THUNDER BAY – The United States didn’t just win an Under 18 World Baseball Cup.
They absolutely trounced the competition along the way.
The Americans on Sunday capped one of the most dominating performances in the tournament’s 36-year history, outscoring their opponents 61-5, winning all nine games they played, culminating in an 8-0 humiliation of Korea to capture the gold-medal match.
Starter Matthew Liberatore combined with three other pitchers on a four-hit shutout, Korea’s final hit coming in the sixth inning.
Tournament most valuable player Triston Casas delivered the big blow, a two-run home run in a four-run that blew open that was already starting to get out of hand.
Casas finished with a 2-for-5 night, driving in three and said he was at a loss for words when asked what winning the States’ fourth straight U18 championship.
“It’s special. It’s something that I can’t even describe right now. This is all so surreal. I don’t even know if I’m going to remember it in the morning. I’m just going to enjoy every moment of this,” said Casas, expected to be a first-round draft pick next June.
“Wearing this (medal) around my neck I’ll never take lightly. Coming out here and being able to represent the best country in the world is what I came out here to do.”
The MVP was just icing on the cake.
“It means a lot to me, but I just came out here trying to win this gold. That was the ultimate goal,” said Casas, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Liberatore said winning the title capped a fantastic summer.
“It’s pretty special, pretty surreal. I kind of feel like I’m floating right now,” the 6-foot-5 right-hander from Arizona said.
“It’s pretty awesome.”
Called on to start the gold-medal game by manager Andy Stankiewicz, Liberatore said it’s something he’s envisioned since learning he’d made the U.S. team.
“When I got the call to pitch in this game, I was super excited. But I was also ready,” Liberatore said. “I wanted the ball, I think more than anyone else, and I feel like I went out there and gave my team a shot to win.”
The two teams were scoreless through two, but the Americans jumped on Korean starter Young-Jun Kim in the third.
Up 1-0 after a double steal allowed Michael Siani to cross the plate with the game’s first run, Casas doubled to left-centre to score Carter Young, the U.S. taking a 2-0 lead. Anthony Siegler followed with a run-scoring single.
Liberatore retire the Koreans in order in the fourth and the U.S. bats stayed hot in their turn at bat. A Jarred Kelenic single and a throwing error by Korea shortstop Jih-Wan Bae led to a pair of runners crossing the plate and a 5-0 advantage for the eventual champions.
They’d add one more in the fifth, Nolan Gorman singling home Brice Turang with the game’s final run.
Stankiewicz, the former major leaguer, said first and foremost it was the pitching staff that lead the U.S. to victory.
“Our pitching staff was so strong. We knew coming in our pitching was going to be our strength and it proved to be true,” Stankiewicz said. “Our starters did such a great job and our bullpen was always strong and healthy and ready to go.
“That was the difference when we got into the Super Round and the medal round.”
Notes: Canada’s Noah Naylor was named the best third baseman in the tournament. Right-fielder Denzel Clarke was the top defensive player, while Archer Brookman led all players with 11 RBI.