Brendan McKay, Team USA

Louisville's Brendan McKay continues to do it all (Shotgun Spratling)

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Team USA Drops Tight Japan Series

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USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team wrapped up its annual Japan Series with a walk-off extra-innings loss in Sunday’s fifth and decisive game. The Japanese had won the first two games of the series (which took place in Japan this year), and Team USA won the next two games to level the series at 2-2 heading into Sunday’s finale.

Team Japan jumped out to a 4-0 lead through four innings in the rubber game, but Evan Skoug (TCU) tied the score at 4-4 with a sixth-inning grand slam. It was Skoug’s second homer in two days.

The score remained knotted at 4-4 after nine innings, as Team USA lined into a double play with  men on the corners in the ninth. But Team Japan took advantage of international tie-breaker rules (which call for extra innings to begin with runners at first and second) to score the winning run on a sacrifice fly in the 10th. J.B. Bukauskas (North Carolina) was a tough-luck loser after working the game’s final 4.2 innings, allowing just one unearned run on two hits.

“I was proud of our team. We fought very hard,” Team USA head coach George Horton said. “We may not have played as clean of a game as we wanted to today, but I respect how our team fought back to tie the game and had an opportunity to win the game in the ninth inning with a line drive as hard as you can hit a baseball.”

At the conclusion of the series, Skoug earned the “Fighting Spirit” award for his style of play and hustle, while Jake Burger (Missouri State) won the batting title after going 6-for-17 in the series (.353) with three doubles in five games.

“It is great hitting in a lineup like this where you have guys one through nine that can drive the ball,” Burger said. “It kind of takes the pressure off of you, whereas in college you are the guy. The first few games weren’t the best, but these last few games we made some adjustments. Coach Horton and Coach (Jason) Gill helped me through that.”

After splitting a four-game series against Chinese Taipei and dropping a very competitive series against Japan (which featured four one-run games), Team USA is now 8-4-1 with five games left against Cuba in Cuba starting July 23. Through this point in the summer, USA’s most valuable player has been Brendan McKay (Louisville), who leads all regulars with a .393 average (11-for-28) and is also 2-0, 1.74 off the mound. He started and threw four innings of one-hit ball in a combined three-hit shutout against Japan in Game Three of the series. Bukauskas actually has the team’s most dominant pitching numbers, however; he’s 1-0, 0.00 with 15 strikeouts, no walks and just three hits allowed through 12 innings of work.

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