Team USA takes silver in world championships

By Bubba Brown

Charged with the task of managing the USA Collegiate National Team to a gold medal in the FISU World University Baseball Championships, Bill Kinneberg came within three outs of his goal.

But hopes of Team USA winning its fourth straight FISU championship were dashed when Cuba’s Alfredo Despaigne hit a walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning of the gold-medal game.

USA Shortstop Drew Maggi of Arizona State, who was drafted in the 15th round this summer as a draft-eligible sophomore, broke a scoreless stalemate in the eighth inning with a solo homer after righty starter Gerrit Cole of UCLA threw seven shutout innings, showing why he’s thought to be a candidate to go in the top five picks of next year’s MLB draft. But the lead was short-lived, as Despaigne hit the first of his two homers, matching Maggi with a solo shot of his own in the ninth inning, forcing the game into extras.

The remainder of the game was played using the International Baseball Federation’s tie-break rule, which puts runners on first and second to begin each half inning starting in the 10th. USA took advantage of the added baserunners, scoring them both with RBI-hits from outfielder George Springer of Connecticut and infielder Nick Ramirez of Cal State Fullerton. However, Ramirez, who was then called on to pitch, was unable to close the door on Cuba in the bottom of the inning. Ramirez got the first batter of the inning to harmlessly fly out, but surrendered the game-winning homer two pitches later.

As two of the superpowers of the world baseball scene, it was no surprise that USA and Cuba went down to the wire.

“They have 5-6 guys who were in the World Baseball Classic,” Kinneberg said, who also serves as head coach of Utah’s baseball team. “They’re just a different type of athlete than what we are seeing in everyone else — they are a professional baseball team.”
Despite earning just a silver medal, Team USA made a strong showing on the world stage. With a roster chock-full of premium talent that will help make next year’s MLB draft one of the richest in recent memory. The team went 5-1 in the FISU event and 16-3 overall for the summer.

Standouts included righthander Sonny Gray of Vanderbilt, who finished 3-0 with a 0.38 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 24 innings, which solidifies his stock as a first-rounder next year. Infielder Brad Miller of Clemson was a pleasant surprise for Team USA. He was added to the squad only after an injury to Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, who will likely be next year’s top overall pick. But in 14 games, Miller hit a team-high .441 with four doubles and a homer.

In addition to the experience of managing the supremely talented USA roster, Kinneberg took time to experience Tokyo, Japan, which hosted the FISU event.

“Toyko’s a neat city,” Kinneberg said before the quarterfinals. “The people are very friendly and it’s easy to get around. The food has been great here. We haven’t had a whole lot of time… Toyko’s a beautiful city, but we haven’t experienced a lot other than baseball.”

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