Before Azzurri U18 manager John Cortese and 20 of Italy's most promising young baseball players ever took the field in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U18 World Cup Consolation Round on September 7, 2017 at Baseball Central in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, the thriving Italian Canadian community made everyone feel at home by hosting dinners at the Da Vinci and the Italian Cultural Centres. Fortified with authentic Italian cuisine and inspired by emotionally-driven speeches from Thunder Bay resident and host Benny Melchiorre and FIBS delegation manager Fabrizio De Robbio the night prior to the first pitch of their battle against South Africa, the Team Italy Juniors played with a sense of purpose and Italian pride. Local supporters and traveling family members waved Italian flags and cheered tirelessly as the Azzurri dominated South Africa team from the start of the competition. A complete game pitching performance from starter Giovanni Bortolamai coupled with a relentless Team Italy offense and stellar defense resulted in a Team Italy 9-2 victory over South Africa.
With the win in the opener of the WBSC World Cup Consolation Round for Team Italy (2-1), the Italians are within striking distance of leaders Chinese Taipei (3-0) and the Netherlands (3-0) in the 12-country international tournament.
In the tourney’s Consolation Round opening game at Baseball Central, Azzurri starting pitcher Giovanni Bortolomai threw a scoreless first inning. Team Italy took advantage of a few South Africa blunders in the bottom of the first inning to get on the scoreboard early. Leadoff batter Riccardo Fliso was hit by a pitch and later advanced to second base on an infield throwing error committed by the South African second baseman when attempting a double play after cleanly fielding a groundball hit by Gabriele Angioi. As a result of the costly error, both Italian baserunners were safe with no out. Adding insult to injury, an RBI single by Riccardo Bertossi scored Team Italy's first run. Then a sacrifice fly to left field by Ricardo Paolini brought Gabriele Angioi home for the second run of the inning. Azzurri slugger Leonardo Seminati followed with an RBI single to give Italy a 3-0 advantage.
Team Italy starting pitcher Giovanni Bortolamai silenced South Africa in the second and third innings to keep them off the board. With one out in the bottom of the third inning, South Africa gifted Italy another run after second baseman Ricardo Paolini was issued a walk and eventually scored on a pair of infield throwing errors to give Italy a 4-0 lead. It appeared that the Azzurri tasted a mercy rule ending to this game as Leonardo Seminati reached first base on an error by the South Africa first baseman and Andrea Pasotto singled to right field. Team Italy manager John Cortese then called for a successful double steal to put two men in scoring position; however, by the end of the inning, the Italians were unable to add cushion to their lead and inevitably get closer to the magic 10-run mercy rule mark.
Team Italy starter Giovanni Bortolamai came back firing and pitched a scoreless fourth inning. In the bottom of the fourth inning, an Italian offensive rally ensued when Davide Novello got on base after the South Africa pitcher fumbled his bunt. He stole second base to get in scoring position. Then Gabriele Angioi was hit by a pitch and Riccardo Bertossi walked to load the bases for Ricardo Paolini, who responded with a two-run RBI single to give Italy a commanding 6-0 lead.
Azzurri pitcher Giovanni Bortolamai showed no sign of fatigue when taking the mound in the fifth inning. Once again, he held South Africa in check and did not allow any runs with the help of a strong Team Italy defense behind him. After giving up a leadoff double and hitting a batter, left fielder Riccardo Flisi made a remarkable diving catch for the first out. Then third baseman Daniel Monti came up with two solid assists to record the second and third outs.
Right-handed hurler Giovanni Bortolamai returned to pitch in the sixth inning. The Team Italy defense quashed any hope for South Africa to score. Outfielder Riccardo Flisi dove headfirst and caught a fly ball in shallow left field that straddled the left field line for out number one, and first baseman Leonardo Seminati flashed his defensive prowess with two outstanding assists to end the inning.
Team Italy took advantage of a trio of walks to score another run in the bottom of the sixth inning. First, Gabriele Angioi walked and later stole second base.Then Ricardo Paolini reached on an infield single, which was followed by a pair of free passes to "Grande Leo" Leonardo Seminati and pinch-hitter Tommaso Giarola.
With a comfortable 7-0 lead, pitcher Giovanni Bortolamai went into cruise control and kept South Africa scoreless in the seventh inning. In the top of the eight inning, however, the Team Italy starter surrendered one run to make it a 7-1 ballgame.
In the bottom of the eight inning, the Team Italy offense came back for more to slam the door shut on South Africa. With one out, cleanup hitter Ricardo Paolini doubled to left field. Then Leonardo Seminati came through with an RBI single to center field to put Italy on top 8-1. Tommaso Giarola followed with a walk. A fielder's choice by Lorenzo Morresi advanced Leonardo Seminati to third base. He later scored on a balk to increase the Team Italy lead to 9-1.
It was Azzurri pitcher Giovanni Bortolamai's game as he closed out the ninth inning. South Africa managed to score an unearned run and the contest ended with a final score of 9-2. Although the Azzurri squad would have preferred to advance to the 2017 U18 World Cup Super Round with Korea, USA, Japan, Canada, Australia and Cuba, the Team Italy Juniors victory over South Africa set the winning tone for the squad's final two games at Baseball Central in Thunder Bay. The Italians return on September 8th at 9:30 am to face Mexico before playing their last game of the tournament on September 9th at 6 pm against the Netherlands. Forza #Italia! #U18WorldCup #ThunderBay2017
by Roberto Angotti