The ultimate prize wasn’t collected, but USA Team and Iowa baseball still left the World University Games in Taiwan with a productive showing.
The USA Team (made up entirely of Iowa Hawkeye players) settled for silver after a 10-0 loss to Japan in Tuesday’s gold-medal matchup, a game in which Japan jumped out to a 7-0 lead after two innings. Still, the Hawkeyes are the first American squad to secure a baseball medal in the tournament’s history, which began its summer competition in 1959.
"It was a great experience for our guys — a once-in-a-lifetime (experience)," USA coach Rick Heller said in a school release. "They'll never forget this."
Facing Japan for the second time in less than a week, USA mustered just three hits Tuesday. The gold medalists, meanwhile, tagged USA hurlers Sammy Lizarraga and Jack Dreyer early, then jumped on left-hander Kole Kampen for three late runs in the eighth.
The tournament, though, delivered numerous positives. USA finished 5-2 in Taiwan and had to rally for three of those five wins. Lineup catalysts Chris Whelan and Robert Neustrom both hit over .300 — .308 and .387, respectively — while newcomers Lorenzo Elion (.364) and Brett McCleary (.292) both had strong tournaments, as well.
Cole McDonald produced the "wow" moment of USA’s stay with a no-hitter against Czech Republic, and although pitchers Brady Schanuel, Dreyer and Lizarraga didn’t fare well in their second outings, all three saw productive starts in Taiwan. Relievers Nick Allgeyer and Zach Daniels tossed quality relief innings, as well.
The Hawkeyes played 13 additional games this summer — three exhibition home games, three contests at the NBC World Series in Wichita, Kan., and seven games in Taiwan. No other Division I program had a chance to get this early of a look at its 2018 squad in a competitive setting.
With the Hawkeyes set to return six positional starters and a number of pivotal pitchers, this Taiwan excursion and the preparation that came with it could deliver a hefty payoff in February, when Iowa begins its quest for a third NCAA regional appearance in four years.
"It is invaluable for this team heading into the fall and winter and into our spring season," Heller said. "We threw three of our freshmen out there, and to put them in this environment was amazing. They're going to benefit from this so much in February, when we start our season."
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.