Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Team USA reflects on winning gold
By Matthew Muench
The USA Baseball 18U National Team outscored its nine opponents 88-8 en route to a gold medal at the Pan American Championships.
Gavin Cecchini didn’t mind the elbow to the face or three 180-pounders on his back. Carson Kelly wasn’t afraid of the bodies colliding on top of him or the headlocks that followed.
The USA Baseball 18U National Team teammates will never forget this dog pile.
“When I look back 10 years from now I will remember the dog pile more than anything,” said Cecchini, a senior at Barbe (Lake Charles, La.). “It was the best feeling. There is nothing like winning a gold medal.”
The 20-plus person tower in the infield featured some of the best prep baseball players in the United States, and it capped a week where Team USA dominated the field at the COPABE 18U/AAA Pan American Championships in Cartagena, Colombia.
The exclamation point was a 12-2 win over Canada in the gold-medal game last week to complete a perfect 9-0 record in the tournament that featured teams from all over the world.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Kelly, a senior at Westview (Portland, Ore.). “Every moment was incredible. It will be something I talk about for the rest of my life. I will remember it all.”
It won’t be hard to forget for the players and coaches who wore red, white and blue. Just check the box scores.
The American’s outscored their opponents 88-8, beating four of them by way of the mercy rule. On offense they combined to hit .353, and the pitching staff finished with a 1.00 ERA.
Between the chalk, they stole 45 bases, while defensively they only committed two errors.
“We absolutely demolished teams down there,” said Cecchini, an Ole Miss signee. “To tell you the truth, I thought the games would be much closer. But our hitters were awesome and our pitchers were unbelievable.”
Kelly was one of those pitchers. The Oregon signee earned the win on the mound in the gold-medal game and also had the ball when USA beat host country Colombia in front of a national TV audience and a sold out stadium of more than 13,0000 fans.
“It was a blessing for me and very exciting for me to get to pitch in those two games,” he said. “It’s not very often you get to represent your country. So I wanted to make sure we came out on top.”
Offensively, the Americans were paced by Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.) senior outfielder Albert Almora, who was named the tournament’s MVP. The Miami recruit and Team USA veteran hit .421 and led the team in extra-base hits (6) and RBI (11).
Cecchini was named to the all-tournament team along with Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) senior pitcher Jesse Winker, Albuquerque Academy (Albuquerque, N.M.) third baseman Alex Bregman and Pace (Pace, Fla.) senior shortstop Addison Russell.
“Everyone on are team was not good — they were great,” Kelly said. “I said to myself, ‘Wow, these guys know how to play baseball.’”
Team USA manager and three-time World Series champion Scott Brosius said he was impressed with the focus and talent level of his team, which consisted of many projected first-round MLB draft picks.
“It was definitely exciting to watch this group,” he said. “We hadn’t played a lot together, so we had a few question marks heading in. So to come in and win gold in a dominating fashion felt real rewarding.”
Away from the diamond, Team USA didn’t have it as easy. Cecchini said fans “were brutal” and felt that “everyone was against us and tried to throw us off our game.” When Team USA arrived in Colombia, they were given a different schedule that included an 8 a.m. game 12 hours after arriving in South America.
“That was just the first of many curveballs we were thrown,” Brosius said. “But we prepared to expect the unexpected, so we just rolled with what was thrown at us.”
The Americans were the only team who did not have a day off, Cecchini said. Plus, Team USA had to play four morning games in a row, where in some cases they were waking up at 6 a.m. to make hour-long bus trips.
“They tried everything to take us away from our game,” Cecchini said. “Cold showers, wet clothes, dirty water. They tried to mess with Team USA. We got the last laugh.”