DURHAM It was nothing but sunshine, strikeouts and fireworks for Team USA in Friday’s Fourth of July contest, coming just a day after Hurricane Arthur rained out their Thursday matchup in Charlotte.
The Americans claimed their second-consecutive win as they followed up Wednesday’s 5-1 win with a 1-0 victory against Chinese Taipei on Friday. The game was played at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and was followed by the city of Durham’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show. More than 10,000 fans were on hand for the final two innings as the stadium began letting in all patrons at the end of the seventh inning.
UCLA product James Kaprielian was dominant on the mound Friday for the Americans as he threw six innings of commanding ball, allowing just two hits and striking out 12 Chinese Taipei batters.
“It’s great to have the pitching staff that we have,” Team USA manager Dave Van Horn said. “What (Kaprielian) did tonight, he really commanded his breaking pitch. Whenever he got in a jam or behind in the count, he went to the slider and the curveball, kept them off balance.”
Kaprielian was solid in his sophomore campaign for the Bruins as he finished with a 7-6 clip and led the team with 106 innings pitched and 108 strikeouts.
And the strikeouts were aplenty on Independence Day. The Tustin, Calif., native barreled through the Chinese Taipei lineup through the first six innings. After allowing a double to Chih Hui Chen in the first inning, Kaprielian picked off Chen and retired the next 15 batters he faced, recording two strikeouts per inning. The 12 strikeouts tied Kaprielian’s career high.
“I had my fastball working real well. Establishing that early in the game was a big deal,” he said as his teammates doused him with celebratory cups of water. “I just felt confident up there. My guys told me, ‘Go make pitches and let the defense take care of itself and we’ll get you a run and win the game.’ ”
Kaprielian was not the only pitcher working on the gem in the early going. He and Chinese Taipei’s Tsung Hao Wang were rolling through the first two innings as they allowed a combined two hits. But Team USA was able to break through in the top of the third thanks to a mistake from the Taipei.
Second baseman Dansby Swanson led the inning off with a double and was able to advance to third on a fly out from Mark Mathias.
Then, with Bryan Reynolds at the plate, a wild pitch allowed Swanson to score.
Swanson is coming off a stellar collegiate season for Vanderbilt – this year’s NCAA champions – in which he batted .333 and led the team with 27 doubles. Fellow Commodore Reynolds joins him on Team USA.
Reynolds led Vanderbilt in batting average (.338), home runs (4) and hits (95) en route to the Commodores’ first national championship. In his short time with Team USA, Reynolds has already had an impact as he hit the deciding grand slam in Wednesday’s victory.
Team USA had a shot to break the game open in the top of the sixth as they loaded the bases with one out. But the crowd’s chants of, “U-S-A” went unrewarded as the Americans stranded all three runners after a strikeout from Zack Collins and a fly out by Christin Stewart.
Ultimately, it would not come back to bite them as the American pitchers controlled the tempo and momentum of the game.
Reliever A.J. Minter came on for Kaprielian in the top of the seventh and kept things going for Team USA as he threw two innings of no-hit ball.
Mark Mathias added an RBI fielder’s choice in the top of the ninth to cushion the American lead. Closer Dillon Tate came on and pitched a one-hit bottom of the ninth for Team USA to secure the win.
“It’s a very special moment,” Kaprielian said of getting the win for Team USA on July 4. “The whole team, I’m blessed to be around such a good group of guys, good group of coaches. Everyone deserved this win.”
The teams will face off again Saturday in a doubleheader – to make up for Thursday’s rainout – at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park at 3:45 p.m. and 7:05 p.m. The nightcap will conclude the International Friendship Series between the two.