Team USA was riding high after Cole McDonald's no-hitter against the Czech Republic but had to quickly refocus for a game against a formidable opponent in South Korea. USA needed a late rally, but it took down South Korea, 6-4, to finish 2-0 against Pool A opponents leading into the semifinals.
Despite Chris Whelan and Ben Norman failing to reach base to start the game, USA nearly broke the game open in the first inning for a second straight game. Robert Neustrom hit his first home run of the World University Games to give USA a 1-0 lead. USA eventually loaded the bases after hitting three straight singles, but Matt Hoeg struck out to end the threat.
Grant Judkins was on the mound for USA. He retired the first four batters he faced, but Bonhyeok Gu, who had three hits, singled in his first at-bat. He stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch in the ensuing at-bats before tying the game on a Hocheol Seo single to left field. The next batter hit into a double play, though.
While Judkins didn't go the distance for USA, he gave them a solid three innings and turned it over to a rested bullpen. He allowed three hits, walked one and struck out two over his three innings of work, and Korea's only run came in the second inning. However, USA couldn't extend its lead until the fourth inning when Kyle Crowl singled to right field to score Lorenzo Elion.
After throwing a scoreless fourth inning for USA, Kyle Shimp, who replaced Judkins, started to struggle. He walked Seo to lead off the fifth and left with runners on the corners and only one out. Shane Ritter nearly kept Iowa from going down, though. The first batter Ritter faced grounded out, scoring Seo, but Jaehun Lee gave South Korea a 3-2 lead when he scored on a throwing error by Elion. Korea extended its lead to 4-2 in the sixth when Gu hit a solo shot into the left field bleachers.
Ritter departed after the sixth inning, as Rick Heller put the game in the hands of freshman Ben Probst. USA's offense, which had manufactured just one hit in the past two innings, continued to struggle. Probst stepped up and kept USA in the game. He didn't allow a hit and struck out two over his two innings of work.
USA headed into the ninth inning down two with only two hits since taking a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. Then the bats woke up. Hoeg and Crowl each singled to start the inning, as each advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch. South Korea loaded the bases by walking Mitchell Boe, resulting in a pitching change. The change didn't help. Whelan hit a bases clearing triple followed by an RBI-single from Ben Norman to give USA a 6-4 lead. South Korea's third pitcher of the inning, Joonghyun Yoon, retired USA's next couple of batters in order, including throwing out Norman trying to steal second. But the damage was already done.
USA Team 9th inning rally recap: https://t.co/naKsptnmTc— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) August 26, 2017
Zach Daniels makes games a little too interesting at times, but he was unhittable against South Korea. He struck out Gu to start the inning and forced two groundouts to earn his first save. Probst improved to 1-0 at the World University Games.
USA's top-three hitters of Whelan, Norman and Neustrom did most of the damage on offense for USA. They combined to hit 6-for-15 with five RBIs, two doubles and a home run. That said, the bottom of USA's lineup also hit well. Elion led the team with three hits and Crowl went 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Team USA is now 4-1 at the World University Games and 2-0 against Pool A. The win gives them the #2 seed in the semifinals. They'll play the #3 seed, Czech Republic, on Sunday at 10 PM CT (11 AM Monday in Taiwan). The winner of that game will play the winner of #1 seed Japan and #4 seed South Korea. Team USA is 2-0 against Czech Republic, beating them 10-5 in an exhibition game last week and, more recently, blanking them 8-0 yesterday behind Cole McDonald's no-hitter.