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Team Italy suffers 4-3 loss to Spain in Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier

After beating South Africa and losing to Israel the day prior, Team Italy was defeated by Spain 4-3 in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier at Stadio Nino Cavalli in Parma on September 21, 2019. Despite sustaining a fractured nose after being hit by a fastball while at-bat in the game against Israel less than 24 hours earlier, Team Italy slugger Chris Colabello returned to the lineup batting third as the designated hitter for the Azzurri squad. The rough and tough 35-year-old Italian American player with four years of MLB experience picked up where he left off raking at the plate in the top of the third inning with a solo home run blast to left field. After four games in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier, Chris Colabello leads Team Italy in hits (6), doubles (2), home runs (2), RBI (8), batting average (.400), and slugging percentage (.933).

Team Italy manager Gilberto "Gibo" Gerali called on starter Murilo Gouvea. who was touched up by Israel for a total of five runs in three innings pitched during the European Baseball Championship one week ago. The Italian-Brazilian right hander surrendered one run in the bottom of the first inning in what could have been the third out at home plate when a perfect throw from left fielder Drew Maggi to catch the runner rounding third base was too hot to handle for brother and catcher Beau Maggi.

In the top of the second inning, a leadoff stand-up double down the left field line by first baseman Giuseppe Mazzanti was not enough offense for Team Italy to even the score. Spain added two runs in the bottom of the second inning. A leadoff walk followed by a stolen base and an RBI single amounted to the first run. Another stolen base coupled with a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly drove in the second run of the inning for Spain.

Trailing 3-0 in the top of the third inning with two out, Team Italy leadoff hitter Drew Maggi doubled to deep left field, but a flyout to right field by Azzurri captain Alessandro Vaglio ended the scoring threat. Team Italy finally got on the board in the top of the third inning when Chris Colabello took Spain starting pitcher Antonio Noguera deep.

The Azzurri returned to put up another run and cut the decifit down to one run in the top of the fourth inning. Shortstop Gavin Cecchini singled and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. He moved to third base on a groundout by catcher Beau Maggi and scored on an RBI sacrifice fly from third baseman Erik Epifano.

Starter Murilo Gouvea threw well enough to remain in the game until the bottom of the fifth inning when Team Italy manager Gilberto "Gibo" Gerali handed the ball off to Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Matteo Bocchi with a runner on second base and two out. Murilo Gouvea was responsible for the man on second when in fact it was left fielder Drew Maggi, who dropped the ball in his glove after catching it. In what appeared to be flyball out number three was ruled a double, which would haunt the Italians for another run when an RBI double off relief pitcher Matteo Bocchi put Spain in front 4-2.

Reliever Matteo Bocchi came back to pitch a scoreless sixth inning, but he was replaced by closer Alex Bassani in the bottom of the seventh inning after hitting a batter and giving up a single. With two out and runners on first and second base, stopper Alex Bassani got a flyout to center fielder John Andreoli to end the inning.

In the top of the eighth inning, it appeared Team Italy would be able to tie the game up; however, the Azzurri rally fizzled quickly and produced nothing but frustration. Team Italy first baseman Giuseppe Mazzanti walked. Then pinch runner Sebastiano Poma entered the game and advanced to second base when Mattia Reginato's bunt was scooped up by the catcher, who threw the ball into center field trying to get the force out at second base. As a result, Mattia Reginato reached first base on a fielder's choice. Team Italy came up empty after back-to-back strikeouts by Gavin Cecchini and John Andreoli and a flyout by catcher Alberto Mineo.

Alex Bassani pitched a strong scoreless bottom of the eighth inning with one strikeout to keep Team Italy in the game. The Azzurri offense was under pressure to score in the top of the ninth inning. Perhaps trying too hard, Erick Epifano struck out swinging on what may of well have been ball four. With one out, Drew Maggi walked to keep the Parma crowd's hopes alive. A flyout by Alessandro Vaglio and a groundout by Chris Colabello did not answer the prayers for a dramatic comeback but instead secured the Spain 4-3 victory. Team Italy did not take the loss lightly as the game ended in a two-minute scuffle on the field between the Italians and Spaniards.

Team Italy now has two wins and two losses in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier standings. The Azzurri baseball squad plays its final game of the competition in a rematch against European baseball powerhouse Kingdom of the Netherlands at Stadio Gianni Falchi in Bologna on Sunday, September 22 at 12 noon. The top finisher in the round-robin tournament earns the right to be the lone Europe-Africa representative in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Forza #Italia! #LetsMakeItHappen #RoadToTokyo

by Roberto Angotti

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