It wasn’t pretty, and it sure wasn’t easy, but U18 Team USA proved what championship teams are all about – you pick up your teammates and find a way.
In a game where both teams combined for 17 walks, eight wild pitches, three hit batters and seven errors, the US took advantage of more mistakes, and coupled with some clutch hitting, came back and defeated Japan 10-5 to advance to the gold medal game against Canada on Saturday at the IBAF Junior AAA/18U World Championships being held in Seoul, South Korea.
Starter Dominic Taccolini, coming off a brilliant performance against Venezuela, tossing six scoreless innings in relief, allowing just one hit while striking out eight, had a hard time finding the strike zone against Japan. He walked five over 2.2 innings, including four wild pitches as Japan jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Right-hander Kevin Davis came on in relief, and after issuing a bases-loaded walk to score the second run, got Yoshiki Tabata to chase three straight pitches to end the inning and stop the bleeding.
Japan added a run in the top of the fourth on an error and Team USA trailed 3-0 going into the bottom half of the inning in a game where they were having a hard time figuring out Japanese starter Yu Kambara.
Chris Okey got the rally going in the fourth by reaching on an infield single with one out. Willie Abreu walked on four pitches, and after a ground out by Cavan Biggio, which advanced the runners to second and third, Christian Arroyo stepped in with a chance to get the US on the board. After taking two strikes looking, he delivered a two-out shot to left field to plate two runs and pull Team USA to within one run.
Davis got two strikeouts wrapped around a defensive gem to hold Japan scoreless in the fifth. After Gen Mizumoto smashed a shot to deep center field, he made a hard turn around second and Ryan Boldt delivered a perfect throw to Arroyo, who then relayed to Biggio to get the out.
Boldt led of the bottom of the fifth by walking on four straight pitches, and after a sacrifice bunt by Dom Nunez to advance him to second, he stole third. Boldt would later score on a wild pitch to even the game at 3-3.
Japan came right back with two in the top of the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by Tatsuhiro Tamura and a single by Shohei Otani to take a 5-3 lead. That would be all the scoring Japan would do.
Team USA would go on to score seven runs over the next three innings, including the game-tying run in the bottom of the seventh on a single by Biggio to score Okey, and the eventual game winning RBI by Arroyo to score Abreu.
Davis picked up the win, allowing three runs over 6.1 innings of relief, striking out six to five walks. Arroyo was the star on offense, going 2-for-2 with two runs scored and three RBI. Biggio went 2-for-5 with an RBI, Okey finished 2-for-4 with three runs scored, an RBI and a walk and Abreu added two runs and two stolen bases for Team USA.
Team USA will face Canada at 5 a.m. ET Saturday morning to decide who takes home the gold. Both teams faced each other three days ago in a thrilling 1-0 win by Canada in 10 innings. Last year’s U18 team beat Canada 12-2 in the gold medal game at the Pan Am World Championships held in Cartagena, Colombia.
With another stolen base against Japan, Boldt is now a perfect 12-for-12 over eight games in the tournament.
With his performance against Japan, Christian Arroyo is now hitting .444 (12-for-27) over eight games with a team-leading 10 RBI.
With five more stolen bases, the team now has 34 over eight games and would need 12 against Canada to break the record of 45 set by lasts year’s U18 team.
The offense is hitting .300 over eight games with 39 walks, 11 doubles, four triples and a .422 OBP.
The pitching staff now has a 2.25 ERA over 68 innings with a 1.29 WHIP and has held opponents to a .191 batting average.
For a full rundown of each player on Team USA, click here.