Team Italy beats South Africa 10-4 in Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier extra-inning thriller

On the heels of a 5-1 victory over Czech Republic in Bologna, Team Italy defeated South Africa 10-4 on September 20, 2019 in an extra-inning game that was previously suspended due to inclement weather two nights prior in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier opener in Parma. With the tie-breaker rule in effect in the top of the tenth inning and the contest tied 4-4, Team Italy scored six runs to put the game away. After Azzurri slugger Chris Colabello delivered an RBI single, Giuseppe Mazzanti hit an RBI sacrifice fly. Alessandro Vaglio followed with an infield single which caused an ensuing throwing error and allowed Chris Colabello to score from second base. Federico Celli nailed the coffin shut on South Africa when he drilled a three-run home run to put Team Italy on top 10-4.

Picking up where the game left off in the top of the sixth inning with one out and the score tied 4-4, South Africa pitcher Darryn Smith took the mound. Team Italy captain Alessandro Vaglio grounded out and shortstop Gavin Cecchini struck out. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Azzurri pitcher Andrea Pizziconi gave up a leadoff single. Then third baseman Drew Maggi fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw out the lead runner at second base. Flyouts to center fielder Federico Celli and second baseman Alessandro Vaglio ended the inning.

In the top of the seventh inning, Team Italy nearly broke the game wide open with bases loaded but came up empty without scoring. With one out, right fielder John Andreoli walked and left fielder Sebastiano Poma singled to left field. Drew Maggi followed with a flyout deep enough for the speedy John Andreoli to advance to third base. The feared Team Italy RBI machine Chris Colabello was intentionally walked to load the bases for designated hitter Giuseppe Mazzanti, who was caught looking for the third out.

Pitcher Andrea Pizziconi hit the first batter he faced in the bottom of the eighth inning. A sacrifice bunt advanced the runner into scoring position. Team Italy manager Gilberto "Gibo" Gerali summoned left-handed reliever Yomel Rivera from the bullpen for a lefty-lefty matchup with South Africa cleanup hitter Rowan Ebersohn. A groundout to second baseman Alessandro Vaglio, and an inning-ending strikeout eliminated the scoring threat.

Relief pitcher Yomel Rivera returned in the bottom of the eighth inning and surrendered a leadoff single. He battled back with two strikeouts and a groundout by second baseman Alessandro Vaglio to stifle South Africa. The Team Italy offense once again came up short in the top of the ninth inning when leaving a runner stranded at third base without scoring. Federico Celli was hit by a pitch and advanced to second base after John Andreoli's sacrifice bunt. He moved on to third base on a groundout by Sebastiano Poma. With the go-ahead run 90 feet away, South Africa brought in reliever Robert Lewis-Walker to face Drew Maggi. The strategy paid off for the South Africans as a flyout to right field got them out of trouble.

Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Matteo Bocchi entered the game in the bottom of the ninth inning and earned the win after an easy 1-2-3 out appearance with one strikeout. Team Italy kicked off the top of the tenth inning with a bang when scoring six runs to take a commanding 10-4 lead. With the tie-breaker rule in effect, Sebastiano Poma was placed on second base and Drew Maggi was placed on first base. Leading off was Team Italy slugger Chris Colabello, who came through in the clutch with an RBI single up the middle. A sacrifice fly to left field by Giuseppe Mazzanti allowed Drew Maggi to cross the plate. Chris Colabello advanced to second base on Alberto Mineo's groundout to first and later moved on to third base on an infield single by Alessandro Vaglio. An ensuing error by the South Africa first baseman allowed Chris Colabello to score. The finishing blow occurred when shortstop Gavin Cecchini singled and Federico Celli hit a three-run no doubter over the center field fence.

Reliever Filippo Crepaldi only faced one batter and threw four pitches in the bottom of the tenth inning after the Team Italy infield executed an astonishing 2-5-4-3 game-ending triple play. With the 10-4 victory over South Africa, Team Italy improves its record to 2-0 in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier.

The Italians return to Stadio Nino Cavalli in Parma for a nightcap against undefeated Israel (2-0) at 8 pm. Team Italy remains in Parma for a game against Spain (1-1) on Saturday, September 21 at 8 pm. The rematch between European baseball powerhouses Italy and Kingdom of the Netherlands (1-1) takes place at Stadio Gianni Falchi in Bologna on Sunday, September 22 at 8 pm. 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

Italy-South Africa Box Score

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WBSC Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier Schedule/Results

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