With a 7-5 win against Chinese Taipei, the USA Baseball 18-and-under national team secured its place in the IBAF 18U World Cup gold medal game Sunday at 6:30 a.m. ET against Japan. Team USA has a chance to repeat as champion for the first time since the 1988-1989 teams.
After winning its first two games of the second round to clinch a spot in the gold medal game, Team USA will play its final second round game against Japan on Saturday to determine home-field advantage for the gold medal game. Japan remained undefeated and clinched its spot in the gold medal game with a 10-0 win against Cuba. Japan has outscored its opponents by 58 runs in seven games.
USA’s 7-5 win over host Chinese Taipei was a rousing come-from-behind affair.
“Playing in front of the hometown team tonight was the best part,” Team USA coach Rob Cooper said. “Before the game I told the players they needed to understand what they got to do: play a big game against the hometown team with their fans, in their stadium. That’s a great international baseball environment and our guys embraced it.”
USA scored first in the bottom of the second on a two-run single by Cole Tucker (Mountain Pointe High, Phoenix) that plated Jakson Reetz (Norris High, Hickman, Neb.) and Keaton McKinney (Ankeny High, Iowa).
Chinese Taipei scored three in the next frame on three walks and three base hits against USA starter Justus Sheffield, a lefthander from Tullahoma (Tenn.) High. With single runs in the fifth and sixth, Chinese Taipei chased Sheffield, who lasted 5 1/3 innings and struck out two against three walks. Rising junior righthander Joe DeMers (College Park, Martinez, Calif.) was called upon in relief and threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings to push his cumulative World Cup line to seven scoreless innings.
“What Joe DeMers did tonight was awesome,” Cooper said. “He kept us in the game. I remember seeing him in 2012 at the 17U National Team Development Program, and I saw how competitive he was then. He showed that tonight.”
USA’s Michael Rivera, a righthanded-hitting catcher from Venice (Fla.) Senior High, hit a two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the seventh to narrow the gap to a run. Rivera’s home run was the first of the tournament for Team USA and chased Chinese Taipei starter Tzu-Wei Lin, a 19-year-old shortstop in the Red Sox system.
A barrage of extra-base hits scored three runs in the eighth, putting Team USA up for good. Speedster Scott Hurst, an outfielder from Bishop Amat, Glendora, Calif., tripled to left-center field and scored on a double by Reetz, who came home on a triple to right field by Bryson Brigman (Valley Christian High, San Jose). A Tucker sacrifice fly scored Brigman.
Fireman Luis Ortiz, who attends Sanger (Calif.) High, retired Chinese Taipei in order to end the game.
On Thursday, Team USA run-ruled Venezuela in seven innings by a score of 15-5. Hurst collected four hits and a trio of righthanded hitters, J.J. Schwarz, Rivera and McKinney, had three hits apiece.
Righthander Jack Flaherty (Harvard-Westlake High, Studio City, Calif.) threw 4 1/3 innings, allowing five earned runs and two walks against one strikeout. East Hampton (Conn.) High righthander Marvin Gorgas pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out one while walking two.