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USA Team’s final pool-play test proved to be a tough one.

Despite jumping out to an early three-run lead, the USA bullpen faltered as Japan poured it on late. Japan scored 10 runs from the fifth inning on en route to Wednesday’s 11-5 win at the World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan.

With the loss, USA finished 2-1 in pool play and advanced the medal round as the No. 2 seed out of Pool B. USA will face Czech Republic Friday in the semifinals at 5:30 a.m. CT. Japan will meet South Korea in the other semifinal.The two winners will meet in a championship game, with the losers facing off in a third-place game.

Matt Hoeg’s three-run homer in the second opened things with a bang, and Iowa freshman Jack Dreyer — who pitched Johnston to a state title less than a month ago — tossed four quality innings in his first collegiate start.

Then Japan woke up, tagging relievers Kyle Shimp and Kole Kampen for a combined eight runs (seven earned) and five hits over 1 2/3 innings. The big blow came from Japan’s Keita Nakagawa, who launched a fifth-inning grand slam and finished with seven RBIs.

“We were playing good baseball,” USA coach Rick Heller said in a school release. “But unfortunately, we made the pitching change — and the wheels fell off.

“We had some experienced guys come in and weren't even competitive — that was disappointing. Free bases today, the second half of that game, was disappointing. That is a game if we just play average baseball, we probably win 4-2 and we're sitting here happy. That was not the case, we made a lot of mistakes and walked a lot of guys, and against a good team like Japan, that leads to a loss.”

Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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