EDMONTON, Alberta – The USA Baseball 18U National Team’s attempt to earn a gold medal came up one step short today as Korea defeated the Americans 7-0 in the title game of the International Baseball Federation’s XXIII AAA World Junior Championships at Telus Field. The tournament, featuring the world’s top 18-and-under players from 12 countries, ended today with the medal games and final round of consolation action.
The setback was the first of the tournament for Team USA, which fashioned a 7-1 Worlds mark. Despite the loss, the silver medal was the 11th in the program’s history and marked the 22nd time in 23 World Championships that the USA has secured a medal. Defending silver medalists, the Americans were seeking their sixth gold since last claiming the 1999 crown in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Besides the 1999 title, the Americans also garnered titles in 1995, 1989, 1988 and 1982.
“We had a nice run,” USA Head Coach Mark Elkins said. “Just because we didn’t win the gold medal doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great team. This group made the summer a most enjoyable experience.”
The game was a rematch of the 2006 World Championships title contest when Korea rallied from a 3-2 eighth-inning deficit with a pair of runs, including the winning run with two out in the bottom of the ninth, to defeat the USA 4-3 for the gold medal in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. In addition, the contest was a rematch of the teams’ pool play contest earlier in this tournament. In that game, Team USA rallied for two, seventh-inning runs July 30 in a 4-3 victory to earn the top spot and the No. 1 seed in the pool.
This time, though, Korea (7-1) was able to shut down a potent USA offense that had entered the contest with a tournament-best .348 hitting average and had outscored its seven opponents 66-10. In addition, Korea, which gained its fifth world title, scored seven runs against a USA pitching staff that sported a 1.07 earned run average — another tournament best — and had allowed just 38 hits and seven earned runs in 59.0 innings with 83 strikeouts.
“It was just one of those days,” Elkins said. “You have to give Korea all the credit. They played a very good game. They put pressure on us all day. Their pitching was outstanding. We aren’t used to not scoring runs. They also executed their offense to perfection. Overall, they just played better than us.”
The Americans could not sustain any scoring threats against Korea pitcher Yung Hoon Sung, who turned in a complete-game seven-hitter. Named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Sung also had a route-going performance in Korea’s 5-4 quarterfinal win Friday against Chinese Taipei.
“You have to credit their pitcher. He limited our offensive production,” Elkins said. “He was tough to hit.”
Sung (3-0) retired the first eight batters he faced before allowing consecutive two-out singles to Andrew Aplin (OF; Suisun City, Calif.) and Nolan Fontana (INF; Winter Garden, Fla.). But Sung retired Nick Franklin (OF; Longwood, Fla.) on a fly to right to end that threat.
Besides the third, Team USA managed to get two runners on base in only one other inning. In the eighth, pinchhitter Cameron Garfield (C; Murrieta, Calif.) led off with a single and, one out later, moved to third on Fontana’s second hit of the game. But Sung, who did not issue a walk and recorded nine strikeouts, fanned Franklin and then got Jeff Malm (INF; Las Vegas, Nev.) on an infield grounder to keep the Americans scoreless.
In the USA sixth, Franklin’s double to left was sandwiched between two line drive outs by Fontana and Malm. Korea second baseman Chi Hong An then ranged far to his right to track down a grounder by Harold Martinez (INF; Miami, Fla.) and get Martinez by a step at first base. One inning later, a leadoff single by Austin Maddox (DH; Jacksonville, Fla.) was wiped out when Donavan Tate (OF; Cartersville, Ga.) hit into a 643 double play.
While Sung was finding ways to stymie the Americans’ bats, Korea unloaded for 12 hits against three Team USA pitchers. After permitting single runs in the second and third innings, USA starter Matthew Purke (LHP; Spring, Texas) appeared to be back in stride after striking out the side in the fourth inning. But the first four batters in the Korea fifth inning reached base.
After one run had scored in the inning, An’s two-run triple to right center gave Korea a 5-0 lead and ended the day for Purke (1-1), who allowed eight hits while striking out seven in four innings. Purke, who fired a complete-game, four-hitter in Team USA’s 2-0 pool-play win against Mexico earlier in the tournament, was replaced by Wes Hatton (RHP; Norco, Calif.). Hatton, who surrendered three hits in three innings, permitted a sacrifice fly by Young Suk Jang to plate An and end the scoring flurry that increased Korea’s cushion to 6-0. Korea would add a final run in the sixth.
“We gave up the big inning,” Elkins said. “That was real tough to recover from. When Korea built a lead, it didn’t slow down one bit. They did it all very well today.”
Jonathan Meyer (RHP; Simi Valley, Calif.) hurled a scoreless eighth for Team USA.
The shutout was the first for an 18U National Team since the 2006 club was blanked 3-0 by Mexico in a 5.5-inning rain-shortened pool play game at the World Championships in Ciego de Avila, Cuba.
Four members of Team USA were named to the tournament all-star team. They included Malm at first base, Fontana at shortstop, Martinez at third base, and Purke as the team’s left-handed pitcher. Fontana also was recognized for scoring the most runs in the tournament (nine through pool play).
“This is one of the best teams that I have every coached,” Elkins said. “This is an outstanding group of young men. We had a great team. This was an extremely positive experience and something I know I will never forget.”
USA Baseball is the National Governing Body of amateur baseball in the United States and a member of the United States Olympic Committee. The organization selects and trains the United States Olympic Baseball Team (and all other USA Baseball professional teams), the USA Baseball National Team (collegiate); the USA Baseball 18U, 16U, and 14U National Teams; and the USA Baseball Women’s National Team, all of which participate in various international competitions each year.