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Blue-and-white Olympic baseball team blown out by South Korea

CM 02/08/2021

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Less than 24 hours after its historic victory over Mexico, Israel’s Olympic baseball team came back down to earth, falling 11-1 to South Korea in the first of two games the team must play in the tournament’s knockout round.
Despite the one-sided loss, Israel is still very much in the medal hunt with only six teams in the competition. The blue-and-white plays the Dominican Republic in Yokohama on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. local time (1 p.m. Israel time on Sport 5), in yet another win-or-go-home situation.
Monday’s game against Korea was a rematch of the seesaw thriller from last week, when Israel opened its Olympic campaign. Yet while Friday’s game saw Israel surge ahead twice on the strength of home runs blasted by its power hitters, Monday’s contest began with the Koreans taking their revenge on starter Joey Wagman from the very first inning.
Park Hae Min and Kang Baekho greeted Wagman by lining singles to put runners at the corners with no outs. Lee Jung Hoo then smashed a long fly that brought Park home for Korea’s first run. Then, after yet another long drive was reeled in by Israeli centerfielder Blake Galien, producing a second out, slugger Kim Hyunsoo smacked a double to the deepest part of the ballpark.

The long double appeared sufficient to allow Kang to score from first. However once again, Gailen  played his position perfectly, retrieving the ball as it caromed off the wall and making a perfect relay to shortstop Scotty Burcham, who threw a strike to catcher Ryan Lavarnway to apply the tag to a surprised Kang, ending the inning with minimal damage.
However, the Koreans picked up  where they left off in the second inning, with Oh Ji Hwan blasting a two-run homer into the right-centerfield seats, then loading the bases on two hits and a walk. Wagman bore down and escaped further damage with Danny Valencia throwing out a runner at home on a ground ball to first, and Ian Kinsler smoothly handling a ball that was rocketed up the middle to retire the side.
Unfortunately, the Israelis couldn’t touch starter Kim Minoo, who mowed down the first 11 hitters he faced, which allowed the Koreans to quickly resume their onslaught on offense.
Yet despite being hit hard, Wagman was able to respond by stranding runners at second and third in the bottom of the third. Then in the fourth, he seemed destined for further trouble by allowing the first two men to reach base. Once again, Israel’s defense bailed out Wagman, with Lavarnway alertly catching a napping Park, who had wandered too far off second base for his own good. The Israeli catcher’s heads-up play effectively allowed Wagman and reliever Alex Katz to keep the Koreans off the board for a second straight inning.
A surprising rain began coming down in the fifth and the change in weather appeared to bring with it a change of fortunes for manager Eric Holtz’s side.
With two outs, Korean reliever Choo Winjoon couldn’t find the plate and allowed the Israelis back into the game, as a hit-batsman and three walks forced in a run without a hit, bringing up the dangerous Lavarnway with bases loaded.
Interestingly the Yokohama scoreboard had just flashed statistics for tournament leaders that showed Lavarnway and Danny Valencia among the top four players in slugging percentage. But Lavarnway couldn’t capitalize on Israel’s opportunity to tie or pull ahead.
Thus after clawing their way back in, the Israelis let the game get away from them as South Korea battered Israeli relievers for seven runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Holtz then seized the opportunity to allow his top players to rest in preparation for Tuesday’s climactic elimination-round finale while simultaneously giving his younger Sabra players a chance, with Assaf Lowengard spelling Kinsler and catcher Tal Erel giving Lavarnway a break.
After the game, Holtz made no apologies for his team’s drubbing by a Korean side it had nearly beaten a few days earlier.
“We were flat today after yesterday’s win [12-5 against Mexico], but we are up for the challenge. We will be ready to go tomorrow night [against the Dominican Republic].”
When further pressed on what to expect from the Dominican side, Holtz noted: “I think the Dominicans are a heck of a ball team. I think they are coached well. I think they are an incredibly athletic bunch of players.”
Thus, while obviously disappointed, Holtz was confident that his squad which is blessed with a large number of seasoned professionals had already put the game behind them and were focusing on the next day’s challenge.
General Manager Peter Kurz put things into a wider perspective.
“We took a beating today for sure. But that’s baseball and a 10-run loss can be offset by a one-run victory the next day. Today’s drubbing doesn’t change the fact that yesterday our baseball team made history by becoming the first Israeli team in a ball sport of any kind to win a game in Olympic competition.  The excitement that we have already generated is nothing to compare with what we hope to accomplish tomorrow against the Dominicans.”
Perhaps Kurz’s belief system stems from his childhood experience watching the NY Mets repeatedly rise to the occasion against all odds, which gave birth to the phrase “Ya gotta believe!”
But clearly Israel’s baseball team has already captured the hearts of the country’s sports world leadership as Yael Arad, Yigal Carmon, Danny Oren, Raz Freulich and Gili Lustig and others came out root the team on in Yokohama. Their interest has been typical of the mounting enthusiasm in the Israeli media.
So Tuesday, with veteran pitcher Josh Zeid set to start yet another fateful game on short rest, Kurz and the rest of the country can be assured that the Dominicans will have their hands full trying to overcome an Israeli side with a proven record for stepping up to the plate when its back is against the wall.
Meanwhile, in athletics, Selamawit Teferi finished 10th in the Women’s 5000m with a time of 14:54.39 minutes becoming the first woman since Esther Roth-Shahamorov in 1976 to compete in the finals of an Olympic track and field event. Teferi ran a tad slower than her qualifying round where she clocked in at 14:53.43m while the winner, Sifan Hassan, ran the race in 14:36.79m.
Over in the pool, the Artistic Swimming team of Eden Blecher and Shelly Bobritsky finished 16th in the Free Routine with the Technical Routine on tap for Tuesday. The top 12 teams will then move on to the final.
The Equestrian team will get into Olympic action as Teddy Vlock, Ashlee Bond, Alberto Michan and Dani G. Waldman will take part in the Jumping individual qualification on Tuesday.

Joshua Halickman contributed to this report.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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