Team Italy falls victim to undefeated Israel in Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier

After beating South Africa 10-4 earlier in the day, Team Italy lost 8-2 to Israel in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier nightcap at Stadio Nino Cavalli in Parma on September 20, 2019. With the game tied 2-2 in the top of the eighth inning, Israel capitalized on Team Italy errors to score six runs and get one step closer on the #RoadToTokyo.

Although Team Italy had previously defeated Israel 7-6 one week prior in the 2019 European Baseball Championship in Bonn, Germany, Israel avoided a repeat in an unconventional manner. With no out and a runner on first base in the bottom of the seventh inning, Team Italy's best chance to rally for the win was terminated when Azzurri RBI machine Chris Colabello was beaned in the face and had to leave the contest. His defensive replacement at first base would later commit a costly error in the following inning on a squeeze bunt which inevitably opened the flood gates for an Israel victory.

Team Italy manager Gilberto "Gibo" Gerali gave the ball to left-handed starting pitcher Luis Lugo, who had an easy 1-2-3 out top of the first inning with one strikeout. Israel countered with former Kansas City Royals pitching prospect Gabe Cramer, who spent three years in the Royals minor league system and reached as high as Single-A Advanced ball. The Azzurri offense missed out on an opportunity to jump ahead in the bottom of the first inning. Team Italy could not cash in on a single by Team Italy captain Alessandro Vaglio and a double by slugger Chris Colabello when both baserunners were left stranded without scoring.

After issuing a walk to the Israel leadoff hitter in the top of the second inning, Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Luis Lugo dug deep and looked better than ever getting a fielder's choice and two strikeouts to put a stop to the potential Israeli attack. Team Italy was unable to take advantage of a leadoff triple by John Andreoli in the bottom of the second inning. The Azzurri right fielder remained on third base when out number three was called.

Luis Lugo gave up his first base hit of the night to former Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens Collegiate All-American Simon Rosenbaum in the top of the third inning. A strikeout of former minor league infielder Zach Penphase and an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play got the lefty pitcher out of trouble. However, Luis Lugo was not so fortunate in the top of the fourth inning when a walk to former major leaguer Danny Valencia came back to haunt Team Italy after Nick Rickles, a 29-year-old catcher who retired from his playing days in Minor League Baseball to become a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, followed with a two-run homer.

Team Italy nearly answered in the bottom of the fourth inning when catcher Alberto Mineo walked and shortstop Gavin Cecchini crushed two bombs ruled foul over the left field fence. Having seen enough possible fireworks, Israel made a call to the bullpen and summoned former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Zach Weiss, who kept the Italians scoreless. The 2012 sixth-round MLB draft pick out of UCLA was not so lucky in the bottom of the fifth inning when Team Italy tied the game up 2-2. After back-to-back walks to Sebastiano Poma and Drew Maggi, Azzurri slugger Chris Colabello hit a two-run double to the gap in right-center field.

Luis Lugo appeared invigorated pitching in the top of the sixth inning when registering his ninth strikeout and getting two groundouts to keep Team Italy in the game. He returned to toss a seemingly effortless 1-2-3 out top of the seventh inning. Israel went to the bullpen again in the bottom of the seventh inning. Jonathan de Marte, a 26-year-old independent league pitcher appeared on the mound. He surrendered a leadoff single to Alessandro Vaglio before pegging Team Italy's hottest-hitter Chris Colabello in the face with a fastball. After being examined by the Team Italy doctor and trainer, Chris Colabello exited the game. Pinch runner Beau Maggi replaced Chris Colabello on first base. Giuseppe Mazzanti followed with a sacrifice bunt to put two runners in scoring position, but back-to-back strikeouts of Alberto Mineo and John Andreoli ended the inning.

After hitting the first batter he faced in the top of the eighth inning, starter Luis Lugo was replaced by reliever Pat Venditte. Luis Lugo limited Israel to just two runs on two hits with two walks during his seven-inning, 101-pitch performance. After a sacrifice bunt, a wild pitch and an error committed by replacement first baseman Giuseppe Mazzanti on a squeeze play, Israel took a 3-2 lead. An infield error by shortstop Gavin Cecchini led to two more runs. After Pat Venditte hit a batter to load the bases for Israel, lefty Michael Johnson came in to stop the bleeding; however, the relentless Israel offense kept firing and tacked on an additional three runs to take a 8-2 advantage and eventually win the game.

With the 8-2 loss to Israel, Team Italy drops to 2-1 in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier standings. After suffering a fractured nose, Chris Colabello was taken to the hospital for further examination. The Italians remain in Parma for a game against Spain on Saturday, September 21 at 8 pm. The rematch between European baseball powerhouses Italy and Kingdom of the Netherlands takes place 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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