ATHENS -- Jennie Finch and the United States softball team made an Olympic debut that was sweaty, short, and thoroughly satisfying.
Finch didn't allow a hit in three innings, and the Americans began their run toward a third straight gold medal yesterday with a shortened 7-0 victory over Italy.
Natasha Watley went 4 for 4, hitting a two-run double in the fifth inning to put the US up by seven runs, invoking the mercy rule that ended the game.
Three-time Olympian Lisa Fernandez had an RBI single as the US extended its winning streak to 71 games since July 2003.
Finch struck out five of the 10 batters she faced before being pulled by US coach Mike Candrea.
By then the Americans led, 4-0, and the lead allowed Finch to get some rest on a 95-degree afternoon. Candrea also was able to get some work for Lori Harrigan and Cat Osterman, who shut out Italy over the final two innings.
The Italians didn't get their first hit until the fourth, when Marta Gambella singled on reliever Lori Harrigan's first pitch. Italy got runners to second and third with one out in the fifth off Harrigan, but Osterman came on and struck out the next two batters.
Showing off the speed and depth up and down its lineup, the US scored three runs in the second inning for a 4-0 lead.
Kelly Kretschmann led off with a double and Jessica Mendoza followed with a triple off the base of the wall in right. Laura Berg, whose eighth-inning single won the gold medal game over Japan in Sydney four years ago, drove in Mendoza with a hit.
Watley reached on her second infield single, and Crystl Bustos's RBI ground out made it 4-0.
The Americans then ended it in the fifth, when Mendoza hit a run-scoring single and Watley tripled.