DURHAM — After relying on star individual performances the past two games, Team USA concluded its International Friendship Series with Chinese Taipei.
To make up for Thursdays rainout, the teams played two games Saturday, both capped at seven innings becaue of time constraints and players health. The games the first a 0-0 tie, the second a 5-2 Team USA victory were the final two in a five-game series between Team USA and Chinese Taipei in which they played in three locations across North Carolina, finishing at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The first game, much like the rest of the series, was a pitchers duel. Through seven innings, neither team allowed a run. Jhih Long Yang was lights-out for Chinese Taipei, allowing just four hits and striking out nine American batters in six innings.
The tie was the second of the series. Normally, per the international rules followed for the series, extra innings consists of a 10th inning in which two base runners are placed on first and second to start the inning. However, the teams agreed to cap it at seven innings because Team USA starts another series Sunday.
The second game continued a trend of great pitching on the American side. Thomas Eshelman had a gem going through the first three innings. The UCLA product threw three innings of two-hit ball, striking out four along the way before being pulled in favor of Trey Killian.
Eshelman, he was lights out for three innings, said Team USA manager Dave Van Horn. [He] didnt throw very many pitches. We probably couldve let him go; he could have gone six, easy, and stayed under his pitch count. But we were just trying to get some guys some work.
Eshelman, who cited Bull Durham as his favorite movie in his UCLA player bio, said he relished the opportunity to play in the Bulls stadium even if it was not the original Durham Athletic Park.
[I grew up] watching the movie, watching the Crash Davis races and all that, Eshelman said. It was real fun to be here. My parents were here with me too so like I said, its just surreal and its fun to be wearing USA on my chest while Im doing it.
In the top of the fifth, Bailey Ober came on for Killian, who had pitched a perfect fourth inning, and things began to get dicey for the Americans.
Yu-Pin Sen broke through for Chinese Taipei in the inning when his routine fly ball to right field slipped under Nicholas Banks glove, allowing two runs to score, giving Chinese Taipei a 2-1 lead.
Team USA, knowing it had just three chances to muster a response, answered quickly in the bottom of the fifth. Before a single out was recorded, Team USA had the bases loaded and seemed to be in business. Mark Mathias drew a walk to bring in a run and tie the game at 2. Tate Matheny followed a Zack Collins strikeout with a two-RBI single to center to reclaim the lead for the Americans.
I thought we played well all day defensively, Van Horn said. We really only made one mistake; the ball got by us on a single and cost us a run there. Obviously, our offense kicked it into gear and bounced back and scored three. And getting back to the pitching, you couldnt ask for better pitching.
The nightcap marked the end of the International Friendship Series between the two squads, with the Americans taking the series 3-0-2.
Team USA will kick off its second International Friendship Series Sunday against Japan at 6 p.m. in Thomasville at Finch Field.