After beating France 16-2 in the European Baseball Championship opener the day prior, Team Italy traveled from tourney headquarters in Bonn to nearby Solingen and narrowly slipped by Croatia 2-1 in an extra-inning nailbiter on September 8, 2019. A walk-off RBI single by Italian American John Andreoli in the bottom of the tenth inning was the difference to put Team Italy on top. Having lost by a slim 3-2 margin to Spain, Croatia (0-2) proved to be a tough customer for Team Italy (2-0). The Italians knew early on that the Croatians were talented and ready to give a good fight.
Team Italy manager Gilberto "Gibo" Gerali put his trust in starting pitcher Murilo Brolo, who struck out the first batter he faced and continued to stifle Croatian hitters for the entire six innings he threw in the contest. He tallied six strikeouts total and allowed six hits with one walk during his 2019 Euro Baseball Championship debut. Opposing starting pitcher Pavao Karin, an experienced 29-year-old lefty who was undefeated and had the lowest ERA pitching for the 2019 Euro Interleague Baseball's first-place Olimpija Karlovac, was equally as impressive by limiting the usually explosive Team Italy offense to just six hits and keeping the Italians off the board for most of the game.
Croatia threatened to score first in the top of the third inning after an infield single and a double to left field, but a perfectly-executed relay throw from left fielder Sebastiano Poma to shortstop Drew Maggi to catcher Beau Maggi resulted in a third-out tag of the runner at home plate to end the scoring threat. The game remained scoreless until the top of the fourth inning when Croatia cashed in an unearned run after back-to-back singles and a failed pick-off attempt overthrow at second base by catcher Beau Maggi led to Croatia taking a 1-0 advantage.
Team Italy answered with one run to tie the game 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning when Azzurri leadoff hitter Drew Maggi blasted a solo home run over the left field fence. Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Matteo Bocchi replaced starter Murilo Brolo on the mound for Team Italy in the top of the seventh inning, and he had an easy 1-2-3 out inning.
Team Italy missed a big scoring opportunity to break the game wide open in the bottom of the seventh inning. After singles by Azzurri sparkplug Aldo Koutsoyanopulos and hot-hitting Sebastiano Poma, Team Italy slugger Chris Colabello was intentionally walked to load the bases for Giuseppe Mazzanti. Unfortunately, a routine groundout to the shortstop ended the inning and the possible tie-breaking run.
Reliever Matteo Bocchi pitched scoreless eighth and ninth innings to keep Team Italy alive as time was running out fast. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Drew Maggi singled to right field, but an inning-ending double play sent the battle into extra innings.
Azzurri closer Alex Bassani entered the game in the top of the tenth inning. As per tie-breaker rule, runners were placed on first and second base. He responded to the pressure like a champion and struck out the side.
After throwing a complete game, Croatia starter Pavao Karin was replaced by reliever Borna Stelec in the bottom of the tenth inning. With Drew Maggi placed on second base and Federico Celli placed on first base, John Andreoli hit a walk-off RBI single for the Team Italy 2-1 extra-inning victory.
With the 2-1 win over Croatia, Team Italy returns to Bonn to play against Austria on Monday, September 9 at 11 am. The 2019 European Baseball Championship continues through Sunday, September 15 and culminates with the European Baseball Championship final game at 7 pm. Forza #Italia! #LetsMakeItHappen #RoadtoTokyo
by Roberto Angotti