A second matchup with Korea in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U18 World Cup’s gold medal game was supposed to be challenge for Team USA.
Taking down the field in Canada seemed to be almost too easy for the Americans for the most part, aside from their Friday game against Korea, which was a tense, 2-0 victory. Matched up with the top team from Group A for the final game Sunday afternoon, manager Andy Stankiewicz and his team of 20 were prepared for another close game.
Nine innings later though, the gold medal game was just another example of how Team USA coasted through the tournament: in dominating fashion, ending in an 8-0 rout.
But while it might have looked easy, that was far from the case, Stankiewicz said.
“It is never easy,” he said. “We played like maybe it was, but it is not. Think about all of the time and effort that it has taken to put this team together. Think about what (18U National Team Director) Matt Blood has done, the whole USA organization, to bring these 20 young men together, for them to come together as a team, and to stay on course.
“I am so proud of all of them and the coaching staff. Coach (Bill) Mosiello was unbelievable running our offense. Coach (Greg) Ritchie getting hitters locked in. Ricky Meinhold did an unbelievable job with our hitters. And Coach (Chris) Carter, our first base coach, with his enthusiasm and passion for these young men. We just came together and it is fun to see the fruits of labor come together like it did this week to win a gold medal.”
Matthew Liberatore pitched the American team to its sixth shutout game of the event, and a perfect 9-0 record, as the 18U team won its fourth straight world championship. The Americans also won the 2012 and 2013 18U World Cups in South Korea and Taiwan, as well as the 2015 event in Japan.
Liberatore started and threw six shutout innings, allowing just four hits and a pair of walks. He only struck out one, letting his defense work behind him--they were more than up to the task, with middle infielders Brice Turang and Carter Young particularly making a handful of nice plays.
The American bullpen, at full strength, was almost perfect in relief, as Cole Wilcox, Mason Denaburg and J.T. Ginn combined to throw three innings and allow just one baserunner, via a walk by Denaburg.
Initially, the game looked like it was headed toward another pitcher’s duel--like the first matchup between the two teams--with Korean starter Youngjun Kim getting three flyouts with no damage in the first inning, and a 1-2-3 second inning that included two strikeouts.
But just when Kim seemed to be settling into a bit of a rhythm, Team USA struck, when a throw to second was misplayed by the Korean middle infielders, with runners on first and third and Young stealing from first. Young slid in safely at second, while leadoff hitter Michael Siani was able to score.
After taking advantage of the error, the U.S. hitters made Korea pay. First baseman Triston Casas--who was named the tournament MVP thanks to a team-leading 13 RBIs and standout offensive efforts in both games against Korea--doubled to left center, giving the Americans a 2-0 lead, and catcher Anthony Seigler singled immediately after to make it 3-0.
“He is so steady,” Stankiewicz said of Casas. “He is unflappable. His personality is great for a baseball player because he doesn’t get too high, he doesn’t get too low. He just goes to the plate with intent and focus every time. It was great to see what he did today with that big homer and putting great at-bats together to just get us moving.”
Team USA blew the game open one frame later, when Casas capped a four-run inning with a two-run behemoth of a home run to right field.
Turang scored the final run of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. He singled, stole second and advanced to third on another Korean error, before third baseman Nolan Gorman drove him in with a single.
“No doubt that was our most complete game,” Stankiewicz said. “We pitched well from the very beginning and we knew this pitching staff was going to be nails, and they were. It was fun to watch our offense progressively get better and better, day-by-day, and then put together the performance we saw today in the gold-medal game against a good team. Korea is, obviously, a good team or they wouldn’t have been in the final. I enjoyed watching our offense stay the course, get better, and save the best performance for last.”
With the victory, Team USA now has nine world titles, second only to the Cuban National Team, and the 2017 club’s perfect 9-0 record makes it one of just two 18U American teams to go undefeated in World Cup action. The 1989 team went 7-0 en route to the third 18U Team USA World Cup.
“It would be hard to find a team better than this one, at least statistically,” Blood said. “Especially on the mound with what these pitchers did. They pounded the strike zone, they barely gave up any hits, and when they did they were singles. They took it personally that they were not going to give in at all. In doing so, it gave our team and our offense some breathing room and a chance to get comfortable knowing that our pitchers were going to keep us in the game. We didn’t have to press offensively.
“It was a lot of fun to watch this group. To go undefeated through training and the tournament is something that is really hard to do.”
Extending out to COPABE Pan American Championship tournaments, the 18U American team has won seven international titles in seven consecutive years, as Team USA won the 2011, 2014 and 2016 COPABE events in Columbia (2011) and Mexico (2014 and 2016).
Korea took silver with Japan taking bronze. Canada was the de facto No. 4 finisher in the tournament.