TAIPEI, Taiwan — The University of Iowa baseball team will return home with a silver medal from the World University Games after losing to Japan, 10-0, in the title game.
Team Japan, an All-Star team made up of the best university players in the country, was simply the better team Tuesday and wasted no time showing it.
Japan loaded the bases in the first and scored one run off Hawkeyes starter Sammy Lizarraga, with center fielder Justin Jenkins limiting the damage with an inning-ending assist to home plate. But after the Hawkeyes went 1-2-3 in the top of the second, Japan blew the game open in the bottom of the inning, scoring six times on five hits and two walks, as Iowa’s pitchers struggled with the strike zone.
“It was a bit frustrating and you hate to blame it on the umpire but I thought we got squeezed in the first couple innings and it really hurt. It hurt bad,” Coach Rick Heller said. “I’ll have to go back and look at the video but from what (catcher Tyler Cropley) was telling me and what we could see from the dugout it made it tough on Sammy, put him in a really bad spot.”
Faced with an early 7-0 deficit, the Hawkeyes were unable to get anything going off Japanese starting pitcher Masato Morishita, who went seven innings and gave up just two hits and a walk while striking out 11.
“Morishita was tremendous,” Heller said. “That was a pitching clinic. Four pitches for strikes wherever he wanted. His misses were super competitive which caused us to chase. Really, that’s the story. He was outstanding.”
Though Tuesday was a disappointing end to the Universiade, returning home with a silver medal is something outfielder Chris Whelan thinks will help the team moving forward.
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“I think we’re going to go back to the United States and back to Iowa with a lot more confidence than we had coming into this thing,” Whelan said. “Coming here and winning a silver medal, I guess it wasn’t out of the picture when we got here but I don’t know if everybody really believed in it. But I think we succeeded and did what we wanted to do here.”
Junior Robert Neustrom, who led the Hawkeyes in hitting with 12 hits in seven games, said it was an experience the Hawkeyes won’t soon forget.
“It’s something no one gets to do, really, when you think about it. We’re all going to look back on it as a positive experience, a positive trip,” the Sioux City native said. “Obviously it’s upsetting we didn’t get gold but we’ll take the silver and a good time.”
As for what Neustrom will remember most?
“The people,” he said. “You’ll never forget these people. They treated us like celebrities. We’re never going to forget that.”