USA Baseball’s junior national team eagerly awaited the chance to
cleanse its palate. Last year’s fourth-place finish at the World Junior
Championships in Taipei City, Taiwan, ended a 20-year string in which
the juniors had earned a medal at the biennial event, leaving it with a
sour taste that served as incentive for this year’s team as it prepared
for international competition.
And if the team’s preliminary pool play performances in Mexico at
the COPABE AAA Pan Am Junior Championship were any indication of its
appetite, the junior national team might soon relish the flavor of
Sunday, righthanders Tyson Ross and Shawn Tolleson handcuffed the
event’s five-time defending champion, Cuba, allowing a run on five hits
with seven strikeouts in Team USA’s 3-1 win.
Ross, a freshman at California, surrendered just two singles and two
walks in five innings before Tolleson, a senior from Allen (Texas)
Cuba manufactured a run off Tolleson in the seventh inning to tie it
1-1, but Team USA countered in the next inning. Shortstop Marcus Lemon
reached on one of his three hits in the game, then scored the go-ahead
run when outfielder Scott Schauer lined a single to right field. Lemon,
a senior from Eustis (Fla.) High, narrowly beat the throw to the plate
to break the tie.
“Before the play, I was thinking that I have to score on a base hit
because it could mean the difference,” Lemon said. “When I got to the
plate, I saw the catcher go up for the throw. I reacted and tried to
make it in safely.”
The victory improved the junior national team to 2-0 following two
of seven contests in seven days of round-robin pool play. Team USA is
competing with Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Panama and
Puerto Rico for one of four spots–based on pool play records–in the
semifinals scheduled for Sept. 10. All four countries that advance to
the semifinals qualify for next year’s World Junior Championships. The
gold and bronze medal games are slated for Sept. 11, and while winning
gold is a goal of the teams in attendance, qualifying for the 2006
tournament, which will be held in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, is the primary
objective of all eight teams in the field.
The 20 players were selected exclusively from the pool of players 18
and under who competed in the annual Tournament of Stars held in June
in Joplin, Mo. Following a week-long trials period in Joplin, 26
players reassembled in Atlanta on Aug. 26 for practices and a six-game
exhibition series, both of which served as part of the final evaluation
and selection process for the 20-member roster chosen to play in Mexico.