18U: USA wins World Cup championship
18U National Team wins its second consecutive World Cup title, beating Japan, 3-2
TAICHUNG, Taiwan -- The 2013 USA Baseball 18U National Team beat Japan, 3-2, on Sunday evening to win the 2013 IBAF 'AAA'/18U World Cup in Taichung, Taiwan. The U.S. won its first world title since 1999 last year, and has now won back-to-back championships.
"I'm not sure I can totally describe this feeling," 18U National Team manager Rob Cooper 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 letters on their chest."
Cooper handed the ball to Brady Aiken (Cardiff by the Sea, Calif.) with the World Cup championship on the line, and the left-hander delivered. He fired seven innings, spreading out five hits and one run while walking two and striking out 10 to earn the victory.
"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."
Aiken found himself locked in a pitchers' duel with Japanese southpaw Yuki Matsui. Matsui worked into the seventh inning, allowing just five hits and two runs while striking out nine and walking a pair. He threw 106 pitches in the losing effort.
Down by a run in the bottom of the fifth inning, Cole Tucker (Phoenix, Ariz.) got the offense started with a single -- the first hit for the U.S. on the night. Two batters later, Michael Rivera (Venice, Fla.) singled to put runners on the corners for Adam Haseley (Windermere, Fla.). Haseley hit a ground ball, but hustled down the line to beat the double-play attempt and score Tucker from third to tie the game.
An inning later, the offense went back to work. With two outs, Jakson Reetz (Hickman, Neb.) doubled down the left-field line and was driven in on a single from Bryson Brigman (San Jose, Calif.) to give the U.S. the lead.
With Aiken working in the seventh inning, he got an assist from his backstop, Rivera. After a strikeout on a missed two-strike bunt attempt, Rivera fired to first to pick off Ryuma Mori. Aiken punched out the next hitter to end the frame and hold the 2-1 U.S. lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Red, White and Blue grinded out a run in a third consecutive frame. Trace Loehr (Milwaukie, Ore.) hit the inning's first pitch for a single, forcing a Japan pitching change. Reliever Taisuke Yamaoka's first pitch was wild, allowing Loehr to advance to second. After Rivera sacrificed him over, Keaton McKinney (Ankeny, Iowa) singled through the right side to push the lead to 3-1.
Cooper wasted no time with the two-run lead, electing to go to closer Luis Ortiz (Sanger, Calif.) to start the eighth inning. With a runner on first, catcher Tomoya Mori skied a ball into foul territory just into the seats, but Haseley leaped and extended his arm over the fence into the stands, making an incredible catch.
Japan would strike for one in the inning on a two-out single to cut the lead to 3-2, but Ortiz would silence the Japanese bats in the ninth inning to seal the victory and initiate a wild dog-pile celebration on the field.
"To be a part of this is something I never even dreamed of," 18U National Team assistant coach Kevin Wilson said. "When I got this opportunity, this was my goal. When the game ended, I had to ask (Mike) Maack how we got the last out; I was just so overwhelmed."
During the closing ceremony, Ortiz was named the tournament's MVP after going 1-0 with three saves in five appearances. Ortiz allowed just two earned runs in 8 1/3 innings pitched while striking out 12.
Adam Haseley was honored as one of three "Best Outfielders," and for leading the tournament in batting average (.452). Michael Rivera was named "Best Third Baseman."
Players and staff will return home to the United States on Monday via Los Angeles International Airport.
For tournament information, including final results for all games, please visit IBAF.org.