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 victory.
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) High, entered.
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.