Team USA is on the cusp of defending its title for the fourth straight year, as the Americans are headed to the gold-medal game in the U-18 Baseball World Cup.
Capitalizing on a passed ball in the eighth inning, Team USA shut out Korea, 2-0, in its penultimate game of the Super Round at Port Arthur Stadium in Ontario, on Friday to advance to the final stage of the 2017 World Baseball Softball Confederation's premier event.
USA's Ethan Hankins delievered six stellar innings, striking out the side in the first inning and punching out 14 total, while allowing just four baserunners on two singles, one hit by pitch and one walk.
"He just attacks the zone," 18U national team manager Andy Stankiewicz said. "Sometimes he is a little emotional. He is young and wears his emotions on his sleeve. I think as he matures, he will be able to settle down in those big moments. But in terms of just his arm and his stuff, it is just fantastic. He did a great job of just pounding that zone. Sometimes he got squeezed a little bit, but he responded well and kept making pitches when he had to."
Between Hankins and the bullpen, Team USA didn't allow a runner to go past second base, marking the third time in the tournament it had done so.
Team USA's shutout was matched through the seventh by Korea starter Been Gwak, who struck out nine and gave up five hits over 8 1/3 innings. He was credited just one earned run, a ninth-inning double by Nolan Gorman.
"The pitcher we saw, even though we haven't seen a lot of right-handed pitchers this tournament, he was good," said outfielder Mike Siani, who went 2-for-5 with a run scored. "A lot of offspeed, and he was spotting up. He was tough to hit. As the game went on, we worked better at-bats, worked deeper counts and the hits came."
Team USA is now on the cusp of becoming just the second country to win four straight gold medals in the U-18 World Cup. It will play one final contest in the Super Round, on Saturday against Australia, before Sunday's gold-medal game.
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.