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Israel eliminated from baseball competition

CM 03/08/2021

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Israel’s Olympic baseball team ended its run at Tokyo 2020 following a dramatic and deflating 7-6 loss to the Dominican Republic at Yokohama Stadium on Tuesday evening.
 At stake on Tuesday was the fourth and final berth in the semifinals, in which four sides will vie on Saturday for three medals, a goal the Israeli side had clearly set for itself since beginning its journey after qualifying for the Olympics in September 2019.
The game – nothing short of an all-out battle – reflected the heroic struggle the team has waged over the past two years. As in war, each side made many mistakes, while also displaying moments of pure nobility, with the victory going to the team left standing at the end.
Dominican starter Christopher Mercedes was lights-out over the first four innings of no-hit ball in which he faced the minimum number of Israeli batters
For his part, Israeli starter Josh Zeid – pitching on only two days’ rest – gave a gutty performance, yielding no earned runs over four innings of his own. However, from the very first batter Zeid faced, it was evident that Israel’s fortunes would be determined by miscues made by both sides. Leading off in the bottom of the first, Emilio Bonifacio bunted towards third trying to get on base. However Zeid’s fastball had too much on it and the ball popped high into the air.
To Bonifacio’s good fortune, the ball went high over charging third baseman Ty Kelly and the Dominican speedster turned on the jets and streaked for second base. Shortstop Scotty Burcham retrieved the ball in shallow left field, but his throw to second was wild and Bonifacio ended up on third. Zeid got the next three hitters out, but Bonifacio was able to score on a sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead for the Dominicans.
In the third, the Dominicans were gifted another run when an errant pickoff throw by catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who otherwise had been outstanding throughout the tournament, allowed a runner to score as the ball careened into the outfield.
Down 2-0, the Israelis came roaring back with four runs  in the top of the fifth, highlighted by consecutive hits from the bottom of the order. The key blows were a clutch two-run double, lined to the opposite field by Mitch Glasser (who led all Israelis in the tournament with a hefty .412 batting average) and Burcham’s RBI single.
Mercedes was lifted after he balked Burcham to second, and four-time MLB All-Star Ian Kinsler took full advantage of the two-out RBI opportunity, lining a single to score Burcham.
The Dominicans came back to knot the game up with two runs in the sixth and went ahead when  Jeison Guzman launched a Zach Weiss fastball in the right field for a 5-4 advantage in the bottom  of the seventh.
The Israelis were far from discouraged and after Kinsler opened the eighth with his second single of the night, Danny Valencia, who had powered Israel to qualifying back in 2019, slugged yet another dramatic drive over the left-field wall, giving Israel the lead.
A joyous dugout greeted Valencia and it appeared that Israel’s explosive hitters would carry the day.  In the bottom of the eighth, Weiss overpowered the Dominicans by striking out the side. Yet perhaps his exemplary relief work led manager Eric Holtz to leave him in to pitch the ninth, in the hopes that Weiss could provide the three outs that would put Israel into the semis.
Unfortunately, Johan Mieses opened the frame with a convincing shot into the left-field bleachers, tying the score. Former major leaguer Melky Cabrera singled, putting the go-ahead run on base. After a sacrifice bunt moved pinch-runner Yefri Perez Cabrera into scoring position, Holtz directed an intentional walk be issued to set up a potential inning-ending double play.
Reliever DJ Sharbi entered the game and appeared to coax the next hitter to do just that, as Gustavo Nunez grounded the ball sharply to Kinsler, but the relay to second got stuck in the webbing of shortstop Burcham’s glove. The young Sharabi was far from flustered and appeared to retire yet another well-known former MLB star in Jose Bautista on strikes, but a highly questionable call gave the former big leaguer new life and he ended the game with a walk-off single.
“They displayed and showed a lot of grit and courage,” Bautista said of the Israel squad. “They were down late, hit a crucial home run and put us against the wall.”
The Israeli side was devastated, but at the end of the day had proven its contribution towards building the sport in Israel.  
Valencia held back tears afterwards.
“It’s like our hearts were ripped out of us. Both teams wanted it bad,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to get over. This hurts right now.”
The blue-and-white will be back in the European qualifiers this fall and Team Israel has shown that it and Holy Land baseball are for real.
Israelis impress on horses, in water
Meanwhile, in equestrian jumping individual qualification, Ashlee Bond qualified as one of the top 30 for Wednesday’s final with a time of 82.84 on Donatello 141 as teammate Teddy Vlock’s time of 95.74 and six penalties on Amsterdam 27 eliminated him from the competition while Alberto Michan was disqualified after falling off of his horse Cosa Nostra.
Out at sea, in women’s two-person dinghy 470 sailing, the team of Noya Baram and Sachar Tibi advanced to the medal race by finishing in sixth and 13th place in races 9 and 10, respectively, good for 10th position overall. Although the pair will compete in the final race on Wednesday, they will not have an opportunity to win a medal due to the large point gap to the places on the podium.
Over in the pool, the artistic swimming duo of Eden Blecher and Shelly Bobritsky took part in the technical routine where a score of 83.858 gave them 15th place after having finished in 16th following the free routine on Monday.  
Their overall score of 168.49 wasn’t good enough to advance to Wednesday’s finals with only the top 12 teams moving on in the competition.
Wednesday will also see David Litvinov take part in the +109kg weightlifting competition. 
Joshua Halickman contributed to this report.


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