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Road To Tokyo ends in Bologna for Team Italy after 8-3 loss to Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier

After losing a 4-3 battle to Spain the day prior in Parma, Team Italy traveled to nearby Stadio Gianni Falchi in Bologna and suffered a 8-3 loss to Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier on September 22, 2019. Absent from the Azzurri lineup was leadoff hitter Drew Maggi, who allegedly violated WBSC-sanctioned rules for unsportsmanllike conduct and damaged the image of goodwill of international baseball after a postgame celebration by Spain turned into a full-blown melee between the Italians and the Spaniards. Both dugouts were cleared and the fight lasted far too long when Drew Maggi was caught in the basepaths and in the crossfire when the final out of the game was called. Seven players from Spain were handed down suspensions as did Drew Maggi, who received the maximum of 12 games suspension, and Team Italy delegation manager Gigi Mignola, who was suspended for three games. In additional to the suspensions, the WBSC fined Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) for a total of $5,000. Immediately after the scuffle, Drew Maggi was rushed to the hospital and was treated for injuries sustained to his face and chest. He returned to the team hotel in the middle of the night with 17 stitches on his face as a result of damage induced by the Spaniard players' metal cleats.

In the final game for Team Italy in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier against Euro rival Kingdom of the Netherlands, Azzurri manager Gilberto "Gibo" Gerali went with starter Alessandro Maestri, who was last seen on the mound against South Africa on September 18 when he threw three innings and surrrendered four earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts and two walks. The 34-year-old Team Italy patriarch pitcher showed promise early as he cruised through three easy 1-2-3 out innings.

Team Italy got the first run of the game in the bottom of the third inning after right fielder Mattia Reginato singled and later scored on an infield error induced by a hard-hit ball off the bat of Gavin Cecchini. Starting pitcher Alessandro Maestri was not helped by his defense in the top of the fourth when shortstop Gavin Cecchini missed out on a chance to get his team out of a bases-loaded jam with a rally-stopping double play. Kingdom of the Netherlands took advantage of the opportunity and scored four runs before Team Italy skipper Gibo Gerali summoned help from the bullpen. Angelo Palumbo got the third out and returned to pitch to the first batter in the top of the fifth inning. Then lefty reliever Yomel Rivera entered the game and gave up back-to-back singles before being replaced by ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte, who did his job well by managing to keep the Dutch from scoring in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings with two strikeouts.

Despite a leadoff double off the center field wall by first baseman Giuseppe Mazzanti in the bottom of the fourth inning, Team Italy could not get any offense and left a runner standed in scoring position. It wasn't until the bottom of the sixth inning when the fighting Azzurri showed up to play when Team Italy slugger Chris Colabello singled and captain Alessandro Vaglio hit a two-run homer over the left field fence.

Down 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Team Italy nearly tied the game up when leaving a runner 90 feet away from scoring. Mattia Reginato led off with a single and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by third baseman Erick Epifano. He moved on to third base on a fielder's choice by Sebastiano Poma, but he was unable to cross the plate when a flyout by Gavin Cecchini ended the inning.

Reliever Nick Pugliese entered the contest in the top of the eighth inning and successfully kept the Dutch off the bases. Closer Alex Bassani committed a throwing error on a pickoff attempt at first base with runners on the corners to allow the man on third base to score and give Kingdom of the Netherlands a 5-3 lead. After issuing a walk and once again putting runners on the corners, Alex Bassani was replaced by lefty Michael Johnson, who gave up an RBI double and a two-run single to put the Dutch on top 8-3.

Center fielder John Andreoli led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a ground-rule double over the left field fence to fuel Team Italy's hope of a dramatic comeback, but he was left on the bases when the game ended. This final day of the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier belonged to the Dutch as the Azzurri bats remained quiet when it mattered most.

With the 8-3 loss to Kingdom of the Netherlands, Team Italy finishes the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier with two wins and three losses. As a result of the lackluster performance in Italy, the #RoadToTokyo for the Azzurri baseball squad ends in Bologna. Instead, continuing Cinderella story Israel will be the Europe-Africa representative in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier runner-up Kingdom of the Netherlands earns an invitation to next year's final six-team Olympic qualifying tournament held in Taiwan, where the Dutch will compete for the last ticket to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Forza #Italia!

by Roberto Angotti

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