<
>

College stars shine for USA Baseball

7/29/2009

Drew Pomeranz has had a year to remember. The left-hander was nothing short of heroic for Mississippi in the NCAA baseball tournament, nearly pitching the Rebels to Omaha single-handedly. He came up just as big for USA Baseball's collegiate national team this summer.

Pomeranz carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning Sunday to lead Team USA to an 8-1 win against Germany in the championship game of the Enbridge Northern Gateway World Baseball Challenge in Prince George, British Columbia. The Americans finished their summer campaign with a 19-5 record, including a 6-1 mark in the Challenge in Canada. The Americans also came within an out of winning the annual Japan Series on Japanese soil for the first time since 1974, but Japan rallied to overcome a three-run deficit in the ninth and went on to win the decisive game of the series in extra innings.

"It was a successful summer, and it was good to finish on a positive note, but there's no question that not getting that final out in Japan was the only negative," Team USA coach Rick Jones said. "We played so well over there. We took a 7-4 lead into the ninth and just couldn't hold it. It was just a disappointing thing."

Pomeranz allowed a run in the first inning on a hit batsman, a walk, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI groundout, but Germany couldn't touch him after that. The Americans supported him with eight runs, three of them on solo homers. Pomeranz finished with 12 strikeouts in seven brilliant innings and allowed just one hit and two walks. He ended the summer at 4-1, 1.75 ERA with 48 strikeouts and nine walks in 26 innings.

"Pomeranz had some command issues early, and he did the same thing against Canada in the first game, but once he settled in, it was really good," Jones said. "He was throwing his fastball to both sides of the plate, had a good breaking ball -- just special."

Not to be outdone, right-hander Gerrit Cole (UCLA) finished the summer at 4-0, 1.06 with 46 strikeouts and 10 walks in 34 innings. Cole carried USA to the title game with a complete-game, two-hit, seven-strikeout masterpiece in a 1-0 win against Canada on Friday. He struck out the side in the ninth inning and finished with 100 pitches.

"I don't know if I've seen a more dominant pitching performance than what I saw out of Gerrit Cole on Friday," Jones said. "I know he touched 99 [mph] a couple times, and he had a great slider."

As they have almost all summer, set-up man Nick Pepitone (Tulane) and closer Chad Bettis (Texas Tech) slammed the door Sunday, each working a perfect inning of relief. Pepitone allowed just two hits and posted a 0.00 ERA in 15 innings on the summer, while Bettis used a mid-to-high-90s fastball to earn three saves and 11 strikeouts in nine innings.

Shortstop Rick Hague (Rice) received the tournament's best hitter award, batting .474 with two home runs. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI in the championship game and finished the summer tied with outfielder Tyler Holt (Florida State) for the team lead in batting (.371).

The lone downside from Canada was the injury to shortstop Christian Colon (Cal State Fullerton), who suffered a broken fibula and a broken tibia while trying to turn a double play in the eighth inning Friday. The hard slide into second base resulted in both benches clearing and Colon being carried off the field. The good news, Jones said, is that the breaks are "clean" and Colon is expected to make a full recovery. He had surgery Monday night.

"The umpire said you can make contact at the bag, but the play had developed and was over with by the time the slide occurred," Jones said. "That's the thing that left Christian exposed. It was just disappointing to see him go out like that."

Colon had a great summer with the bat, hitting .362 with team bests in home runs (five) and RBIs (37). Early on, Jones named Colon (a four-time veteran of USA Baseball's programs) as the team's captain.

"Four different times he's worn this uniform, and he's just such a great leader," Jones said. "I felt like we needed to have someone in that captain role, and he did a great job with it."

For more on college baseball, check out Baseball America.