After reeling off 12 straight wins to start its month-long summer schedule, USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team met its match in a five-game series against Japan this week in the 39th annual international collegiate friendly series. In an exciting exhibition series that came down to a decisive game five on Thursday night, Team USA dropped its second straight series against Japan, losing 7-4 in the finale.
"The series came down to who pitched better, who played better defense and who got the timely hits," head coach Jim Schlossnagle said after game five. "Obviously Japan did that and that's why they won the series."
Team USA won the opener 6-3 with a balanced attack that included 10 hits for the American offense and four solid innings on the mound from Florida State's Luke Weaver. In games two and three, though, the American bats went cold, with a 4-0 shutout in game two and a 5-2 defeat in game three. Japanese starters held the American offense at bay for most of games two and three, allowing the offense to take advantage of USA's inability to consistently throw strikes.
Texas Christian's Brandon Finnegan fared well in his first appearance, shutting out the Japan offense over 6 1/3 innings, while striking out five. Finnegan, however, did not factor in the decision as Japan scored four runs in the eighth inning to win the game.
USA's game three starter, righthander Tyler Beede (Vanderbilt), struggled to find the strike zone and failed to work out of the first inning. Beede surrendered four runs on two hits and three walks in just 1/3 of an inning, and ultimately took the loss.
Team USA got back on track in game four, tying the series at 2-2 with an excellent start from N.C. State ace Carlos Rodon and a three-hit performance from UC Irvine's Taylor Sparks. Rodon threw five shutout innings for the Americans, allowing just two hits while striking out four. Sparks, who ultimately was named the top American player in the series, added three RBIs in his first start of the series and gave Team USA a much-needed boost.
"The difference in (game four) versus the other games has been timely hitting and which team makes the mistakes on defense,” Schlossnagle said after game four. “We’ve certainly had our share of those issues going into today. Taylor obviously did a great job of getting the big hit in the first inning, and Carlos was outstanding.”
The series moved to nation's capital in Tokyo for the winner-take-all game five. The U.S. and Japan traded blows through the first four frames, but ultimately team USA could not overcome three consecutive two-run innings from the Japanese offense. The Americans fell 7-4, suffering just their third loss of the summer.
"I'm proud of the effort from our guys but you have to tip your cap to Japan," Schlossnagle said. "They pitched better than us and we didn't adjust to what they were doing on the mound."
Taylor Sparks finished the series with six hits in just 11 at-bats, and led the American offense with five total RBIs. On the summer, Sparks leads all U.S. hitters with a .421 average.
Team USA will return home to finish out its 2013 schedule with three games in Chicago against various collegiate summer league teams before hosting the Cuban national team for a five-game series across various U.S. cities. The Cuba series will open with a game in Des Moines, Iowa, and two games in Omaha before returning to North Carolina for the final two games in Cary and Durham.