Mission accomplished as USA men medal in the Pan American Fastpitch Championship

Written by Bob on September 28th, 2017

2017 USA SOFTBALL National Team that won the Bronze Medal at the 2017 Pan American Fastpitch Championship in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sept. 15-24 The team bottom row from left, Kevin Castillo, Duane Weiler, Jenner Christiansen, Yusef Davis, Jr., Tyler Dudley, Jonathan Lynch, Cameron Schiller and Nick Mullins. Top row from left, Bruce Sidel, Joel Cooley, Jeff Nowaczyk, Greg Hicks, Alfonso Malaguti, Tony Mancha, Chase Turner, Gregg Leather, Travis Nevin, Chris Seben, Erick Ochoa, Ray Gutierrez and Nick McCurry. USA Softball Photo

SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – The USA Softball Men’s National Team embarked on a mission heading into the Pan American Fastpitch Championship, Sept. 15-24, in Santo Domingo: play outstanding softball and earn a medal.

Mission accomplished.

On the final day of play, on a late Sunday afternoon, 15 USA players and three coaches were all smiles as bronze medals were slipped over their heads, the reward for finishing third among 16 of the best men’s fastpitch softball teams in the world.

“The feeling I got was so amazing when I got the bronze medal,” said Yusef Davis, Jr., who earned his first selection to the national team and finished with a .429 batting average. “It was awesome to represent my country and wear those three letters (USA) across my chest. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”

JEFF NOWACZYK proudly displays his Bronze Medal and the trophy during the awards presentation at the 2017 Pan American Fastpitch Championship in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sept. 15-24. USA Softball photo

Team USA finished with a 5-2 record in Pool A, 1-2 in the playoffs. Among their victories, were impressive decisions over Dominican Republic and Cuba, along with beating tournament favorite Canada in the playoffs.

Gregg Leather, appointed head coach after Denny Bruckert resigned in August due to health reasons, praised his ball club for its fine performance.

“I am tremendously proud of this team and what we accomplished,” said Leather in a USA Softball press release. “We came into this tournament with some goals; to get double life in our pool, win a medal, and be on top of the podium receiving a medal. We came up short on the last goal, but are very happy with the Bronze Medal we did earn.”

    AMERICANS SHOW FORTITUDE

Team USA started the tournament facing the team destined to win it all, Venezuela. The game was deadlocked at 4-4 after seven innings, with Venezuela finally coming away with the win in extra innings.

But the Americans bounced back, notching three consecutive victories, before falling to Colombia, 3-2. Now with a 3-2 record, any more losses could potentially shatter the dream of medaling.

With resiliency and showing grit and backbone, Team USA beat the talented Cubans, 5-1, on the strength of Mancha’s two-hitter, and followed that up with a 9-0 decision over Puerto Rico.

“The thing I really liked about this team is they were mentally tough,” Leather said. “We put a few tough losses behind us and took care of business in some must-win games.”

    HUGE WINS FOR TEAM USA

Beating Cuba and Puerto Rico nailed down second place in pool play, and set up a first-round playoff meeting with Canada, the top seed from Pool B with a 7-0 mark. Canada had battered its opponents by a 54-9 run differential.

The Americans would be tested, no doubt. But in a nail-biting thriller, Team USA toppled its neighbor to the north, 6-5, on the strength of Erick Ochoa’s two-run home run, and a solo shot by Davis, along with RBI hits from Tyler Dudley and Jonathan Lynch.

TONY MANCHA pitched 35 innings and had a 4-2 record in helping Team USA win the Bronze Medal at the 2017 Pan American Fastpitch Championship, Sept. 15-24 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. USA Softball photo

Tony Mancha (5 innings) picked up the win, but Duane Weiler turned in a superb relief job over the final two innings to save the game.

“We have played Canada multiple times especially this summer and we just couldn’t get a timely hit or make a play at the right time,” said Tyler Dudley, now in his third international competition with Team USA. “But we managed to get the breaks at the right time in the first game of the playoff round. It was a team win and took everyone to get the job done.”

    LONG MEDAL DROUGHT OVER

The win over Canada guaranteed the United States a medal and broke a long drought going back to 2003, when the USA took the Silver in the Pan Am games. And in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Softball World Championship, the drought goes back even further to 2000, when the USA won the Bronze.

TONY MANCHA, left, and CHASE TURNER proudly show the Bronze Medal they won for finishing third in the 2017 Pan American Fastpitch Championship. USA Softball photo

Team USA lost to Argentina in the second round, but they still had that second life that Leather said his ball club fought so hard to earn. Once again, they faced off with Venezuela. And once again, both sides played it close before Venezuela scored a run in the seventh to come out on top, 5-4. Venezuela went on to claim the Gold by beating Argentina, 9-2.

Though it was a disappointing loss, Dudley left Santo Domingo feeling good about the makeup of the squad.

“The team we brought to the Dominican was full of some fresh faces and youth,” he said. “It helped to have some young guys that were hungry and excited to represent their country for the first time. And the coaches and management did a great job the entire trip trying to make it easy for us to stay focused on the goal in front of us.”

Team USA had some fine performances.

The right-handed Mancha hurled 35 innings, notched a 4-2 record with 35 strikeouts and had a 3.00 ERA. Davis was second highest on the team with a .429 average and scored eight runs. Derrick Kennedy led the team in batting with a .500 average, while Lynch, a first-time selection, drove in eight runs and hit for a .360 average.

Nick Mullins batted .286 with five RBI, and Cameron Schiller had eight RBI and a .267 average. But the offensive leader was veteran Erick Ochoa, who slugged three home runs, drove in nine runs, and carried a .345 average (10-for-29).

    TOUGH CHALLENGES AHEAD

Though Leather is pleased with his ball club’s performance, he knows that the next international competitions – the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima Peru, and the WBSC Softball World Championship in Prague, Czech Republic – will once again be daunting challenges.

His advice going forward to his players?

“The road to continue building momentum off this event is to keep stressing to the USA players to get on club teams, play in the big tournaments and continue getting exposure against the best pitching,” he said. “This is the message we brought in when Denny Bruckert took over the program and I believe it is starting to pay dividends.”

USA team members Jonathan Lynch (23), Kevin Castillo (13) and Tyler Dudley congratulate each other after scoring a run. USA Softball photo

2017 USA Softball National Pan American Team

Kevin Castillo, Long Beach, Calif.
Jenner Christiansen, Castro Valley, Calif.
Joel Cooley, St. Paul, Minn.
Yusef Davis, Jr., Long Beach, Calif.
Tyler Dudley, Battle Creek, Mich.
Derrick Kennedy, San Antonio, Texas
Jonathan Lynch, Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Tony Mancha, Las Crudes, N.M.
Nick Mullins, Toms River, N.J.
Travis Nevin, Indian River, Nova Scotia
Jeff Nowaczyk, Midland, Mich.
Erick Ochoa, Imperial, Calif.
Cameron Schiller, Prescott, Ariz.
Chase Turner, San Jose, Calif.
Duane Weiler, Richland, Pa.

Coaching Staff

Gregg Leather, Head Coach
Greg Hicks, Assistant Coach
Nick McCurry, Assistant Coach

Pool A Final Standings

Venezuela 7-0
USA 5-2
Cuba 5-2
Colombia 5-2
Dominican Republic 3-4
Puerto Rico 2-5
Aruba 1-6
Brazil 0-7

Pool B Final Standings

Canada 7-0
Argentina 6-1
Mexico 5-2
Guatemala 4-3
Bahamas 3-4
Panama 2-5
Costa Rica 1-6
Belize 0-7

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