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Team USA opens Tourney with a 5-2 win

(HAARLEM, The Netherlands) – Matt den Dekker (Florida; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) chased down a fly ball in the left-center gap as Kendal Volz (Baylor; Bulverde, Texas) stranded two inherited runners in the top of the ninth as the USA Baseball National Team held off the Japanese National Team 5-2 in Saturday’s Haarlem Baseball Week pool-play action at Pim Mullier Stadium. Team USA is now 8-0 on its 2008 tour.

Volz entered the game with one out in the top of the ninth, a runner at first and the U.S. team holding on to a two-run lead. After striking out the first batter he faced, Volz walked Takahiro Iwamoto on a full-count pitch to bring the potential tying run to the plate. But Yuto Nakakura could manage only a fly ball on a 2-1 pitch from Volz, who notched his second save of the tour.

Meanwhile, U.S. starter Stephen Strasburg kept the Japan bats at bay most of the day. He allowed two runs on six hits and no walks with seven strikeouts over 7.0 innings. Strasburg allowed only one extra-base hit – a seventh-inning double – and used 101 pitches, 75 of which were strikes.

Tyler Lyons (Oklahoma State; Lubbock, Texas) pitched himself into and out of a jam in the eighth. Upon entering the game, Lyons walked the leadoff batter and then surrendered a single. However, he got a force out at third on an attempted sacrifice bunt and then induced a grounder back to the mound that led to an inning-ending double play.

Lyons retired the leadoff batter in the top of the ninth before hitting a batter and giving way to Volz.

The U.S. squad found itself trailing 1-0 after the top of the first inning. Kohei Shibata led off the game with a single to left; he then stole second, moved to third on an error and later scored on Ryoji Nakata’s single to left-center.

However, that lead was short-lived as Team USA rallied for three runs on just one hit in the bottom of the first. Christian Colon (Cal State Fullerton; Corona, Calif.) walked to lead off the inning, moved to second on a Mike Leake (Arizona State; Fallbrook, Calif.) sacrifice bunt and took third on a wild pitch. Josh Fellhauer (Cal State Fullerton; Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) followed with an RBI single tie the game.

Japan starter Masanori Fujihara lasted only two-thirds of one inning; he allowed three runs, only one of which was earned, on one hit and three walks with one strikeout. Fujihara left with the bases loaded and two outs. Reliever Shingo Tatsumi got Ryan Lipkin (San Francisco; Vacaville, Calif.) to ground to short on his first pitch, but Japan shortstop Kyohei Iwasaki mishandled the bouncing ball, allowing two runs to score.

Micah Gibbs (LSU; Pflugerville, Texas) led off the sixth inning with a walk and later scored on a Matt den Dekker (Florida; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) sacrifice fly. Japan quickly answered with a run in the top of the seventh. Takuya Tsukuura doubled off the left-field wall to open the inning and later scored on Takahiro Iwamoto’s single.

Team USA pushed its lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth. Tommy Mendonca (Fresno State; Turlock, Calif.) led off the inning with a double down the right-field line and later scored on a Ryan Jackson (Miami-FL; Miami Springs, Fla.) single to right.

Colon and Jackson both had two-hit games. Mendonca has hit safely in all five games in which he has played.

Team USA returns to action Sunday, facing Cuba in a pool-play game. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. EDT at Pim Mullier Stadium. Southpaw Mike Minor (Vanderbilt; Chapel Hill, Tenn.) is scheduled to start on the mound for the U.S. team.

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