"It's going to take a group effort to accomplish something that no other USA team has done before (at this level)."
Those words from the veteran coach with four previous USA Baseball squads proved prophetic. With everyone on the 20-player roster contributing, the 2009 club did achieve the 18U program's first gold medal in Pan Ams history. And the team did it in style. The Americans knocked off Cuba - the country that had won the last seven Pan Am titles - twice during this year's nine-day event, including a 6-1 decision Oct. 3 in the gold-medal game at Daniel Canonico Stadium in Barquisimeto. Team USA finished as the tourney's lone unbeaten team with an 8-0 mark. On the way to the title, the squad qualified the program for the 2010 IBAF "AAA" (18U) World Junior Championships.
"I am very proud of this team," said LaFevers, who guided USAB 16U clubs to back-to-back golds at the World Championships in 2006 and 2008. "Sometimes we might have struggled but each time we knew we had each other's backs. With this group, it was all about the team. That was what the coaches preached to the players from Day 1. These guys came together to make a great team. It never mattered to them who got the pat on the back," said the former head coach at Buckeye (Ariz.) Union High School and current pitching coach at Phoenix (Ariz.) College.
Jameson Taillon logged a single-game record 16 strikeouts in 7.2 innings on the mound and Team USA broke open a scoreless game with a six-run seventh inning to stun Cuba and capture the gold medal. The Americans sent 11 batters to the plate against four hurlers in the decisive seventh inning. Brian Ragira notched a two-run single to snap the scoreless contest and ignite the uprising. The tie-breaking hit was Ragira's second big hit against Cuba in three days. In the teams' qualifying round matchup, Ragira also drove in a pair of runs with a single to tie the contest and spark a six-run eighth inning as the USA rallied for a 9-5 victory against the then-unbeaten defending champs.
Ragira had a club-high 14 RBIs and added two homers while starting all eight USA games. But Ragira wasn't the only player to have a great tourney. Among the regulars, Tony Wolters compiled a team-leading .371 batting average in eight starts. He also led the squad in at bats (35) and hits (13). Manny Machado hit .367 with two homers. Eight-game starter Garin Cecchini had club bests with six doubles and a .708 slugging percentage. Nick Castellanos batted .308 in eight starts with nine walks. Leadoff hitter Sean Coyle, who also started all eight games, totaled team highs for runs (15) and walks (12) while hitting .296. Bryce Harper hit at a .294 clip with a pair of homers while driving in 12 runs and compiling a team-high 20 total bases in eight starts. Nicholas Delmonico, in seven starts, hit .250 while committing only one error defensively in 47 chances at first base. Part-time starters Ladson Montgomery (.417) and Cory Hahn (.333) added to the team's .323 batting average and 99 runs scored.
Taillon amassed 28 strikeouts in 13.2 innings (both team bests) while permitting just seven hits and winning both his Pan Am starts. The righthander was one of four pitchers to not allow an earned run. Joining him were Phillip Pfeifer (12.0 IP, 5 hits, 18 strikeouts, 2 wins), Kyle Ryan (6.1 IP, 3 hits, 1 win) and Karsten Whitson (5.0 IP, 3 hits, 1 win). Also contributing to Team USA's stellar 1.00 ERA were Cody Buckel (1.50 ERA, 6.0 IP, 12 strikeouts), Connor Mason (1.93 ERA, 4.2 IP, 1 win) and Kevin Gausman (1.93 ERA, 4.2 IP, 1 win). The Team USA pitching staff permitted only seven earned runs and 34 hits in 63.0 innings with 25 walks issued and 101 strikeouts while tossing three shutouts (all consecutive). Opponents hit just .151 and managed only 14 runs.
Several USA players were honored with tournament awards. From statistics based on qualifying-round action, Castellanos was cited for the most runs scored (12), Delmonico for most doubles (4) and Harper for fielding percentage as a catcher (1.000). Harper was named as the catcher on the all-tournament team and was joined by Machado at shortstop and Ragira in the outfield.
The 2009 Pan Am Championships proved to be a record-setting tournament. Here are the individual and team records that were either established or tied during the seven-team event:
At bats: 6 by Tony Wolters vs. Colombia (Ties mark by several players)
Batting average: 1.000 by Tony Wolters vs. Panama [semifinals] (Ties mark by several players)
Runs scored: 4 by Tony Wolters vs. Panama [semifinals] (Ties mark by several players)
Doubles: 3 by Garin Cecchini and by Tony Wolters vs. Panama [semifinals] (Ties mark by two players)
Strikeouts: 3 by Manny Machado vs. Cuba [pool play] (Ties mark by several players)
Hit by pitch: 2 by Garin Cecchini vs. Venezuela (Ties mark by several players)
Strikeouts by a pitcher: 16 by Jameson Taillon vs. Cuba [gold] (NEW MARK-previous record 15 by two)
Home runs in a tournament: 2 by Bryce Harper, by Manny Machado, by Brian Ragira (Ties mark by several)
Walks in a tournament: 12 by Sean Coyle (ties mark by Brad Chalk, 2003)
Doubles in a game: 11 vs. Panama [semifinals] (NEW MARK-previous record 7 on three occasions)
Extra-base hits in a game: 13 vs. Panama [semifinals] (NEW MARK-previous record 11 vs. El Salvador, 2000)
Joining LaFevers on the 2009 18U coaching staff were assistants Robert Craven, Bill Krejci, Willie Romay, and Matt White. Craven was in his third stint as an auxiliary coach for USA Baseball. Krejci made his fifth appearance on a USAB coaching staff while Romay and White were each in their inaugural USAB coaching assignments.
The 18U National Team's roster for the Pan Ams was selected from the age-eligible players (those born 1991 or after) who competed in the 17th Annual Tournament of Stars held in June at USA Baseball's National Training Center in Cary, N.C. Following the week-long event, 34 invitees and 10 alternates were selected for the 18U Trials. After returning to their respective hometowns, players reassembled for the Trials in September in Raleigh, N.C., for practices and intrasquad games that served as part of the evaluation and selection process for the final 20-player roster. After the final roster was selected, the squad played three exhibition games against area community colleges in North Carolina. The squad then traveled to Barquisimeto to compete in the Pan Am Championships.
IX COPABE "AAA" PAN AMERICAN JUNIOR BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
September 25-October 3, 2009 Barquisimeto, Venezuela
October 3 Medal Game Results
Gold: USA def. Cuba, 6-1
Bronze: Venezuela def. Panama, 8-2
Final Team Standings
1. USA (8-0)
2. Cuba (6-2)
3. Venezuela (5-3)
4. Panama (3-5)
5. Aruba (3-4)
6. Colombia (1-6)
7. Argentina (0-7)
18U National Team Results (8-0)
Aruba (Pool Play), W 13-3
Argentina (Pool Play), W 14-0 (7 innings)
Panama (Pool Play), W 14-0 (8 innings)
Colombia (Pool Play), W 17-0 (7 innings)
Cuba (Pool Play), W 9-5
Venezuela (Pool Play), W 6-3
Panama (Semifinals), W 18-2 (6 innings)
Cuba (Gold Medal), W 6-1