With a 9-2 victory over South Africa in the opener of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U18 World Cup Consolation Round at Baseball Central in Thunder Bay, Team Italy came to the field feeling confident that a sweep of their remaining games on September 8-9, 2017 in the U18 Baseball World Cup was possible. Yet, on this day in Thunder Bay, the Italians had to put away a talented Mexico squad (ranked #6) before they had the opportunity to face Euro rival the Netherlands the following night in the finale. Despite leading the game throughout the contest, Italy lost 5-4 to a Mexican team that came from behind late in the game to ultimately win in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the ninth inning.
From the start, it seemed that it was Team Italy's game to win. In their second game of the tourney’s Consolation Round at Baseball Central in Thunder Bay on September 8th, leadoff man and designated hitter Tommaso Giarola singled to left field to get the Italy offense started. Shortstop Gabriele Angioi walked to put two men on base. A two-run single to right field by first baseman and Cincinnati Reds prospect Leonardo Seminati gave the Italians an early 2-0 lead.
Azzurri U18 manager John Cortese sent out starting pitcher Gabriel Dell'Agnese. The right-handed hurler surrendered one run to Mexico in the bottom of the first inning. With a slim 2-1 edge, Team Italy needed to shift into overdrive to score more runs in the top of the second inning. Riccardo Flisi singled to center field, and he advanced to second base on a bunt single attempt by third baseman Daniel Monti. Number nine hitter Davide Novello had a good at-bat as he worked the count for a walk. Tomasso Giarola followed with a fielder's choice which put runners on first and third. Then the always dependable Gabriele Angioi came through once again with an RBI single to right field to give the Italians a 3-1 advantage.
Italy starter Gabriel Dell'Agnese demonstrated resilience when striking out hitters with runners in scoring position to end the second and third innings. Mexico came back in the bottom of the fourth inning to score one run and trim the Italy lead to 3-2.
In the top of the fifth inning, the Azzurri offense woke up when leadoff hitter Tommaso Giarola was hit by a pitch. Later with two out, cleanup hitter Ricardo Paolini tripled to right field to bring Tommaso Giarola home and put Team Italy up 4-2. Mexico retaliated in the bottom of the fifth inning when they scored one run and closed the gap 4-3. With two out and runners on the corners, Team Italy manager John Cortese went to his bullpen and brought in reliever Tommaso "Bulldog" Battioni. In the end, the bulldog prevailed in the battle by getting the Mexico hitter to pop-up to second baseman Ricardo Paolini to preserve the Team Italy lead.
Azzurri reliever Tommaso Battioni returned to pitch a scoreless sixth inning, but Mexico managed to squeak out a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie the game 4-4. In the bottom of the eight inning, relief pitcher Tommaso Battioni fired away knowing full well his defense had his back. Second baseman Ricardo Paolini robbed the Mexico leadoff hitter of a single up the middle when he dove and came up quickly to his feet in time to throw out the speedy runner at first base to record out number one. Two infield groundouts followed to end the inning and give the Azzurri hope to break the 4-4 tie.
The Italians came up empty in the top of the ninth inning. With one out, Tommaso Giarola walked and represented the go-ahead run. It looked as though Team Italy was in rally mode, but an inning-ending double play quashed any chance for a run. It was Mexico that scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to claim the 5-4 victory over Italy.
Team Italy plays its final game of U18 Baseball World Cup Consolation Round against the Netherlands (ranked #9) on September 9th at Baseball Central beginning at 6 pm. Team Italy manager John Cortese is expected to start Milwaukee Brewers pitching prospect Michele Vassalotti for the fighting Azzurri. Expect the clash between Italy and the Netherlands to keep baseball fans on the edge of their seats throughout the competition for European bragging rights. Forza #Italia #U18WorldCup #ThunderBay2017
by Roberto Angotti