Price, Team USA Capture Gold In A Thriller
July 29, 2008
LAWRENCE, Kan. –
Hunter Morris snapped a scoreless tie in the top of the 12th inning, and Kendal Volz got a game-ending ground out with the potential tying run at third base as the USA Baseball National Team defeated Japan 1-0 in Sunday’s gold medal game at the FISU World Championships. It was Team USA’s third consecutive FISU title.
The U.S. squad completed its 2008 tour 24-0 and established a National Team record for lowest staff ERA at 0.88 (the previous mark of 1.29 was set in 2003). Team USA did not allow more than two earned runs in any game and tossed its sixth shutout of the summer in the FISU title game.
“I don’t think you ever think that far down the road,” head coach Rob Walton (Oral Roberts) said when asked if a perfect season was imaginable at the beginning of the tour. “We just tried to build chemistry and get guys in the right spots to be successful. Our assistant coaches deserve a lot of credit for this, as does [National Team general manager] Eric Campbell for helping us put together this team.”
Morris, who made the team following his true-freshman season, had the game-winning hit in two of Team USA’s final three victories. (He had a walk-off home run against Chinese Taipei in the final pool-play game on Thursday.)
“Look at what Morris did these last few games,” Campbell said. “He hasn’t gotten too many at bats since [Jared] Clark joined this team; he had mostly been shaking hands in the dugout. But he got the game-winning RBI in two of our last three games. I’m so happy that Hunter was the guy. It means even more when you consider the circumstances that allowed him to be on this team.”
Tommy Mendonca led off the 12th with a single down the left-field line, and Ryan Jackson pushed him to second with a sacrifice bunt. After Micah Gibbs was intentionally walked, Matt den Dekker singled through the right side. But Japan right fielder Keijiro Matsumoto threw a strike to catcher Shota Ono, who held onto the ball after a collision with Mendonca.
Morris followed with a pinch-hit, broken-bat single to shallow center. Gibbs scored easily from second on the play, giving Team USA a 1-0 lead.
“It was such a great feeling when I saw that ball drop because I knew Gibbs was going to score,” Morris said. “With Kendal coming into the game and the way our pitching has been all summer, I knew it would be enough.”
The game was far from over, though. Pinch hitter Kyohei Iwasaki led off the bottom of the inning with a seeing-eye single to the hole at shortstop. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and then stole third. However, Volz was too much for Japan as he struck out the next batter and got a ground out to end the game.
Shortstop Christian Colon scooped the grounder and threw to first baseman Jared Clark for the game’s final out.
That made a winner of Kyle Gibson who pitched a perfect 11th with one strikeout. Starter Mike Minor lasted 9 2/3 innings and held Japan scoreless on four hits with no walks and nine strikeouts. Volz finished the tour with eight saves in eight opportunities.
Both teams had chances to score before the 12th. Team USA had 10 hits on the night but grounded into three double plays, had one player picked off at first base and had two runners thrown out at home. Japan managed only four hits on the night, and the first two were erased when the hitter turned runner was caught stealing.
Minor faced the minimum through the first nine innings and retired the first two batters he faced in the 10th. However, consecutive singles and a U.S. fielding error put runners on the corners. Tyler Lyons spelled Minor and got a ground-ball fielder’s choice to escape the jam.
“The key to this team was the pitching, and even more so the bullpen,” Walton said. “Guys like Lyons and Gibson and Volz, who are all starters in their own programs, accepting roles in the bullpen was big. Their doing that probably was the biggest key of the summer.”
Team USA’s bullpen posted a 0.87 ERA for the tour, allowing only 13 runs (eight earned) in 84 innings with a .165 opponents’ batting average.
Mendonca was 4-for-4 at the plate and was hit by a pitch, while Gibbs was 3-for-4.
“This team’s record speaks for itself,” Campbell said. “Every year is special, but I don’t know how we’ll be able to top what this team did. They finished 24-0, they beat Cuba’s best team twice, they beat Japan three times, and they won two gold medals. It speaks volumes for college baseball, not just in the U.S. but around the world. This team beat a lot of good teams this summer, and four or five of the teams here at FISU easily could have won this event.”