PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – The USA Baseball Professional National Team began its quest for one of the final two berths in the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo with a convincing 7-1 victory over Nicaragua at the 2021 World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Baseball Americas Qualification Event at Clover Park.
Luke Williams and Jarren Duran powered Team USA’s 14-hit attack with three-hit performances, while Matthew Liberatore and three relievers combined to shut down the Nicaragua offense.
Liberatore (1-0) held Nicaragua to just one run on five hits over the first 5.0 innings, before Brandon Dickson, Anthony Gose and Marc Rzepczynski combined to toss four perfect innings of relief to close out the victory.
The U.S. wasted no time in establishing an early lead, using a Williams walk and a Duran base hit to spark a first-inning rally. Todd Frazier plated the first run of the night with a sacrifice fly to center, before Eric Filia delivered the first of two key run-producing hits to give Team USA a 2-0 lead.
Liberatore, who would allow just one run on five hits over his 5.0 innings, worked around a one-out hit in the first to preserve the two-run cushion.
Nicaragua took advantage of singles by Melvin Novoa and Edgard Montiel to plate its lone run of the night in the bottom of the second. The U.S. avoided further damage by cutting down a baserunner at the plate to end the threat and hold on to a 2-1 lead.
Kolozsvary responded in the top of the fourth for Team USA, lofting a 2-1 offering over the wall in center field for a solo blast that restored the two-run lead for the U.S.
Liberatore finished his night on a high note, once again wiggling his way out of a jam in the fifth to maintain the lead. With two Nicaragua baserunners aboard, the lefty induced an inning-ending liner that second baseman Eddy Alvarez snared to squash the rally and strand the potential tying run.
After Filia came through with his second RBI single to make it a 4-1 game in the top of the sixth, Dickson kept the momentum going for Team USA by dispatching six straight Nicaragua hitters on just 19 pitches over the ensuing two innings.
Gose followed suit by retiring all three batters he faced in the eighth, and Rzepcynski finished off the win with a 1-2-3 ninth. In all, the four Team USA hurlers joined forces to strike out nine batters for the game and retire the final 13 Nicaragua hitters in succession.
Team USA extended its lead to 7-1 in the ninth, cashing in on a two-run Duran single to complete the scoring.
Team USA will face the Dominican Republic in a 7 p.m. ET game Tuesday (June 1) at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, before closing out group play Wednesday (June 2) against Puerto Rico with another 7 p.m. contest at Clover Park.
Stay tuned to USABaseball.com for all of the latest news, previews, and recaps from the WBSC AOQ.