Team USA took a step back in its path to a gold medal, but the opportunity is still there.
By Pete Ruden
For the first time during the World University Games, Team USA has been defeated, losing to Japan, 11-5.
The game started off well for the Red, White, and Blue, which is represented by the Iowa baseball team.
Infielder Matt Hoeg started the scoring with a 3-run shot in the second inning. Combine that with a solid first start from freshman pitcher Jack Dreyer, and it seemed as if the Hawkeyes were heading toward an undefeated record in pool play.
However, that isn’t what happened.
“The game started extremely well for us; Jack in his first start, pitched great against a good team. He gave us a chance to win,” head coach Rick Heller said in a release. “Matt Hoeg hit a big 3-run home run, which is what we needed. We were playing good baseball, but unfortunately, we made the pitching change, and the wheels fell off.”
Dreyer allowed just 1 hit and 1 unearned run in four innings in what was a very impressive performance for his first career start.
However, Japan didn’t go down easy; it launched a grand slam soon after Kyle Shimp entered the game in relief of Dreyer.
Japan went on to take advantage of the pitching changes, acquiring free bases and spraying the ball all over the field en route to victory.
Team USA isn’t out of the tournament, though. In fact, the Hawkeyes finished their pool play with a 2-1 record and advanced to the championship rounds as the No. 2 seed.
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Last season, Iowa had to bounce back from losses numerous times, and it ended up getting hot at the right time to take home the Big Ten title and swing its way into the NCAA Tournament.
With a new opportunity ahead, Team USA wants to catch fire again.
“We have to get rested up,” Heller said in a release. “It was a quick turnaround from last night, we were back on the road at 7:30 a.m. Our mental toughness needs to get better; it wasn’t very good the second half of that game. If we’re going to be a team that can compete for a Big Ten title, we have a long ways to go from what we showed today.”
While getting together as a team earlier will most likely benefit Iowa, it can also help them in the present; the team goes on to the championship rounds and elimination becomes a threat.
“[Our] first practice, July 10, everybody was back here, and we got an extra month and a half of practice,” Hoeg said. “It’s big time. It’s extra practice, extra work for everybody to just get better.”
Team USA doesn’t play again until Friday. That break will give the Hawkeyes a chance to regroup before the most important part of the tournament comes around.
The opportunity for a short stoppage of play will also be a chance for the team to remember why they traveled to Taiwan.
“The expectation is always to win,” pitcher Brady Schanuel said. “It’s going to be an experience as well that we’ll keep with us for our entire lives. The plan is to go over there and hopefully, win every game, win a gold medal.”