18U Team clips Cuba at Pan Ams
Squad rallies for six-run eighth inning to stay unbeaten
Besides remaining the only unbeaten squad in the seven-team international event, the victory added to the Team USA's (5-0) bid to secure a berth in the 2010 International Baseball Federation "AAA" World Junior Championships, which will be played in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The top three teams after the qualifying round of Pan Ams action earn a spot in the Worlds. Team USA, the two-time defending Worlds' silver medalist, has locked up one of those berths.
With Cuba (4-1) leading 5-3, the Americans began their winning rally with one out in the bottom of the eighth.
Nick Castellanos reached on a fielding error, and Nicholas Delmonico drew a walk before Manny Machado struck out for the inning's second out. Garin Cecchini then drew a walk to load the bases. Brian Ragira's single to right field drove in Castellanos and Delmonico to tie the contest at 5-5. Both runners then moved up on a wild pitch before Cory Hahn drew a walk to reload the bases.
Leadoff hitter Sean Coyle then worked Cuba pitching for a third walk in the inning -- Cuba's ninth free pass issued in the game -- to force in Cecchini with the tie-breaking run. With the bases still full, Tony Wolters then lined a single to left field, and when Cuba's left fielder misplayed the ball, Ragira, Hahn and Coyle all scored to give the USA a 9-5 advantage.
"Our kids got mad. They were insulted that they had let Cuba get back into the game," 18U National Team Head Coach Garye LaFevers said of his squad squandering a 3-0 first-inning lead only to trail late. "We had several quality at bats in the eighth inning. Besides Brian's huge base hit, Garin, Cory and Sean also came up with key at bats. And Tony's hit was very big."
Team USA had taken its early three-run advantage, needing only one hit while capitalizing on three Cuba fielding miscues. Bryce Harper had an RBI grounder to help the Americans get out of the gate quickly.
Starter Cody Buckel kept Cuba, the seven-time defending Pan Am champs, in check until allowing Jorge Soler's solo homer in the fifth inning. The right-hander struck out nine. Edwin Bassell then greeted USA reliever Robbie Ray with another solo shot to lead off the sixth inning and bring the visitors to within 3-2.
Cuba took the lead, 5-3, with three runs in the top of the eighth off Team USA hurler Connor Mason. Two of those runs were unearned as the Americans committed a pair of errors in the frame.
Team USA will finish qualifying round play with a 6:30 p.m. ET matchup Thursday against host Venezuela. Semifinal action is slated for Friday with the medal games scheduled for Saturday.