USA Baseball's 18-and-under national team capped off their 10-day stay in Seoul, South Korea, on Saturday night with a gold medal as they defeated Canada 6-2 in the championship game of the IBAF 18U World Championship.
After going 4-1 in pool play, Team USA dropped the first of its three crossover games, as it fell 1-0 to Canada. Some players thought that they had blown their shot at the gold medal until manager Scott Brosius spoke with them.
"My biggest message after that game was, 'Don't go to bed losing hope,'" Brosius said. "Possibilities still existed for us to get back to the gold medal game, but all of those possibilities required us to win our final two games. Essentially the message was, 'We have to be the aggressors.' We wanted to be the ones that went out and earned it instead of waiting for something to fall in our laps."
"We actually thought we were done," said shortstop Christian Arroyo (Hernando HS, Brooksville, Fla.). "When Coach Brosius told us we had a chance to get back in there we were pumped."
Just three days after Brosius' speech, the two sides met again in the championship game, and Team USA never looked back after they scored three runs in the bottom of the third to break a 1-1 tie. Garrett Williams (Calvary Baptist School, Shreveport, La.) led off the inning with a walk, Dom Nunez (Elk Grove HS, Calif.) laid down a bunt for a single, and Jeremy Martinez (Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif.) drove both in with a single. A Chris Okey (Eustis HS, Mt. Dora, Fla.) single capped off the scoring and provided ample run support for Team USA starter Ian Clarkin (Madison HS, San Diego). Clarkin allowed just four hits and two runs over his six innings of work before giving way to Ryan Olson (Western Christian HS, Upland, Calif.). Team USA added two runs in the bottom of the eighth when Reese McGuire (Kentwood HS, Covington, Wash.) drove home Ryan Bolt (Red Wing, Minn., HS), who was 2-for-5, and Martinez. Righthander Keegan Thompson (Cullman, Ala., HS) shut the door for Team USA, ending the game in style with a strikeout.
The win gives the 18U team its first gold medal in a world championship tournament since 1999 when Team USA defeated Chinese Taipei 10-9.
"To be able to come home with the gold medal was great," Brosius said. "We were thrilled for the players, coaches, and all of USA Baseball to be able to have gold medal back here in this country."
Team USA initially rebounded from its loss to Canada with a much-needed victory over Chinese Taipei in their second crossover game. Despite having a quick turnaround after their night game with Canada, Team USA came out firing on all cylinders.
"We got back to the hotel at something like 11:30 at night and they wanted us to turn around and play at 2 in the afternoon," Arroyo said. "Basically Coach Brosius told us before the Chinese Taipei game, 'I'm getting sick and tired of getting bullied around here.' We kind of took it personal and we started being more aggressive."
Lefthander Stephen Gonsalves (Cathedral Catholic HS, San Diego) scattered eight hits in a complete game effort, while Cavan Biggio (St. Thomas HS, Houston) went 4-for-4 to pace the U.S. offense. McGuire had three hits and drove in the game's first run in the bottom of the first. After Chinese Taipei answered in the top half of the second, Team USA regained the lead in the bottom of the third thanks to another RBI single from McGuire. Team USA scored three more runs in the bottom of the fifth, and Gonsalves and Co. cruised to a 5-1 win.
In Team USA's final crossover game, a virtual semifinal contest with Japan, Arroyo played the role of hero. Trailing 5-4 entering the bottom of the seventh, Team USA notched their first lead of the game when Arroyo, who went 2-for-2 with three RBIs, singled home Willie Abreu (Mater Academy, Hialeah Gardens, Fla.). The U.S. added two more runs in the frame after a wild pitch allowed Biggio, who had tied the game with an RBI single of his own, to score and Williams drove in Arroyo with a groundout to second base. Righthander Kevin Davis (Miller HS, Brewton, Ala.) provided 6 1/3 innings of solid relief to pick up the win.
Arroyo, who played every inning at shortstop, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player but the Brookville, Fla., native was quick to deflect his personal accolades.
“I was just happy to get a gold medal in the first place," Arroyo said. "Personally, I think my buddy Reese McGuire played better than I did. That kid was one of the most clutch kids that I’ve ever played with."
Jeremy Martinez also joined Arroyo on the tournament's All-Star team. Reese McGuire and outfielder/lefthander Garrett Williams both had tremendous tournaments but were not included in any awards. McGuire hit .456/.583/.615 (12-for-26) and Williams finished with the tournament's best ERA, as the lefthander did not allow a run and struck out 13 over 11 2/3 innings.
After a series of long flights back to their respective hometowns, the players, coaches, and staff members couldn't help but to reflect upon their historic achievement.
"It still hasn't hit me," Arroyo said. "It was absolutely the most incredible experience of my life. It takes a group of 20 special young men to come together and form a brotherhood and that is exactly what we did.”
"You don't know what you are going to get in international play," 18U team director Brant Ust said. "There are a lot of variables and factors that can come in to play in these tournaments and it is quite an accomplishment for the players and coaches to be a part of that—to be recognized as the group that brought the gold back to the U.S."