Euro Qualifiers Day 3 (Belgrade): Lukin Pitches Ukraine to Final; Bulgaria Eliminated with Winning Record
BELGRADE — Bulgaria thrashed Estonia 17-2 on the final day of pool play in Serbia, but Ukraine fought hard in a 6-1 defeat of the home nation to set up a final between the two squads. Bulgaria finished with an equal 2-1 record, but was left out in the cold due to tiebreakers. Serbia and Ukraine will tangle today for the right to advance to the 2021 European Baseball Championship.
Bulgaria 17 – Estonia 2 (6)
As it has done previously in the tournament, Estonia started on the right foot. Daniel Matrossov led off the game with a single and moved to second on a balk. Aleks Koppel singled up the middle and Matrossov raced towards home, while Teodor Karakashev uncooked a laser from center field to nail him at the plate. Vahur Põder then hit a third consecutive single, scoring Koppel, but that was all for the Baltic nation.
Bulgaria was handed its first run after three consecutive walks to start the bottom of the frame , the final coming on a wild pitch to score a run. After a hit batter, Petre Gruev single to left, driving in two. Three more base on balls followed, the latter pair scoring runs and resulting in the third pitching change of the inning. A wild pitch and a sacrifice fly would plate two more, and despite two strikeouts by Keith Matrossov, the Balkan batters had a 7-2 lead.
It was all Bulgaria from this point, with Estonia handing it an unearned run in the second and another wild inning in the third leading to five runs. The inning featured four free passes and three singles, with Angel Lozanov driving in two runs.
Martin Shopski sailed after his wobble on the mound in the first. Bulgaria’s starter exited after four strong innings with a 13-2 lead. Shopski struck out eight, allowed only three hits, and did not walk a batter. Yoanis Aleksandrov added another run for Bulgaria in the fifth, blasting a home run to right. The final markers for Bulgaria provided a walk off celebration in the sixth. A ground rule double to left from Gruev put two runners in scoring position, and Petyo Petkov drove both home with another two-bagger two left. Bulgaria would walk off after an error scored Petkov and put the victors ahead by 15.
Koppel was the long bright spot for Estonia, making its B-Pool debut. The two-way player had a pair of hits, including Estonia’s second double of the tournament and went 4-for-8 in three games. The teenager added a walk and was the only player with more than one plate appearance not to strike out.
Gruev was 3-for-5 with three runs and three RBI in the contest, while Nassapov and Lozanov each had a brace of hits. Nassapov had a fantastic tourney, going 6-for-10 with three doubles, two walks, and only one strikeout, scoring six runs.
Ukraine 6 – Serbia 1
With its place in the Belgrade final on the line, Ukraine knew it had a must-win game against the hosts in the pool play final. Having seen Bulgaria dismantle Estonia, only a victory would keep Ukraine’s hopes of qualifying again for the European baseball championship alive.
Predrag Kukoleca put Ukraine in the hole almost immediately, however, going yard over the left field wall at Ada Ciganlija Stadium with one out in the first. After this, the game would settle into a study rhythm, as Ihor Lukin would settle down from this point, matching zeros with Sava Dupor.
Neither club would put a runner on 3rd until the bottom of the fourth, when a two-base error after a strikeout gave Ukraine a runner in scoring position. Roman Boiko immediately sent him home on a ground-rule double. A wily sacrifice bunt from Yevhen Zhantalai score Boiko and gave Ukraine the lead.
Vladyslav Kosenko manufactured a run himself in the bottom of the next inning, drawing a base on balls on six pitches to lead off and swiping second after an out. Three pitches later, as he set off for third, a wild throw by the catcher allowed him to race all the way home.
Lukin was still working in an out of jams at this point, though Serbia had not yet mounted another rally. A Kostiantyn Boiko triple in the bottom of the seventh scored Kosenko, who had started with a single. Denys Brechko singled through the left side for another run, and Ukraine had a 5-1 lead.
Although Serbia put two runners on in the eighth after an error and a pair of singles, Lukin once more pulled his best Houdini impression, and Ukraine added another unearned run in the bottom of the frame.
Oleksii Savchenko came out of the bull pen for the top of the ninth, walking two batters with one out, before delivering a strikeout. An infield hit loaded the bases four pinch hitter Marko Badovinac, who promptly scorched a ball off Savchenko. Adjusting to the sudden deflection, Kostiantyn Chukhas reached for the ball, picked it up, and threw to first to end the game.
Dupor took the loss despite allowing only two unearned runs on three hits and two walks through four, punching out eight. Lukin earned the win by scattering eight hits and a walk in eight frames, striking out six as Serbia left nine men on days. Kukoleca led both squads with three hits in the defeat, while Dmytro Limarenko was the only Ukrainian with multiple hits.
July 1: Estonia 1 – Ukraine 11 (7)
July 1: Bulgaria 0 – Serbia 7
July 2: Ukraine 3 – Bulgaria 6
July 2: Serbia 15 – Estonia 0 (6)
July 3: Estonia 2 – Bulgaria 17 (6)
July 3: Serbia 1 – Ukraine 6
July 4 (Final): Serbia – Ukraine