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Powerful Cubans set sights on winning title

by Jason Coskrey

YOKOHAMA — International baseball may soon be dancing to a Cuban beat once again.

The Cubans failed to win the Olympic title in 2008 and fell short in the WBC in 2009, but are running roughshod over some of the game’s future stars at the 5th World University Baseball Championship.

Cuba reached the final round of the tournament by routing South Korea 11-1 in the semifinals on Thursday afternoon.

“The outcome is no fluke,” first baseman Jose Abreu said. “We had to face a good pitcher, but our offense is just in sync right now. We feel like we can face any pitcher right now.”

Cuba, which features five players who participated in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, has dominated each team it has faced in all facets of the game.

The Cuban hitters have been on fire, putting up 70 runs despite being limited to 34 innings in their five contests after having four games called due to the mercy rule.

They’ve been no less dominant on the mound, Cuban pitchers allowing just eight runs and striking out 47 over that same span.

“I’ve been telling you since the first press conference,” Cuban manger Eduardo Martin said. “The Cuban team has good balance. We are not excellent in just one aspect of the game. We have good offense, pitching and defense. So we can do anything we want.”

The Cubans will attempt to capture the gold medal on Saturday at Jingu Stadium, where they will face the United States. The U.S, defeated Japan 4-2 in the semifinals and will sends its top pitcher, Gerrit Cole, to the hill in the final.

Cole was drafted by the New York Yankees in the first round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft, but opted to attend UCLA instead.

Eligible for the 2011 draft, Cole was 11-4 with a 3.37 ERA and 153 strikeouts for the Bruins in 2010, establishing himself as one of the top collegiate pitchers in the U.S.

He got the start for the U.S. against Taiwan in the first round, allowing a pair of earned runs and striking out eight.

“We lined it up for Gerrit to throw the gold medal game,” U.S. manager Bill Kinneberg said. “We’re at that point. We’re going to do our best, we’re going to play our tails off and we’re going to see what happens.”

The U.S should provide a stiff challenge to a Cuban team that has been tested only once since the start of the tournament.

In five games, only Japan has managed to avoid falling prey to the mercy rule and take Cuba the full nine innings. The Japanese lost 12-7.

Martin was confident his team would respond well to adversity in the final.

“The Cuban team is prepared physically, technically and mentally,” Martin said. “We’ve been playing in some lopsided games. But if we have a close game, we’ll be ready.”

The Americans plan to put his confidence to the test.

“We’ll have the same intensity, the same mind-set as we had today,” Kinneberg said after beating Japan. “We’ve been together five weeks and this was our goal. To win a gold medal. So we’re going to do everything we can to win on Saturday.”