After a 5-4 loss to Mexico the day prior, Team Italy U18 manager John Cortese sought redemption for his promising Azzurri squad in their European showdown against the Netherlands (ranked #9) the following night under the lights at Baseball Central in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada on September 9, 2017. The clash between Italy and the Netherlands served as the final game for both teams in 2017 World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U18 Baseball World Cup. Not only did the competition earn the winning team bragging rights in Europe, but more importantly it determined the placement of the Euro rivals in the overall final standings of the 12-country international tournament.
Team Italy manager John Cortese called on Milwaukee Brewers pitching prospect Michele Vassalotti to start the game. The Venezuelan-born right-handed hurler, who won the opening contest at Baseball Central during the 50-game tourney against Nicaragua on September 1st, came out firing at the heart of the Netherlands lineup. Even though he walked the first two batters, Michele Vassalotti attacked the strike zone early and made the Dutch hitters uncomfortable at the plate. He dug deep for three strikeouts, but the Netherlands still managed to score one unearned run on two errors in the bottom of the first inning. Azzurri pitcher Michele Vassalotti returned to throw scoreless second, third and fourth innings. In the first four innings of play, Team Italy starter Michele Vassalotti recorded seven strikeouts.
Trailing 1-0 in the top of the fifth inning, the Team Italy offense needed to get on the board to catch up. Azzurri first baseman and Cincinnati Reds prospect Leonardo Seminati led off with a single to center field. Second baseman Ricardo Paolini followed with an infield single. Then catcher Lorenzo Morresi brought Leonardo Seminati home on an RBI groundout to score Team Italy's first and only run of the game.
With the score tied 1-1, Team Italy pitcher Michele Vassalotti appeared invigorated with new life on the mound as he had an easy one-two-three out fifth inning. He was replaced by reliever Oscar Tucci in the bottom of the sixth inning. An error by third baseman Daniel Monti allowed the Dutch leadoff hitter to reach second base, but the lefty relief pitcher Oscar Tucci delievered a big strikeout to strand the runner at third base and end the inning.
In the top of the seventh inning with one out, "Grande Leo" Leonardo Seminati tried to get Team Italy in rally mode with a walk. He advanced to third base after second baseman Ricardo Paolini singled to center field; however, in the end, Leonardo Seminati remained at third base without scoring.
WIth the game still tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning, reliever Oscar Tucci walked the first Dutch batter he faced. A sacrifice bunt and a groundout moved the potential go-ahead run to third base. Then an RBI infield single gave the Netherlands a 2-1 lead. Seemingly unfazed by his team behind one run, Oscar Tucci quickly regained his composure and pitched a scoreless eighth inning.
In the top of the ninth inning with one out, the spirited Azzurri squad threatened to score after Riccardo Bertossi reached first base on an infield single. Unfortunately,Team Italy came up empty, and the Netherlands prevailed in their 2-1 victory. Despite the less than desirable ending to the game and ultimately to the conclusion of the entire tournament, the Italians played with heart throughout the competition and never gave up the fight to win.
With the loss tonight, Italy's record dropped to 2-3 in the U18 World Cup Consolation Round. As a result of back-to-back one-run losses to Mexico and the Netherlands, the Azzurri ended up in a three-way tie with Mexico and Nicaragua. The tie-breaker system set by the WBSC and the total team quality balance score determined that Mexico had the lowest rating between the three tied teams. Since Italy defeated Nicaragua, the U18 World Cup Consolation Round final standings are as follows: 7th place--Chinese Taipei, 8th place--The Netherlands, 9th place--Italy, 10th place--Nicaragua, 11th place--Mexico and 12th place--South Africa. Forza #Italia! #U18WorldCup #ThunderBay2017
by Roberto Angotti