Great Britain rallied from an 8-3 deficit to defeat Spain, 10-9, in a dramatic ten innings, with the victory qualifying Team GB for the World Baseball Classic for the first time. The Spanish will have another chance at qualification on Wednesday, when they take on Czechia, who rode the 18-year-old Georgia Tech commit Michal Kovala to an 8-4 victory over Germany in the elimination bracket.
Great Britain vs. Spain (box score)
On a damp, cool night in Regensburg, Spain started with a four-run first inning, and the game appeared to be slipping out of Great Britain’s reach after a three-run homer by Cincinnati Reds top prospect Noelvi Marte in the top of the fourth inning gave Spain an 8-3 lead.
That was when the British got to work, with Seattle Mariners top prospect Harry Ford, who had homered in the first, driving in two runs on a single in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead to three, and another British run would follow in the fifth.
As the British bats were warming up, the Spanish bats were cooling, with Michael Roth, who had surrendered the homer to Marte in the fourth, pitching a scoreless fifth and sixth innings.
An Edison Valerio double in the seventh gave Spain a 9-6 advantage and hopes that the British momentum had been stalled, but a dramatic finish was on the cards after a D’Shawn Knowles’ two-run homer in the bottom of the frame made it 9-8.
After a scoreless top of the ninth, and with Spain just three outs from qualification, Knowles struck out to start the final scheduled inning, only for the next batter, Jaden Rudd, to drive the ball over the right-field fence and tie the score at nine.
Tahnaj Thomas pitched a scoreless tenth for Team GB, setting the stage for British baseball history to be made.
Nick Ward started the bottom of the tenth inning with a poor bunt attempt that was caught by the third baseman Valerio and Justin Wylie followed with a one-bounce comebacker to pitcher Rhiner Cruz that should have been the inning’s second out. Cruz turned and threw to second base, where Matt Koperniak, who started the inning on second per rule, was trying to scurry back to the base after being caught by surprise by Cruz’s bare-handed stop.
The throw to second was high, however, landing in center field, and Koperniak, after sliding into the base in panic, got to his feet and sprinted to third. The throw beat him, and the initial call on the field was that he had been tagged out, but after a lengthy video review, he was ruled safe, as his right foot had indeed gotten under the late and high tag by Valerio.
Rater than two outs with a runner at first, the British now had runners on the corners with one out, and all that was needed was an Alex Crosby sacrifice fly to left field to bring home Koperniak for the tenth and winning run, qualifying Great Britain for the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
Czechia vs. Germany (box score)
A William Germaine three-run homer in the top of the first inning, his second long ball in as many days, seemed to signal it was Germany’s day in the win-or-go-home duel with Czechia, but the Czechs responded with long balls of their own in the bottom of the opening frame, with a Peter Zyma two-run homer and Martin Cervenka solo blast evening the score at three.
Czech starter Daniel Padysak settled after the rocky start and the Czechs added another three runs in the third, and one more in the fourth, to take a 7-3 lead, before the Germans threatened in the fifth.
Facing the heart of the German lineup in the fifth, Padysak secured one out and loaded the bases, resulting in 18-year-old Michal Kovala being brought in to clean up the mess. And that is precisely what he did, getting a ground ball that led to a force play at home, with a German run scoring on the subsequent throwing error by the catcher Cervenka. Kovala kept his composure, however, and struck out Germaine to end the threat.
That unearned run was the only one Kovala would allow in 4.2 innings in which he scattered two hits and walked three, earning the save for his efforts.
Cervenka homered again in the seventh, his solo blast responsible for the final result, an 8-4 Czech victory that sets the stage for a rematch with Spain on Wednesday in Regensburg at 19:00 (CEST). The two squads met on Day 2 of the tournament, with Spain dominant in a 21-7 victory. The Spanish will need to rebound from their emotional defeat to Great Britain, while the Czechs enter the tournament’s final game on the back of two strong performances.
Along with Great Britain, the winner will join the already qualified European national teams — the Netherlands, Italy and Israel — at the 2023 World Baseball Classic.