by Mike Potter
COLEMAN FIELD/CARY It's Game 3 of what has so far been a very lopsided series between the USA National Team and Guatemala.
In Game 1 on Wednesday night in Kannapolis the USA pitching staff combined for 24 strikeouts and then on Thursday night on this field the staff combined for the first official no-hitter in team history.
The crowd is a little bigger on a very pleasantly warm evening at the National Training Complex, perhaps drawn in by the post-game fireworks. And maybe there will be some during the game, too.
The USA is in camo uniforms tonight to celebrate the Independence Day weekend.
To review, this Guatemalan team has a massively wide age range. Infielder Jorge Gutierrez, who came into the game with the Quetzals' only two hits of the series and isn't in the starting lineup, is 42 while center fielder Manuel Hernandez is 16.
And once again, I'm the only one in the house representing local media - or in fact any general-circulation publication not specializing in baseball. Baseball America is also on site.
The Americans are batting in the top of the first inning, and it quickly becomes obvious this is like the movie "Groundhog Day" for the overmatched Guatemalans, who are on the way to an 18-0 loss that's stopped after seven innings. UCLA's Trevor Bauer (pictured) gets the win.
The first eight USA batters score as the Red, White and Blue sends 13 batters to the plate. Texas-Arlington's Michael Choice has the biggest safety of the five-hit inning, with a two-run double to left.
With two out in the second Guatemala's Mario Cruz finally breaks his team's drought with a liner right through the box off Bauer to end a hitless streak of 15 innings.
There's another USA explosion in the fourth, as Cal State-Fullerton's Christian Colon - the only player who has been on the squad for the entire current winning streak - hits a two-out, three-run triple that's the centerpiece of a six-run rally. And so on and so forth.
The rockets' red glare
The two teams will square off for the series finale tonight at 6:05 in the series finale at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. It's the start of Durham's annual fireworks extravaganza.
This time, it should not be annihilation. Guatemala starter Marlon Claveria, 18, is in the San Diego Padres' Dominican Baseball Academy. Ready to come out of the pen as an off-beat addition will be southpaw Al Yevoli of High Point University, a Palm Coast, Fla., native making a special appearance for the Quetzals.
Here's what they said ...
USA skipper Rick Jones: "We have to challenge our players every day. 'Find something in your game you can improve on today.' That has to be the focus, and I think we've done a good job of doing that. "
Colon: "This is a similar team to last year's. We've got good pitching, and we can score some runs and swing the bat. We've just got to keep playing good defense. And we have to keep playing against the game. We can't depend on our opponents to do it for us."
What does it all mean?
It's well established: the United States is far better at baseball than Guatemala. The two closest games in series history have both been 10-0.
Stars of the game
1. Bauer, for the shutout.
2. Middle Tennessee's Bryce Brentz, who went 4-for-5 with two doubles and four RBI.
3. Colon, whose line is 4-3-3-3 with the triple.
Play of the game
It has to be Cruz's single to break up the no-no.
USA leads 3-0.
USA: Won 32.
Guatemala: Lost 3.
Guatemala at USA, Saturday, 6:05 p.m., Durham
Marlon Claveria (right) vs. Sonny Gray (right)