Buoyed by SoCal talent, USA in good position

March 16th, 2017

SAN DIEGO -- If Wednesday's dramatic win over Venezuela was any indication, Team USA can rely on its five Southern Californians now that the World Baseball Classic has moved to their home terrain.

(Morse High School in San Diego) struck the game-tying home run in the eighth inning, with friends and family in the stands at Petco Park.

(Westlake High School in Westlake Village) scored the decisive run on 's game-winning homer later in the eighth.

(El Toro High School in Lake Forest) started a sensational game-ending double play after snaring 's sharply hit ground ball in short right field.

Danny Duffy (Cabrillo High School in Lompoc) is expected to start in Saturday's highly-anticipated rematch with the Dominican Republic, and it's only a matter of time before the power of (Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks) becomes a factor.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

Before Wednesday's game, Yelich recounted a memorable story from his days playing with Arenado on the ABD Bulldogs while the two were teenagers: The travel team was in Georgia for a tournament, and head coach Mike Spiers missed the start of one game due to a travel issue.

So, Yelich said, the players wrote out the lineup themselves, according to how they thought Spiers would've wanted it. Yelich played first base, with Arenado at third.

"By the time [Spiers] got there in the third inning," Yelich said, smiling, "we were up 15-0."

Spiers, a legendary amateur baseball figure in the area, died in 2013. During the Classic, Yelich said he's thought about how proud Spiers would have been to see two of his former players representing the U.S. on the international stage.

"He had a big impact on me," Yelich said. "He dedicated his life to youth baseball."

Big night in Maumelle

Drew Smyly continued the trend of strong starting pitching by Team USA, allowing only one unearned run in 4 2/3 innings against Venezuela. The performance was well received at the Beef 'O' Brady's restaurant in Maumelle, Ark. -- which is co-owned by Smyly and his father, Todd.

The walls at the restaurant are adorned with Smyly's baseball jerseys, from his youth baseball career in Maumelle to pitching for Team USA in the 2011 Pan American Games.

The restaurant advertised an all-night happy hour in honor of Smyly's start, with additional specials for each of his strikeouts -- and he ended his night with six in a row. In the stands at Petco Park, Todd quipped that he wasn't sure if he'd come out ahead financially at the end of the night. But he was happy nonetheless.

Team USA approaching uncharted territory

Team USA's matchup with unbeaten Puerto Rico on Friday represents a critical juncture for the Americans: With a victory, they will improve to 4-1 for the first time in any Classic.

The U.S. has started 3-1 on two previous occasions, in 2006 and '13. Each time, the Americans lost their next two games and were eliminated short of the semifinal.

An win by Team USA on Friday would increase the chances of a showdown with Japan in the semifinal or final next week at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. and Japan were viewed as inevitable rivals when the Classic began, but they've met only twice -- Team USA's controversial walk-off win in 2006 and Japan's semifinal victory three years later.

The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games in San Diego's Petco Park and the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.