USA Junior Men 5th In World Championships
By Doug Lindaman
The USA Softball junior men's national team finished with a fifth place finish in the recently completed International Softball Federation VII Junior Men's World Championship played in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada. This marks the highest finish for a USA junior men's team in twenty years.
After being run-ruled in three games and finishing a disappointing eighth in the previous ISF event in 2001, a concerted effort to find better athletes and develop their skills was undertaken by USA Softball. Head coach Tim Lyon, assistants Scott Standerfer and Gary Mullican along with the national selection committee, embarked on a nearly three year effort to upgrade the program.
As coach Lyon put it, "The coaching staff is very happy with the progress the program has made in the past four years between world championships. The level of athlete has improved and it showed in our results."
Unlike the junior women's program that has literally tens of thousands of age-eligible players to chose from, there are fewer than two hundred boys who play ASA club softball. Choosing from among these players and supplementing them with baseball players in order to take on the best 19-under age players in the world proved to be quite a challenge. Boys fastpitch is a much bigger sport in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada, even being played in many high schools. But the USA club was up to the challenge. "It was a great group of kids who came together as a team and played hard every time they took the field" said Lyon, a resident of South Jordan, Utah.
In the round-robin tournament, the USA began with a 6-5 victory over the Czech Republic. Eventual gold medal winner Australia defeated USA 5-0. New Zealand dealt the USA a tough 2-1 loss before the Americans bounced back with an 8-1 decision over Argentina. Bronze winner Canada topped the USA 6-2. After a 20-0 rout of Denmark and a 5-3 win over Mexico, the USA was in a position to get in to the medal round with their final contest against Japan.
After the USA took a 1-0 lead, Japan came back to win 5-1 advancing as the second seed in the medal round and eventually winning silver. "We were competitive in every game we played and should have been playing for a medal," noted Lyon.
Kevin Castillo (Long Beach, CA) led the USA in hitting at .400 (10 for 25). Jason Loe (Sioux Falls, SD) hit .375 (9 for 24) with two home runs and seven runs batted in. Curtis Leavitt (Acton, CA) had three homers and Camden Decker (Aurora, IL) hit .308. John Kelly (Chester, IA) was the work horse on the mound, logging 34 innings, allowing 29 hits, striking out 19 and compiling a 3.91 ERA while posting a 2-3 record. Zach Warne (Sioux Falls, SD) had a 2-1 record, allowing 10 hits in seven innings with a 7.30 ERA and four strikeouts.
Looking to the future, much work remains to be done to return the USA to the medal stand. The next ISF will be contested in 2008, just three years away, as the junior men will be switching with the men (moving back to 2009). Two players on this USA team, Riley White (Salt Lake City, UT) and BJ Hunhoff (Sioux Falls, SD) will still be age-eligible for the next team. Additionally, the coaching staff and selection committee have already begun the process of identifying potential national team prospects. As Lyon puts it, "the program already has a good start on the next cycle."
Lyon is appreciative of the support he and his staff have received. "The ASA national office and especially USA Softball Director of National Teams Ronnie Isham were committed to making this program successful and the results show we are headed in the right direction."