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HAARLEM — Cuba rallied from a three-run deficit with one out in the eighth and scored twice in a 10th-inning tiebreaker as the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team dropped a 5-3 decision in the semifinals of Honkbal Week on Saturday at Pim Mulier Stadium.
Team USA will close out its stay in the Netherlands on Sunday when it plays either Puerto Rico or the host nation Netherlands for the bronze medal at noon (6 a.m. ET).
“While this was clearly a very tough loss and we may not have gotten the results we wanted, we will walk out of this stadium with our heads held high because we are proud of the effort our team put forth out on the field today,” Team USA manager Dave Serrano said. “You have to tip your hat to Cuba. Baseball is a nine-inning game and they fought all the way until the end to get it to a tiebreaker where they executed and we didn’t.”
After Cuba overcame a three-run deficit in the eighth and neither team could push a run across in the ninth, Saturday’s semifinal contest became the first of the tournament to go to extra innings where it was played under international tie-breaker rules.
Starting with runners on first and second and nobody out, Cuba was able to get a sacrifice bunt down to move both runners into scoring position. After a walk loaded the bases, another free pass to Frederich Cepeda brought in a run to give Cuba its first lead of the game. Alfredo Despaigne followed with a sacrifice fly to left that made it a two-run lead at 5-3.
Trailing for the first time all day, the U.S. tried to force the action, putting both of its runners into motion right off the bat. The pitch was lifted in the air to right, however, forcing them to retreat to their original bases. A groundout then moved them both into scoring position, but the two-out hit didn’t come as a pop-up to first ended the game.
Prior to the disappointing end, the Red, White and Blue got another solid start out of Jonathan Crawford (Florida) as he yielded just three hits and two runs in seven quality innings in his fourth appearance against Cuba.
The right-hander was particularly effective in the middle innings as he had a stretch where he recorded 14 outs on just 38 pitches from the first out of the third through the second out of the seventh. He did not allow a hit until the fifth and Cuba did not put a runner into scoring position against him until the seventh.
At the plate, Austin Cousino (Kentucky) continued his stellar play during Honkbal Week, going 3-for-4 with a run scored. Over the course of the six games in the tournament, the SEC Freshman of the Year is hitting .385 with three runs scored.
After four scoreless frames to start the game, Team USA jumped out to a 3-0 lead with single tallies in three straight innings. Kyle Farmer (Georgia) got the scoring started in the fifth, ripping an RBI single into left after a base hit and an error had put Cousino on third.
In the sixth, the U.S. squad staged a two-out rally to plate its second run. D.J. Peterson (New Mexico) and Kris Bryant (San Diego) got things going with back-to-back walks before Cousino stroked a line drive toward short. Although Cuba shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena dove and got his glove on the ball, it fell for a single that loaded the bases.
Just four pitches later, Brett Hambright (Oregon) punched a ball on the ground toward the hole at short. Arruebarruena got to the ball and fired it towards second but Cousino was hustling all the way and beat the throw, allowing Peterson to score from third and put the U.S. up 2-0.
After absolutely cruising through the first six innings, Crawford first ran into a little trouble in the seventh. With two outs, Cuba got back-to-back singles with a groundball back to the mound off of Crawford’s foot and a line drive that just hit off the end of a leaping Farmer at short.
The two base hits gave Cuba a runner in scoring position for the first time all day, but Crawford buckled down and froze Ariel Pestano with a sharp-breaking 3-2 slider at the knees on the outside corner to escape unscathed.
Team USA then tacked on another run in the home half of the seventh to give itself a slightly more comfortable 3-0 advantage. Trea Turner (North Carolina State) opened the stanza by ripping a leadoff double into the left-center gap and quickly moved up to third on a wild pitch. Johnny Field (Arizona) then brought him the final 90 feet to home on a sacrifice fly to right.
That run would turn out to be a big one as Cuba rallied to tie the game with three runs of its own in the top of the eighth. A walk and a hit batter to start the inning brought Crawford’s start to a close. Bobby Wahl (Mississippi) came out of the pen and immediately got two groundballs but the first moved the runners up 90 feet and the second brought in a run. RBI singles by Yulieski Gourriel and Despaigne then brought the game right back to a deadlock at 3-3.
Right after giving up its lead, Team USA fought right back to load the bases with just one out in the bottom of the inning. Cuba reliever Ismel Jimenez was able to wiggle out of the jam though, getting a strikeout and a groundball back to the mound to leave the bases juiced.
The back-and-forth continued in the top of the ninth as Pestano singled and moved up to third with just one out after a sac bunt and a wild pitch. Michael Lorenzen (Cal State Fullerton) came out of the bullpen to keep the score tied, getting a groundout to short with his infield drawn in on the grass. He then induced a broken-bat groundout to short, on which Farmer made an outstanding running throw to just get the runner at first to end the inning and set up the decisive 10th-inning tiebreaker.
Saturday’s contest marked the final contest in a seven-game series between Cuba and the United States this summer. The first five games were played at Latin American Stadium and the final three at Pim Mulier Stadium in Haarlem, Netherlands.
The Cuba squad, which features 12 World Baseball Classic veterans, including four who have played in the classic twice, finished with four wins to three by the U.S. Of the seven games, four were one-run contests.