CARY, N.C. - Entering Saturday, both of the Stars and Stripes teams from each of the Southeast and Southwest regions remained in the chase for the 14U National Team Identification Series Champions Cup gold medal. By the end of the day, Southwest Stars and Southeast Stars emerged after winning their respective semifinal matchups.
Led on the mound by starting pitcher Brandon Luu, Southwest Stars began Saturday with a 6-4 victory over Southwest Stripes in the first semifinal at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.
Luu was in ace form in the semifinal matchup. The southpaw allowed just three baserunners and struck out four in four scoreless innings of work to get the victory.
"My fastball was working good. I was able to spot that well. I also had a good feel for my curveball later in the game and was throwing it for strikes," said Luu.
Luu's offense did a good job of providing run support for their pitcher early and often. In the top of the second, the Southwest Stars rallied with two away to score a pair of runs, and they tacked on three more in the third as Gavin Williams hit a two-RBI triple to right and came around to score, putting Southwest Stars up 5-0.
"I was very happy with my team. They worked together to get some runs, and I felt more comfortable on the mound having a five-run lead," said Luu.
Southwest Stripes threatened a comeback after posting a big fifth inning, scoring four runs on three hits and a pair of walks to cut their deficit to 5-4, but that's all the offense they would muster in the contest.
Southwest Stars padded their lead with another run in the fifth to make it a 6-4 game and Duncan Marsten closed the game out on the mound to secure the Southwest Stars a spot in the 14U NTIS Champions Cup gold medal game.
"Our team worked very hard for this. We got down for a little bit, but we never gave up. We just kept on scoring runs. We really worked as a team today," said Luu.
Southwest Stars Head Coach Kerry Kincaid was pleased with his team's performance in the semifinal game and is ready for tomorrow's gold medal matchup.
"I told them to get ready for [the gold medal game]. Get hydrated and get plenty of rest to be ready to go. We have to keep the foot on the throat and the foot on the pedal, but I was really pleased with our guys today," said Kincaid.
The Southwest Stars will face off against the Southeast Stars in the gold medal game, who will be looking for their second consecutive 14U championship after winning it all in 2018.
Southeast Stars earned their spot in the gold medal game after defeating Southeast Stripes, 4-3, in their semifinal game Saturday afternoon.
Southeast Stars starting pitcher Chayce Kieck set the tone early by throwing four scoreless innings to begin the ballgame.
"I have always been a guy that works around the zone," said Kieck. "I know I have a great group of guys behind me in the field so I know if I stay around the zone and let guys put the ball in play, I will have guys behind me to make the plays."
The Southeast Stars offense supported their starting pitcher with some early offense, taking advantage of a Southeast Stripes error in the second to score a run, and then tacking on three more in the third to jump out to a 4-0 lead.
"My team had great energy all day today, so I think that is one of the reasons why we scored our runs in bunches," said Kieck. "They are the reason we are here. I am only a piece of the bigger puzzle."
The Southeast Stripes began to rally back as they scored a run in the fifth after Thomas Brice hit an RBI-single to cut the Southeast Stars lead to 4-1. In the seventh, the Southeast Stripes scored a pair of runs to bring the game to within a run, but Anderson Nance closed the game out on the mound for Southeast Stars, earning the save in the 4-3 victory.
"[Nance] pitched really good," said Kieck. Even though things kind of went sideways at the end there, he did a really nice job of keeping his composure and filling the zone, and ultimately, he secured the win for us."
Southeast Stars Head Coach Andy Burress has been happy with the production he has seen from his squad all weekend.
"We have a great group of guys," said Burress. "They play hard. We got here last year and won with a walk-off steal of home, and a lot of those guys from last year's 13U team are here with us again this year. We are just going to go out tomorrow and enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the game, and continue to do what we have been doing."
The gold medal game will take place on Coleman Field at the USA Baseball National Training Complex at 11:00 am ET Sunday morning. It will be streamed live on USABaseball.com and Facebook Live.
Continue to follow @USABaseballNTIS on Twitter and visit USABaseball.com for the most up-to-date news about the National Team Identification Series.