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Early innings cost Canada in second tune-up against USA

CARY, North Carolina – A three-run first inning and a four-run second inning turned out to be enough for the United States as they would hold on to take game two of this four game exhibition series against Canada by a score of 7-4.

The Americans were able to take advantage of Canadian starter Brooks McNiven (Vernon, BC), who had not pitched in six weeks, in the early going. Justin Smoak hit a single with the bases loaded in the first to drive in two and Tug Hulett followed that up with an RBI single of his own for an early 3-0 lead.

Four straight singles to lead off the second inning put the U.S. up 5-0 and Ike Davis drove in Team USA's sixth run when he hit a double to the centerfield wall. Smoak plated the seventh run with an RBI on a routine groundout.

McNiven would find his groove in the next two innings, allowing two walks and one single the rest of the way. He pitched four innings and gave up seven runs on nine hits. Despite the bumpy start, McNiven was pleased with the end of his outing.

“Had it been a regular season game, I probably would’ve gotten pulled after the second inning. But it was nice to stay out there and feel things out again and try to get in a bit of a rhythm and find my stuff again,” says McNiven. “It was nice to be able to stretch it out and have at least a good last two innings.”

Canada put their first run across in the bottom of the second when Cole Armstrong (Surrey, BC) hit a towering solo home run over the right field wall. 

Armstrong’s blast was his first hit of the series and first of three hits in this game.  For him it was a matter of finding the same approach that he had all season long.

“Whenever you join the national team, everybody gets a little jumpy and want to show what they can do,” says Armstrong. “But it’s just a matter of taking it down a notch and doing what you do and not trying to do too much.”

After the fourth inning, Canada would shut down the American offence as Chris Kissock (Trail, BC), Dustin Molleken (Regina, SK) and RJ Swindle (Vancouver, BC) came in relief and combined to pitch five hitless innings.

This allowed Canada to make a bit of a comeback in the bottom of the eighth inning pushing three runs across. Shawn Bowman (Port Moody, BC) got it started with a sacrifice fly to drive in Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC). Then Tim Smith (Toronto, ON) drove in the second run on an RBI triple to the left-center field gap, bringing in Rene Tosoni (Coquitlam, BC). Armstrong pushed in the third run with his second RBI of the game on a single driving in Smith.

But U.S. reliever Nate Field would shut things down striking out Chris Robinson (Dorchester, ON) to end the eighth and struck out the side to end the game. 

“We showed a lot of character by coming back at the end and making a game of it,” says Armstrong. “We were down early and some of our pitchers came in and gave us to chance to come back and we almost did.”

“It goes to show that we can be silent for four or five innings and all of a sudden come back and put some runs on the board is a good sign.”

Canada and the United States will face off in game three of the four game series on Saturday, September 5th, at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. First pitch is slated for 6:00 PM ET. Chris Begg (Uxbridge, ON) is scheduled to start on the mound for Canada.