After a heartbreaking loss to Canada the night prior, Team Italy U18 manager John Cortese understood full well that his underdog Azzurri squad would have to play flawless baseball the following day in order to compete with undefeated Korea (ranked #4) in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U18 Baseball World Cup on September 5, 2017 at Baseball Central in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
Regardless of the 10-1 final score, the Team Italy players hung in the game for five and half innings when the "never say die" Azzurri were tied 1-1 with an unbeaten Korea team that may very well win the 2017 WBSC Baseball World Cup Championship. On day five of the 10 day tourney in Thunder Bay, Italy competed with Korea and the best team won. The Italian Juniors held their heads up high and played with dignity while wearing their prized Azzurri uniform.
Team Italy skipper John Cortese along with his outstanding coaching staff of Rolando Cretis, Stefano Cappuccini, and Gianluca Marenghi could not be more proud to have the opportunity to mentor 20 of Italy's finest Junior players. FIBS Academy graduates on the U18 roster include: Gabriele Angioi, Riccardo Bertossi, Andrea Bettarini, Riccardo Flisi, Lorenzo Morresi, Davide Novello, Andrea Pasotto, Leonardo Seminati and Oscar Tucci. They and the other remaining 11 Azzurri players have demonstrated their potential for greatness by competing with the world's best athletes in the 2017 Baseball World Cup in Canada. Although their 1-4 record in the 12-country international tournament may not truly represent the way the Team Italy Juniors have overachieved on the field, the squad exemplifies the Italian fighting spirit of never giving up while performing to the best of their ability.
Team Italy manager John Cortese sent out pitcher Marco Pizzolini to start against Korea. The right-handed starter, who had the daunting task of facing the Asian powerhouse, did his best to contain an explosive offense by limiting Korea to just one run in the bottom of the first inning. Trailing 1-0 in the top of the second inning, Team Italy first baseman and Cincinnati Reds prospect Leonardo Seminati singled to center field with one out. However, the Korean pitcher followed with two strikeouts to quash any hope of Team Italy scoring.
In the second and third innings, Marco Pizzolini pitched well and kept Korea off the board; however, after giving up a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fourth inning, he was replaced by relief pitcher Samuel Aldegheri. The lefty reliever had problems with his control and walked two batters to load the bases for Korea. Yet, Samuel Aldegheri dug down deep with an inning-ending strikeout. In the top of the fifth inning, Team Italy slugger "Grande Leo" Leonardo Seminati hit a home run bomb over the 400 foot center field fence to tie the game up 1-1. In the bottom of the fifth inning with a runner on third base and two out, Italy pitcher Samuel Aldegheri once again ended the Korea scoring threat with another impressive strikeout.
Team Italy threatened to score in the top of the sixth inning. After Davide Novello was hit by a pitch, Filippo Daddi put down a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt to move the runner into scoring position. Despite a prime opportunity for Italy to take the lead with a base hit, Davide Novello was left standed at second base without scoring. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Azzurri reliever Andrea Bettarini inherited two runners on base when taking over for pitcher Samuel Aldegheri. In the end, Korea scored five runs to take control of the game with a commanding 6-1 lead.
A sense of urgency to get back in the game ensued in the Team Italy dugout. The Azzurri refused to go down easily without a fight in this contest. After a single to center field from Ricardo Paolini to jumpstart the Italian offense in the top of the seventh inning, Leonardo Seminati followed with single to left field. To the displeasure of the enthusiastic Team Italy fans cheering in the stands, the scoring threat ended prematurely with a strike 'em out, throw 'em double play.
After reliever Andrea Bettarini surrendered two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Team Italy manager John Cortese called on pitcher Davide Novello to stop the bleeding. The cut to Team Italy was too deep as two more runs scored while the lefty reliever remained on the mound to give Korea the 10-1 lead at the end of seven complete innings. In the top of the eighth inning, Team Italy tried its best to trim the deficit, but the Korean pitching did not allow for it to happen. After Giulio Da Re walked and Davide Novello reached on an infield error, Korea struck out the next three Italian hitters to keep Italy from scoring. In the top of the ninth inning, Leonardo Seminati--who was a perfect 4-for-4 for the day--reached first base on an infield single, but there he stayed at the end of the game.
With a day off on September 6, Team Italy returns to 2017 WBSC U18 Baseball World Cup action in Thunder Bay on September 7. The Azzurri's next opponent will be not be announced until the conclusion of games that had to be rescheduled for September 6 due to inclement weather last weekend. The international competition continues through September 10 to determine the next world champion. Forza #Italia! #U18WorldCup #ThunderBay2017.
by Roberto Angotti