Thursday, July 31, 2008

USA Baseball 18U Defeat Korea

EDMONTON, AKBERTA (July 31, 2008) Nolan Fontana (INF; Winter Garden, Fla.) lined a two-out, two-run single in the seventh inning to plate the tying and go-ahead runs and Jake Barrett (RHP; Mesa, Ariz.) protected a one-run lead over the final three innings as the USA Baseball 18U National Team rallied for a 4-3 victory against defending world champ Korea in Day 6 of pool play at the International BAseball Federation’s AAA World Junior Championships. The tournament, featuring the world’s top 18-and-under players from 12 countries, concludes Aug. 3.

The victory gives Team USA (5-0) the No. 1 seed in its six-team pool entering championship quarterfinal action Aug. 1. Team USA will meet either Puerto Rico (3-1) or Chinese Taipei (2-2) in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. (EDT) at Telus Field. Those two teams will meet July 31 in their final pool-play game with the loser to face the USA. The Puerto Rico-Chinese Taipei game was scheduled to be played today but was postponed due to rain.

The Americans’ victory against Korea (4-1) assured the USA of being the only team in the tourney to finish pool play unbeaten. The win also avenged a USA loss to Korea in the gold-medal game of the 2006 IBAF AAA World Championships in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. Ironically, the final score of that game was also 4-3.

“I thought our team played with great energy and played extremely hard,” USA Head Coach Mark Elkins said. “Tonight was just an awesome atmosphere. It felt like a gold-medal game.”

Team USA had to come from behind on two occasions. The Americans trailed 2-1 before knotting the score 2-2 in the top of the sixth. After Korea responded with a run in its home half of the inning, the USA staged a two-run rally to take the lead for good in the seventh.

Austin Maddox (DH; Jacksonville, Fla.) led off the inning with a double down the right field line off Korea starter Young Suk Jang (0-1). Donavan Tate (OF; Cartersville, Ga.) was then hit by a pitch. After Max Stassi (C; Yuba City, Calif.) fouled out, David Nick (INF; Cypress, Calif.) was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Jang was then replaced by lefthander Min Kyu Park, who struck out Andrew Aplin (OF; Suisun City, Calif.) for the second out of the inning. That brought up Fontana, Team USA’s leadoff hitter. After falling behind 0-2 in the count, Fontana laced a Park offering into right center field.

“I saw that their pitcher had thrown Andrew a couple of curve balls during his at bat,” Fontana said. “He (Park) got ahead of me two strikes with two curve balls so that’s what I was sitting on. His 0-2 pitch was a curve ball.”

Maddox scored easily from third to tie the game. Korea rightfielder Sang Su Kim’s throw to the plate beat Tate who was trying to score from second base. But Tate bowled over catcher Jae Yun Kim, who dropped the ball as Tate tallied the go-ahead run. On the play, with the ball still loose, Nick attempted to score all the way from first base but was called out for not having touched home plate. Nick’s out ended the inning with the USA on top 4-3.

“That hit would have to be my biggest one (ever),” Fontana said about his game-winning at bat. “This may not have been a gold-medal game but I have never got chills up and down my spine like that before.”

“Nolan’s hit was the turning point of the game,” added Elkins.

Despite Fontana’s big hit, the game was still far from complete.

Barrett entered the game in the seventh inning in relief of starter Colton Cain (LHP; Waxahachie, Texas), who had allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits with five strikeouts in six innings.

Barrett retired Korea in order in the seventh. But a pair of two-out walks in the eighth inning brought up Korea cleanup hitter Ji Hwan Oh. Barrett escaped the jam by striking out Oh. In the bottom of the ninth, Barrett allowed a leadoff single to pinchhitter Ig Hyun Lim. After a pair of strikeouts, Kun Woo Park lofted a single to center field, and when Tate misplayed the ball, Korea had runners at second and third base. But Barrett came through with his fifth strikeout of the night to end the game and earn a save.

“Jake came in and pitched very well in relief to keep Korea’s bats at bay,” Elkins said.

The USA grabbed a 1-0 lead scoring an unearned run in its first at bat. With one out, Nick Franklin (INF; Longwood, Fla.) singled to right field. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on a fielding error. He then scored on Jang’s second wild pitch of the inning.

Korea evened the game at 1-1 via three hits off Cain (1-0) in the bottom of the first. Two big defensive plays helped Korea end up with just one run. After a leadoff single, Stassi picked off Korea’s Ju Hyeon Jung at first base. After Kim singled one batter later, Tate ran down a drive to deep center field by Korea’s Chi Hong An. One batter later, Oh’s double down the right field line tied the game.

A two-out fielding error by USA first baseman Jeff Malm (INF; Las Vegas, Nev.) led to an unearned Korea run in the fifth. The USA responded in the top of the sixth on Franklin’s one-out double that drove in Aplin, who had walked. Korea took a 3-2 lead in the home half of the sixth, scoring when Cain was called for a balk with a runner on third base.

“Any time you beat a quality club, like Korea, you have to feel better about yourself as a team,” Elkins said. “While we are happy with the win, we know we have a lot of work still ahead of us.”

USA Baseball is the National Governing Body of amateur baseball in the United States and a member of the United States Olympic Committee. The organization selects and trains the United States Olympic Baseball Team (and all other USA Baseball professional teams), the USA Baseball National Team (collegiate); the USA Baseball 18U, 16U, and 14U National Teams; and the USA Baseball Women’s National Team, all of which participate in various international competitions each year.

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