HAARLEM, The Netherlands – The USA Baseball Collegiate National Team advanced to the championship game at Honkbal Week with a 4-1 win in a semifinal showdown against Chinese Taipei at Pim Mulier Stadium on Saturday.
With the win Team USA improves to 17-3-2 overall this summer, including a 6-1 record at Honkbal Week. It will play the winner of tonight’s matchup between Japan and the Netherlands in the championship contest at 2 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET) on Sunday. Louisville right-hander Kyle Funkhouser will take the mound for the U.S.
“It is big deal for us to get to the championship game,” Team USA manager Dave Van Horn (Arkansas) said. “Obviously everybody here except for the home team came a long way and we’ve been here over a week. We lost our first game and have bounced back to win six straight, which I am really proud of.
“It isn’t easy to play nine games against anyone and not lose at least one, so we definitely had that in the back of our minds today. We’ve played quite a few close games against them, even tied a couple, so we feel very fortunate to have been able to get the win today. Hopefully we can get a good night’s sleep tonight and come out here and win a championship tomorrow.”
Saturday’s semifinal contest was the ninth of the summer between Team USA and Chinese Taipei with the U.S. posting a 7-0-2 record in those games.
Carson Fulmer started and got the win for Team USA, yielding just one unearned run and striking out four in 5.1 innings of work. A.J. Minter (Texas A&M) got two big outs with a runner on third in the sixth before Thomas Eshelman (Cal State Fullerton) fired two scoreless innings of relief to send the game to the ninth where Ryan Burr (Arizona State) struck out the side to earn his third save of the summer.
With offense at a premium all tournament at Honkbal Week, both teams turned to small ball, combining for five sac bunts on Saturday. Team USA was able to notch 11 hits in the game, led by a 3-for-4 effort by Dansby Swanson (Vanderbilt), who also scored a pair of runs. Christin Stewart (Tennessee), Alex Bregman (LSU) and Nick Banks (Texas A&M) all had two hits as well.
“Today was a strange game, really,” Van Horn said. “If you look at the line score it looks like we were in control most of the game but we were on the ropes a little bit early. It was a tie game and they had a chance to take the lead on us a couple of times but we did a nice job of getting out of some jams.
“It was the same thing for us. We had a chance to put the game away a few times but they just kept getting out of it until we stole a couple of bases and got a few big hits late in the game to finally separate ourselves.”
The U.S. got the scoring started quickly as back-to-back singles by Swanson and Stewart put runners on the corners before DJ Stewart (Florida State) lifted a sacrifice fly to center to put the first tally on the scoreboard.
Chinese Taipei answered right back, however, scoring an unearned run on an infield single after a base hit, throwing error on a pickoff play and a passed ball had put him on third.
The score would remain tied until the fourth when a great hustle play by Tate Matheny (Missouri State) put Team USA back in front. On second with two outs after drawing a walk and stealing a base, he got on his hustle horse and scored on a groundball to short as the throw pulled the first baseman off the bag.
Now up 2-1, the U.S. turned to its bullpen to maintain its lead as Chinese Taipei used a walk, sac bunt and a passed ball to put a runner on third with one out in the top of the sixth. Minter came on to neutralize the threat though, striking out the next batter and getting a flyout to center to leave the runner standing on third.
After loading the bases in the fifth and putting two on in the sixth without adding to its lead, Team USA finally punched through again in the seventh thanks to some aggressive baserunning. Bregman opened the inning with a leadoff single and promptly stole second. Just a few pitches later, he would take off for third and end up scoring easily as the throw from the catcher sailed into left.
The final run of the game came in the bottom of the eighth when Swanson roped a leadoff single into left, stole second and then scored when Christin Stewart lined an RBI double into right-center.