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Latinx Heritage Month

On this day in Latinx history: Lisa Fernandez leads USA softball to gold medal

The ace pitcher struck out eight in a 2-1 win over Japan in the grand final

One would think that after Lisa Fernandez established the Olympic softball record for strikeouts (25) in Team USA’s 2-1, 13-inning loss to Australia on Sept. 21, 2000, she would be given time off to recuperate.

That, however, is the opposite of what USA coach Ralph Raymond decided to do. After losing three games in a row for the first time in 35 years of international play, Team USA rode its ace pitcher to four straight wins and a spot in the grand final on Sept. 26.

Coming into the Summer Olympics, the Americans had a 110-game winning streak. They then added two more victories before going on the three-game slide in the middle of the preliminary round, which dropped the U.S. to 2-3 in the eight-country pool.

After blanking New Zealand and Italy to nab the last semifinal spot, the U.S. added a 3-0 win over China in the semifinals and a 1-0 victory over Australia to expand its winning streak to four games and punch its ticket to the grand final.

“When we think of all the opportunities that we had to succeed [on the field], and we didn’t come through,” Fernandez, the daughter of a Cuban father and Puerto Rican mother, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “You have to think of a battle, you have to think of a fight, and you never give up.”

In the grand final, the Japanese struck first in the fourth inning to end a scoreless tie.

Third baseman Reika Utsugi hit a low line drive just over outfielder Laura Berg’s glove and beyond the center-field fence. Fernandez’s changeup, which many considered the best in the world, failed her on this at-bat.

But Team USA started making its comeback the following inning after Stacey Nuveman nailed a hard single to right-center field and brought in the runner on third.

Righty Juri Takayama was untouchable in the seventh inning, but she walked Nuveman and second baseman Dot Richardson in the extra eighth inning. Berg, who couldn’t grab the homer in the fourth, stepped up in the eighth, whacking a fastball so hard into deep left that outfielder Shiori Koseki dropped it as she backtracked.

Jennifer McFalls, pinch running for Nuveman, ran across home plate and the Americans won their second straight Olympic gold medal. Fernandez finished with eight strikeouts, a walk and a home run given up.

“You want to represent it with your heart, and your guts and everything you have,” Fernandez told the Journal Sentinel. “I mean, it is a privilege to be a U.S. citizen and to have this uniform on.

“And we are going to do everything, and we did everything, that we could to make America proud.”

Fernandez — a UCLA grad with a 93-7 record and a .930 winning percentage, a four-time NCAA All-American and two-time NCAA Women’s College World Series champion — went on to win her third straight gold medal at the 2004 Games in Athens.

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.