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  • Team EBSM


Spain's Justin Connell accepts five from Lesther Galvan Photo Credit: Glenn Gervott

In the opening game of the first World Baseball Classic qualifier for 2023 since pre-pandemic, Europe’s lineups did not disappoint.

South Africa and Spain went scoreless through 3.5 innings before Barcelona-born Justin Connell stepped into the box for his 2nd at bat of the game. The right fielder looked at the first pitch before taking the second out of the park with an unquestionable solo shot deep to left, putting Spain ahead 1-0.

Jonathan Phillips, the 38 year old captain for South Africa’s squad, singled up the middle to drive in Benjamin Smith and tie the game at 2 in the 7th. That send Spain to the bullpen for a new arm.

Bottom of the inning Spain regained the lead with a triple off the bat of Jesus Ustariz who hit it to dead center. South Africa’s CF Smith made such a heroic effort on the play that, despite the ball hopping off the tip of his glove it was scored a deflection rather than an error. That hit gave Ustariz an RBI triple and South Africa’s hurler Jared Elario a final chat with the coach.

The next batter, Chris Kwitzer drove a sharp double over the head of LF Tyrone Milne to send Jesus home. Justin Connell then hopped into the box and went 3-4 on the day driving in the safety run to push Spain ahead 5-2.

Unphased South Africa stepped up to the plate in the top of the 9th like they’d been here before. A walk, a double and a mound visit with their #7 and #8 guys occupying 2nd and 3rd and none away, Spain faced the top of the lineup as their closer rapidly approached his 30th pitch.

Runners on the go and a hot shot to 3B put one away and would have been a U5 double play if the hit hadn’t pulled the fielder so far off the bag. One down, runners in scoring position Victor Ngoepe, South Africa’s #9 guy, doubled to right, just over the head of Conner, to bring South Africa within a run with two outs to go and a runner in scoring position.

After Smith doubled, Kyle Bolta stepped to the plate and popped out. One away. One left… Christian Beyers would strike out to end the game but he would go down swinging. On a full count he chased a fastball across the heart of the plate to end the game. Spain took the first victory 5-4.

Spain plays the Czech Republic in the same timeslot on Saturday while South Africa faces double elimination on Sunday at the 7pm game where they’ll face off against the loser of this evening’s game between Great Britain and France.

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