The USA Baseball Collegiate National Team's summer ended with a whimper, as Cuba completed a five-game sweep of Team USA in Cuba this weekend. Team USA finished the summer with an 18-8-2 record. Though it ended on a sour note, the American campaign featured a pair of notable successes in a Honkbal Week tournament championship in the Netherlands and a series win against Japan on American soil.
"I am really proud of this team and all that we accomplished this summer," Team USA head coach Dave Van Horn (Arkansas) said after Sunday's finale. "Starting with our tour of the Coastal Plain League when we were in something like 10 different hotels in 12 nights, these players have always had great attitudes, have never complained and really bonded as a squad.
"We started out really strong, winning a five-game series against Chinese Taipei and a hard-fought three-game series over Japan. Then, we took the first overseas trip for pretty much every player on the team and I felt like they responded really well. They showed up to play every day and played hard. We didn't panic after losing the first game at Honkbal Week and ran off seven straight wins to accomplish one of our biggest goals of the summer, which was to win that tournament."
But Team USA's bats went cold in Cuba, where the Americans managed just seven runs total in five games and were shut out twice, including a 1-0 loss in Sunday's finale. Team USA's previously dominant pitching showed a few cracks in its armor in Cuba, and the defense was not as crisp as it had been. In Saturday's 7-3 loss, for instance, Team USA committed four errors, and starter Jake Lemoine allowed six runs in just 1 2/3 innings of work. In the five-game series, USA's overall ERA rose from 1.33 to 1.58, and its fielding percentage dropped from .966 to .961.
"We didn't finish quite like we had hoped down here in Cuba, but our players really kept a great attitude," Van Horn said. "We just couldn't get over the hump. It was hot and the travel was definitely a grind but the bottom line was that we played a great team, full of grown men. We lost three one-run games and just didn't field and hit like we were capable of."
Christin Stewart (Tennessee) finished as the lone Team USA player to hit above .300; he hit a blistering .383/.474/.605 on the summer with two homers, 16 RBIs and 12 doubles. Stewart was the breakout star of a fairly balanced offense.
The pitching staff had more than its share of stars, and its bullpen was nearly untouchable. Relievers Tyler Jay (Illinois), A.J. Minter (Texas A&M) and Ryan Burr (Arizona State) posted a combined 0.00 ERA in 40 innings over 36 appearances. Righthanders Carson Fulmer (Vanderbilt), James Kaprielian (UCLA), Kyle Funkhouser (Louisville) and Justin Garza (Cal State Fullerton) made at least four starts apiece and all posted ERAs below 2.00. By and large, the staff pounded the strike zone and missed plenty of bats.
It will go down as a solid summer, despite its disappointing conclusion.
"This summer has been an experience none of us will ever forget," Van Horn said. "When things slow down a little bit, I think all of us will reflect on this experience and realize all of the friendships we have gained and what a unique opportunity we have had. I have no doubt that each and every one of these players will be better baseball players and better people as a result of the experiences we have had this summer."