TAINAN, Taiwan - Team USA emerged victorious in the World Championship Final at the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-12 Baseball World Cup on Sunday evening, defeating Chinese Taipei by a final score of 10-4 on the strength of a seven-run sixth inning.
WIth the win, the U.S. took home its fifth gold medal at the U-12 Baseball World Cup, and its second in a row after taking home the top prize in 2022. The others came in 2013, 2015, and 2017, when the team won the event on three consecutive occasions.
In contrast to what the final score would indicate, the gold-medal game started off as a textbook pitcher'sduel, with Team USA starter Tyler Early and Chinese Taipei starter Sheng-Kai Gau coming out of the gates looking sharp. The two hurlers traded zeroes through the first half of the ballgame, giving up just a pair of hits each while keeping the opposing hitters off balance throughout. The best chance for either team during this stretch came when Leyland Henry stepped up to the plate with a pair of runners on and one out in the top of the third and lined a 3-2 pitch into right field, but a violation on a headfirst slide by Nicholis Parker Jr. and a baserunning blunder by Early led to the final two outs of the inning being made at home plate with no runs coming across.
The first breakthrough of the game for Team USA came early in the fourth inning. After Bryant Ju and Zaylon Johnson led off the frame with a single and a walk respectively, Gavin Gomez came up big like he had so many other times throughout the tournament and lined a base hit up the middle to help the red, white, and blue strike first blood. Two batters later, Greyson Wuis helped add on a second run, lifting a sacrifice fly into center field that proved to be just deep enough to allow Gomez to score from third base to bring the score up to 2-0.
This lead wouldn't last long, though, as Chinese Taipei would fight back to even things back up in the bottom half of the inning. A walk and a single placed two runners on with one out against Early, and after the big lefty picked up a strikeout to put himself one out away from working out of trouble, Wei-Fan Shen laced a ball just past the outstretched glove of a diving Gomez in right field to bring home both and ignite the home crowd once again.
Now back in a tie game, Team USA got an jolt of adrenaline from an unlikely source: No. 9 hitter Raylen Hunter. The speedy center fielder led off the fifth inning with a base hit, and after stealing second right after, he came around to score the go-ahead run on an error from the opposing first baseman on a well-struck ball off the bat of Early.
With its narrow lead back intact, the stars and stripes never looked back, cobbling together another one of its patented offensive outbursts in the sixth inning to put the game out of reach. Things started quickly in the frame, with Johnson, Gomez, and Paris Head leading things off with a walk and two singles to load the bases with no outs. Johnson would come racing home to score the first run on a wild pitch, and immediately after, Wuis would pick up his second sacrifice fly of the day to make it a 5-2 game.
The line kept moving from here, with Hunter continuing his big day with a double in the gap to drive home another. Parker Jr. and Early followed this up with a hit-by-pitch and a walk to load the bases, setting Henry up for the biggest moment of the tournament. On the first pitch he saw, Henry unloaded on a hanging breaking ball, crushing it over the batter's eye for a grand slam that proved the be the knockout blow in the game.
Getting the last three defensive outs with this great cushion was a task given to Gomez, who came on in relief of Early starting in the fifth inning. After allowing a two-out, two-run home run that brought the score to 10-4, the righty fielded a high chopper on the third base side and fired over to first just in time, ending the game and securing the gold medal for Team USA.
When it was all said and done, the win on the mound went to Early, who finished his day with a final line of four innings, four hits, two earned runs, two walks, and six strikeouts. Gomez picked up his second save of the tournament for his two frames of work to close things out, striking out a pair while allowing just the two-run homer. For Chinese Taipei, the loss was handed to Lei Yeh, who gave up five hits and five earned runs in his 2.1 innings pitched.
On offense, the Team USA attack was spearheaded primarily by Henry and Gomez. The former went 3-4 with the aforementioned grand slam, while the latter went a perfect 3-3 with the one RBI to kick things off. Hunter also picked up a multi-hit game, going 2-3 with an RBI, a run scored, and a stolen base, and Wuis drove in a pair on his two separate sacrifice flies.
After the game's conclusion, Team USA picked up five different individual awards, highlighted by Early being named tournament MVP as well as earning a spot on the All-World Team as an outfielder. At the plate, Early slashed .381/.594/.952 with four home runs and 12 RBI in nine games, and on the mound, he pitched to a 2.08 ERA with a tournament-leading 15 strikeouts across his two starts.
Joining Early in the All-World outfield was Gomez, who went from not starting the opening game of the tournament to being one of the best hitters in the entire field in the span of 10 days. The Long Beach, Calif. native ended his run batting .636 (14-22), doing so while also clubbing four home runs and driving in 13 runs.
Johnson was the final Team USA representative on the All-World Team, earning his nomination at third base. The Stonewall, La. product hit .450 with a 1.310 OPS and nine RBIs at the plate, and in the field, he proved to be a standout by making a number of different highlight-reel plays whenever he got the opportunity.
Rounding out the awards for the U.S. was Head, who took home some hardware for leading the field in stolen bases. The shortstop swiped six bags in his eight games in the lineup, doing so while not being caught a single time.
Team USA Awards
- MVP_:_ Tyler Early
- Most Stolen Bases: Paris Head
VII WBSC U-12 Baseball World Cup All-World Team
- SP: Ya-En Chiu (Chinese Taipei)
- RP: Lei Yeh (Chinese Taipei)
- C: Yusuke Koma (Japan)
- 1B: Kengo Wada (Japan)
- 2B: Alexandro Ladera (Venezuela)
- 3B: Zaylon Johnson (USA)
- SS: Ezequiel Zamora (Venezuela)
- LF: Gavin Gomez (USA)
- CF: Gustavo Talmare (Dominican Republic)
- RF: Tyler Early (USA)