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Team USA Wins Gold At World University Championship
By John Manuel
See Also: Complete Coverage Of USA Baseball
When it mattered most, Team USA was at its best.
USA Baseball's college national team wrapped up a challenging summer in grand fashion, beating Japan 4-2 to win the World University Championship in Chinese Taipei.
Righthander Luke Hochevar (Tennessee) retired 18 in a row at one point to earn the victory, his first decision of the summer, while freshman center fielder Drew Stubbs (Texas) capped a fine tournament performance with a two-run triple in the fifth inning that provided the margin of victory.
Team USA finished the summer with a rather average-looking 18-7 record, but the Americans played their best in Taiwan, winning all eight games they played in the event and avenging a five-game series sweep at the hands of Japan earlier in the summer. Team USA out-scored opponents 52-12 in the World University Games to win the gold medal in the second-ever installment of the event. Team USA won silver in the first Games, an all-amateur tournament designed for college-age players, in 2002. Cuba, which withdrew from this tournament just before it started, won the 2002 Games.
Hochevar had been one of Team USA's top performers in the Japan Series sweep and earned the gold-medal start, and he responded with a fine performance. The Colorado native gave up two runs and three hits in the first inning but gave up just two more hits the rest of the way. He struck out seven in seven innings. Relievers Joey Devine (North Carolina State), Cesar Ramos (Long Beach State) and closer J. Brent Cox (Texas) sealed the win with two combined scoreless innings.
Stubbs, who went 11-for-27 (.407) in the tournament, got Team USA started back from its early 2-0 deficit, breaking up a perfect game by Japanese starting pitcher Yasuhiro Ichiba with a leadoff single in the fourth. A walk to Travis Buck (Arizona State) and a pair of balks plated a run to cut the lead to 2-1. Team USA tied the game as Buck scored when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia) grounded into a double play.
Team USA took the lead in its next at-bat. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (Long Beach State) singled and second baseman Chris Valaika (UC Santa Barbara) drew a two-out walk to set the table for Stubbs, who drilled his game-winning two-run triple to left-center field.
Hochevar and the bullpen held the lead, with Cox getting his fourth save of both the tournament and the summer in the ninth.
Zimmerman, who went 9-for-24 with a home run and four doubles, was named the tournament's MVP. He went 1-for-3 in the championship game to finish the summer with a .468 average, a record for the national-team program, breaking the mark set by Stanford's David McCarty in 1990. At .468-4-27, he led Team USA in the triple crown categories.
• First baseman Alex Gordon (Nebraska) was named the offensive MVP of the event, going 11-for-21 with two homers and eight runs scored overall. His .524 average led the Games. Gordon, who struggled in Team USA's series against Japan and Chinese Taipei during its summer schedule, finished the summer batting .388-4-12, though he also led the team with 22 strikeouts in 67 at-bats. He tied Tulowitzki and Zimmerman for the team's home runs lead.
• Hochevar finished the summer with a 2.73 ERA and 38 strikeouts in a team-high 33 innings. He didn't allow a home run, and Team USA's pitching staff allowed just four all summer in posting a 3.03 ERA. The bullpen was the staff's strength, dominating in the eight-game tournament with 20 scoreless innings. Cox earned a win and four saves in the tournament, including saves in the last three games. Team USA posted a 1.19 ERA overall for the tournament, lowering its overall ERA by 84 points.
• Devine, working as Cox' setup man, finished the summer with a team-best 0.55 ERA in 16 innings, and his 26 strikeouts ranked fourth on the team.
• Buck went hitless in the championship game, just the fourth time all summer he failed to get a hit. He finished the summer batting .412-2-14, trailing only Zimmerman in batting, with a team-high 14 walks (.5112 on-base percentage).
• Korea beat host Chinese Taipei 3-1 to win the bronze medal.