup, but is 5 for 5 with two homers and seven RBIs in Oklahoma City. She said she's focusing on breathing better at the plate and approaching each at-bat with more confidence.

"Wearing this uniform, a lot comes with it, and I just wanted to do my part and contribute. I think there's a little added pressure, but I think I'm a little more comfortable now," Leles said.

Katie Burkhart (1-0) threw three scoreless innings in her World Cup debut.

Leslie Malerich (0-2) allowed 11 earned runs in 2 1-3 innings for Italy.

Italy (0-3) helped the American offense with two errors in the first inning, including letting leadoff hitter Natasha Watley out of a rundown between second and third. Alissa Haber had a two-run single before Finch's hit to left field made it 4-0.

The U.S. also scored on a rundown in the second inning when Leles broke for home while Andrea Duran was caught between second and third.

"We're just a very quick team. We have speed all around the bases and if we can make something happen with the other team making errors, then we're going to take advantage of it," Leles said.

The U.S. faces a crucial day at the World Cup today, facing Canada during the day before a rematch against Olympic gold medalist Japan at night.

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