Euro Qualifiers Day 4 (Utena): Kourtis Secures Euro Bid for Greece; Lithuania Falls at Final Hurdle Once More
UTENA, Lith. — Seeking to qualify for the European Championship for the first time in thirty years of attempts, Lithuania fell one game short, as Dimitrios Kourtis turned in a legendary effort to lead Greece to an 8-4 victory at Lithuania’s national stadium. The result avenged a loss to the home side a day earlier and qualified Greece for the European Baseball Championship in September.
Greece 8 – Lithuania 4
After wins for both nations on the first two days of competition, Lithuania eked out a 9-7 win yesterday, but the rematch was all Greece until late in the game. The Greek lineup showed a taste of what was to come in the top of the first, with Alejandro Torres-Skerrett, Tom Roulis, and Kourtis hitting consecutive singles to start things off. Roulis’ base-knock drove home Torres-Skerrett, who had evaded a pair of pickoff attempts before swiping second and then third on back-to-back pitches. Even a single by Nick Halamandaris could not plate another run, and Greece left the bases loaded as Edvardas Matusevičius retired the final two batters on strikes.
Meanwhile, in the bottom half of the frame, the red-hot Audrius Beliauskus beat out a bunt single with one runner already on base via an error. After a big K from Kourtis, Greece’s arm then picked off Beliauskas, and Torres-Skerrett bailed out his hurler, throwing a bullet from center on a single by Matusevičius, nailing Lithuania’s lead runner at the plate.
Greece was quite happy to accept the gift of two more runs in the third. Matusevičius issues a pair of free passes and then a wild pitch, allowing Kourtis to score from second after an errant throw by Lithuania’s catcher. A base knock from Antonio Torres gave Greece a 3-0 margin.
Kourtis looked comfortable with the lead, facing three batters in each of the second and third innings before ripping a two-out double in the fourth. Once more, Halamandaris singled him home. The next two half-innings proceeded similarly, though it was Max Warren with the two-out single and Torres-Skerret with the RBI-double.
Now pitching with a 5-0 advantage, Kourtis surrendered only a walk in the bottom of the fifth before leading off the sixth with a big fly to left. Another run would score that inning – on a rare strikeout on a wild pitch – and Greece looked untouchable, up 7-0.
One final 1-2-3 frame for Kourtis sent the game into its final third and, after nothing doing for Lithuania in the seventh, Jonathan Kountis entered. The results were identical: three-up, three-down. It was the bottom of the eighth, however, when everything changed.
Adomas Aleksandravičius roped a two-out single, moving up on an error. Pinch hitter Napalis Grigas drove Aleksandravičius, while Beliauskas made it three runs in the frame with a hit to right. Although the rally would end there, Lithuania showed it would not go down without a fight.
Incredibly, Greece would score another run on a missed third strike in the ninth. Torres reached on a free pass from Lithuania’s fourth reliever to start, bring Bill Les to the plate. The pitch sequence then went wild pitch, Torres advances; strike; wild pitch, Torres advances; strike; wild pitch, swing and-a-miss, Torres advances.
Needing five runs to stay alive, Matusevičius offered one as the inning began, rocketing a solo shot to deep left center. An error followed, but Kountis would bear down and get three more outs, and Greece booked its place in Friulia-Venezia.
Breaking Down the Finalists
Kourtis reached base in all five plate appearances, finishing a triple short of the cycle, walking twice, and scoring three runs. The qualifier MVP hit .400/.500/.867, and his six two-hit, no-run innings preserved his 12-inning shutout in Utena. The right-hander added eight punch-outs to his total, finishing with 22 Ks, holding batters to a .105 average. Torres-Skerrett, Halamandaris, and Torres backed him up with two hits. Both Torres-Skerrett and Torres swiped two bags, with the former pilfering nine bases in four games. Tom Roulis was held to one hit, but played a key role, hitting .563/.579/.813.
Lithuania loses in a qualifier championship for the third time in four years and is the highest-ranked European nation (currently No. 13) to never appear at a European Championship, one spot ahead of Slovakia, which broke its streak less than two hours after Greece earned promotion. Its two top hitters delivered once more, as Beliauskas and Matusevičius added two hits to their lines. The former hit .438 in the qualifier, while two-way force Matusevičius finished with a mark of .412/.474/.765. Highly regarded Lithuanian-American prospect Vytas Valinčius hit .333/.421/.400, holding down the No. 3 spot in the lineup as an 18-year-old. The corner infielder will head to the University of South Carolina in August.
Greece returns to the big dance for the first time since 2016 and for the fifth time in seven attempts since its first qualification in 2003. It has an overall record of 18-26, with many of those losses coming in super round play after strong round robin performances.
June 30: Poland 0 – Greece 7
June 30: Romania 2 – Lithuania 12 (7)
July 1: Greece 14 – Romania 0 (7)
July 1: Lithuania 11 – Poland 3
July 2: Romania 6 – Poland 3
July 2: Greece 7 – Lithuania 9
July 3 (Final): Greece 8 – Lithuania 4