A gold medal is now within reach.
USA Team is one win away from the World University Games’ ultimate prize, after rallying past Czech Republic, 8-4, in Monday’s semifinal matchup in Taipei, Taiwan. Japan knocked off Korea in the other semifinal, meaning Japan and USA will face off once more for the title on Tuesday at 5:30 a.m. CT.
Facing a 4-3 deficit late in Monday’s contest, USA rattled off five runs in the seventh as the line kept moving. Two singles and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with one out, and Chris Whelan again got the first key knock with a two-run single to hand USA a 5-4 advantage. Justin Jenkins then walked to reload the bases, and Robert Neustrom remained scorching hot with a bases-clearing double.
“We didn't come out strong in the early innings, but we never gave up,” Whelan said in a school release. “We didn't give up at-bats — Allgeyer came out and shut the door on them and Daniels did the same thing. We knew we had it in us, knew we were putting good swings on the ball, and it was bound to happen if we stuck with our approach.”
After hitting .302 and earning All-Star status in the Cape Cod League, Neustrom hasn’t slowed down at all in Taiwan. The junior right-fielder is hitting .407 (11-for-27) in the tournament with six RBIs, six runs scored and five extra-base hits.
With slugger Jake Adams now departed, the Hawkeyes will need Neustrom’s reliability in abundance next season. Thankfully for Iowa and coach Rick Heller, Neustrom hasn’t slowed down one bit since the 2017 season ended in early June.
“I knew the team knew we were going to fight back and win this one,” Neustrom said. “That's what we did and it was a good game."
Czech Republic got to USA starter Brady Schanuel early — tagging him for five hits and four runs (two earned) over three frames — but the USA bullpen halted the European foes right there. The combination of Nick Allgeyer and Zach Daniels tossed six scoreless innings with just three hits surrendered. Neither walked a batter.
Now, the focus flips to Japan, the only squad to knock off USA in Taiwan. Japan came away with an 11-5 win to close pool play on Wednesday — a game USA led early before serving up 10 runs over the final five innings. Heller said the start will again go to freshman Jack Dreyer, who threw four strong frames versus Japan before the bullpen collapsed.
"We know we'll have to play better against the Japanese team," Heller said. “They are a team we've watched every game, and they don't beat themselves. We have to match that. That is something we haven't been doing a great job of. We've been scoring enough runs to win, but we've been a little sloppy on the mound and on defense. We have to shore that up tomorrow."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.