USA Baseball’s 18-and-under national team defeated Japan 3-2 on Sunday in Taichung, Taiwan, to win the 18U World Cup. Last year’s gold medal was the first for the U.S. at the 18U level since 1999, and now the Americans have won back-to-back 18U world championships for the first time since 1988-89.
Lefthander Brady Aiken (Cathedral Catholic High, San Diego), one of the top prep pitchers in the 2014 draft class, turned in his second straight strong start in the championship victory. He allowed five hits and one run in seven innings, walking just two while striking out 10. He’d beaten Korea in his first start.
"To have the coaches and my teammates have the faith in me to go out and start this game means everything," Aiken said. "It was such an honor. Winning this championship means everything."
Japan had scored the most runs and allowed the fewest runs in the tournament and entered Saturday’s action undefeated in the tournament. The Americans beat Japan on consecutive days though, winning 10-4 Saturday to end the second round, then winning the title game. In two games against Japan, Team USA scored more than twice as many runs (13) as Japan allowed in its first seven games of the tournament (six).
Japan scored the first run of the game in the top of the fifth inning when center fielder Ryuma Mori was hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single by left fielder Takahiro Kumagai.
Team USA answered with a run in the bottom half of the frame that started with a Cole Tucker (Mountain Pointe High, Phoenix) single through the left side of the infield, the first hit of the day for U.S.. Catcher Michael Rivera (Venice, Fla., High) singled to right-center field and Tucker advanced to third base before scoring on a fielder’s choice off the bat of left fielder Adam Haseley (The First Academy, Windermere, Fla.).
An inning later Team USA took the lead when right fielder Jakson Reetz (Norris High, Hickman, Neb.) doubled on a line drive down the left-field line, his fourth two-bagger of the tournament, with two outs and scored on a Bryson Brigman Valley Christian High, San Jose) single to center field.
First baseman Keaton McKinney, who attends Ankeny (Iowa) High, singled to score Trace Loehr (Putnam High, Milwaukie, Ore.) in the seventh to give USA a two-run lead.
Sanger (Calif.) High righthander Luis Ortiz, who struck out eight without allowing a walk in four previous outings, entered in the eighth inning. Japan scored a run in the inning to shave the U.S. lead to one, but Ortiz struck out the side in the ninth to secure the victory. Ortiz was named the World Cup MVP for saving three games with 11 strikeouts against one walk in 8 1/3 innings. He appeared in five games and allowed three runs.
"I'm not sure I can totally describe this feeling," 18U national team manager Rob Cooper (Penn State) said. "What I do want to say is how proud I am to be associated with these 20 young men: what they've gone through, how they came together and how they stayed together. In this tournament you saw 20 guys come together for something far more important than themselves and play for the letter on their chest."
Haseley was the leading hitter of the event with a .484 average (.484/.515/.800) and hit three doubles, two triples and an inside-the-park home run to go with two steals. He and Rivera were both named to the World Cup all-star team.
Final Standings XXVI 18U Baseball World Cup
1. United States
12. Czech Republic
Individual Awards XXVI 18U Baseball World Cup
MVP: Luis Ortiz (USA)
Leading Hitter: Adam Haseley (USA)
Pitcher with best ERA: Tomohiro Anraku (Japan)
Outstanding defensive player: Moises Esquerre (Cuba)
All Star Team XXVI 18U Baseball World Cup
Starting Pitcher: Tomohiro Anraku (Japan)
Relief Pitcher: Taisuke Yamaoke (Japan)
Catcher: Tomoya Mori (Japan)
First Baseman: Byeong Wuk Lim (Korea)
Second Baseman: Li Lin (Taiwan)
Third Baseman: Michael Rivera (USA)
Shortstop: Moises Esquerre (Cuba)
Outfielder: Adam Haseley (USA)
Outfielder: Tzu-Hao Chen (Taiwan)
Outfielder: Tyler O'Neill (Canada)
DH: Cheng-Tang Wang (Taiwan)