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Team USA defeats Japan 8-2

USABASEBALL_thumb.jpgUTSUNOMIYA, Japan – Making his first start of the series, UC Irvine’s Taylor Sparks helped lead the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team to an 8-2 victory over Japan, evening the best of five series at two games apiece. Sparks went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and three RBIs.

“The difference in today’s game versus the other games has been timely hitting and which team makes the mistakes on defense,” said manager Jim Schlossnagle (TCU). “We’ve certainly had our share of those issues going into today. Taylor obviously did a great job of getting the big hit in the first inning and Carlos was outstanding.”

Carlos Rodon (NC State) twirled a gem for the Collegiate National Team. He limited Japan to just two hits, walked three and struck out four in five innings of work. Daniel Mengden (Texas A&M) was touched for two runs on five hits and fanned three in three innings. Matt Chapman (Cal State Fullerton) pitched around a one-out hit and error in a scoreless ninth.

Four batters into the game, the rains came forcing a 48 minute delay. The break was all Rodon need to right the ship as he pitched out of his lone jam of the game. The first two batters of the game reached on asingle and a walk. A sacrifice had both runners in scoring position with only one out when the rains came pouring down. Upon resumption of the game, Rodon got a big strikeout for the second out. A walk followed, but Rodon left thebases full as he got a ground out to end the inning.

Trea Turner (NC State) and Alex Bregman (LSU) ignited the offense with back-to-back singles to lead off the first. With one out, Chapman was plunked on the shoulder to load the bases. Japan’s Toshihiro Sugiura got a strikeout for the second out, but couldn’t escape the jam as Sparks lined a single into right field. Turner and Bregman scored easily, while Chapman raced home when the throw back to the infield bounded into foul territory to giveTeam USA a 3-0 lead. Bradley Zimmer (San Francisco) followed with a base hit to push the lead to four, chasing Japan’s starting pitcher from the game.

Team USA tacked on another run in the third inning to push its lead to five. Sparks collected his second hit of the night with one out and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. With two outs, Grayson Greiner (South Carolina) blooped a single into shallow right field to drive in Sparks for a 5-0 lead.

A pair of lead-off walks and two errors helped Team USA score three more times in the fifth as the lead grew to eight. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Sparks lined his third hit of the day into right field to make it a 6-0 game. Zimmer was plunked on the arm to load the bases withnobody out. Japan got a ground ball to third and threw the runner out at home, but the relay to first went into right field, allowing Sparks to score the seventh run of the game. Zimmer raced home on an errant pick-off throw to first for an 8-0 lead.

Japan’s bats finally came to life in the sixth inning as it pushed across two runs on four hits to make it an 8-2 contest. Shogo Nakamura tripled with one out and scored on a base hit from Ryohei Isikawa. A two-out pinch hit single from Masataka Yoshida drove in the second run of the inning.

The late rally from Japan looked like it was gaining speed as Japan had runners on the corners with only one out in the top of the seventh. A defensive gem from Chapman thwarted the Japan rally as he turned an inning-ending double play. Nakamura hit a low line drive towards the left field line. Chapman reached across his body to haul in the line drive, got up and threw a strike to first base to double off the runner, ending the threat.

Mengden pitched a 1-2-3 top of the eighth and Chapman shut the door in the ninth to lock up the victory.

With Team USA’s victory, the USA-Japan Collegiate International Friendly Series is knotted at two games apiece. The decisive fifth game is set for Thursday at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo. Florida State’s Luke Weaver will make the start for Team USA. Game time is set for 5 a.m. (ET)/6p.m. (JST).

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