USA Baseball’s collegiate national team scored a landmark 4-1 win over Cuba in the championship game of Haarlem Baseball Week on Sunday afternoon. Cuba’s team was the same minus one player from its 2004 Olympic gold medal team and its 2006 World Baseball Classic silver medal team, and it is the same team that will represent Cuba at the Beijing Olympics next month. Sunday marked the first time a U.S. collegiate national team has beaten a Cuban Olympic team in a tournament title game, and it was the second win for Team USA over Cuba in an eight-day span, following a 1-0 win last Sunday. The Americans finished with a 7-0 record in Haarlem to improve to 14-0 overall on the summer.
"What this team has accomplished is amazing," Team USA coach Rob Walton said. "These players may not realize the significance of this victory right now, but this was a big win. To beat a team with the history of success that Cuba has is something of which these guys should be proud.”
A newcomer to Team USA played a major role in the win. Cal State Fullerton first baseman Jared Clark, who replaced injured Kentrail Davis on the national team roster last Friday, hit a tie-breaking solo homer to lead off the sixth, giving the Americans a lead they would not relinquish. Clark had made a diving catch in foul ground to end a Cuban threat in the fourth inning after Cuba had already scored an unearned run–its only run of the game.
In both wins over Cuba in Haarlem, Vanderbilt lefthander Mike Minor started and got the win, and Baylor righty Kendal Volz got the save. Minor allowed just the lone unearned run on four hits and four walks over six innings Sunday, and Volz worked a perfect ninth for his fifth save of the tournament, and sixth in as many chances on the summer. USA pitching held Cuba to just an unearned run on 10 hits while striking out 16 in 18 innings over the two wins.
After Cuba had taken a 1-0 lead on Josh Fellhauer’s two-out error in the fourth inning Sunday, Team USA answered with a solo homer by Blake Smith to lead off the fifth. The Americans added two insurance runs in the eighth inning on a Cuban throwing error.
Team USA reached the finals after beating Chinese Taipei 5-2 in the semifinals on Saturday night. San Diego State righty Stephen Strasburg picked up the win in that one, allowing two runs on four hits while striking out 11 over seven strong innings. Miami shortstop Ryan Jackson led the offense, going 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Heading into the summer, Team USA general manager Eric Campbell expressed confidence that the team was going to be very good. So far, the national team has more than lived up to his billing.
"Winning an international competition and doing it against Cuba’s best team is an historic accomplishment," Campbell said. "It really shows the quality of the college game in America. I’m happy for these players and this coaching staff, and I’m proud to put these men in USA Baseball uniforms."
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