SHELBY Only a year removed from pitching for Charlotte Christian High School, Bailey Ober found himself on the mound for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team in Cary this past Tuesday.
The appearance came under unusual circumstances, with Ober coming on to pitch the 10th inning against Chinese Taipei with the score tied at 4.
In accordance with international tiebreaker rules, Taipei began the frame with men on first and second and no outs.
Ober, who now pitches for the College of Charleston, allowed a one-out run, but recovered to induce an inning-ending ground-ball double play.
That the Huntersville native kept the game close loomed large in the bottom half of the inning, when Team USA was able to rally for a run of its own to force the game to end in a tie.
“(The outing) was pretty bizarre because you’re not used to coming into that kind of situation,” said Ober, who stands an imposing 6-foot-8. “I think I only had maybe two or three relief appearances in Charleston all last year, so it’s just something to get used to.”
After compiling the most dominating statistical season a freshman has logged at the College of Charleston, the sight of runners on must have struck him as odd.
Ober finished the year 10-3, led all NCAA freshmen with a 1.52 ERA and set a Cougars all-time record with a 0.86 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), earning NCBWA freshman pitcher of the year honors.
For his efforts, he was invited to try out with Team USA.
“I’m not surprised at all that they looked at him,” Cougars baseball coach Monte Lee said. “If I had to win a baseball game, Ober is the guy I’d want to go. It’s an honor for him and we’re very proud.”
Although Ober did not make the team’s final roster, he was the lone alternate chosen to remain with the team for its five-game series against Chinese Taipei that began on Tuesday.
“It’s been awesome just to be a part of this group of guys,” Ober said before USA’s game at Keeter Stadium in Shelby on Wednesday. “To be able to play with ‘USA’ across your chest is something that’s really cool.”
Team USA travels to Charlotte’s BB&T BallPark on Thursday for Game 3 of its series before playing its final two exhibitions in Durham on Friday and Saturday.
“I’ve had freshman that have thrown well, but (Ober’s) the national freshman of the year,” Lee said. “He’s the best freshman I’ve ever had.”
Should Ober get into the game in Charlotte – which is unlikely given that he threw on Tuesday – look out for his changeup, which he throws with the same arm speed and angle as his 92 mph fastball and curveball.
“It’s a lethal pitch,” said Lee. “If he’s got his change going, you don’t have a chance.”
Should Team USA need Ober’s services this summer, it appears as though he’s ready and with college freshman and sophomores eligible to play for the team, there’s every chance he’ll be on the national stage again this time next year.
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