Euro Qualifiers Day 3 (Bratislava): Youthful Hungarians Claim First Win, Brunegraf Drives Slovakia’s Blowout
BRATISLAVA — A young Hungarian squad impressed in a 5-3 defeat of Finland, while Slovakia surprised Ireland’s American university-tested squad with a 15-5 walloping. With the latter two nations already holding a place in tomorrow’s Slovakian pool championship, the result meant little, but was a resounding statement by the host nation.
Hungary 5 – Finland 3
Neither of the teams in the opening game had come close to winning a match, and the net result was an enjoyable, evenly played game between Hungary and Finland. Hungary features a starting lineup quite similar to the one it fielded at the 2019 Under-18 European Championship Qualifier. On the other hand, the Finns have had few opportunities for competitive international baseball, last taking the field in 2018 in a solid 2-2 showing in the C-Pool qualifier in Ireland. Both teams return to the B-Pool level for the first time in 2011, which was, incidentally, the last time that Hungary defeated Finland.
It was the Central Europeans who struck first, as 17-year-old leadoff hitter Zajzon Házi singled through the left side, stealing second and taking third on an errant throw from the catcher. A sacrifice fly gave Hungary a 1-0 advantage.
Ádám Piros – 18 only three weeks ago – drew the start for Hungary and demonstrated much of the talent that has him tabbed as the nation’s top pitching prospect. The right-hander walked Finland’s Timo Liiri on four pitches to start the first, blew away the next hitter on three pitches, and then issued another free pass after working an 0-2 count. Rifle-armed catcher Carlos Rubio caught Liiri stealing, however, and a fly ball ended the threat.
The game would rock along at a similar pace, with each side putting at least one runner on base in every inning until the top of the sixth. Hungary was the next to strike, as István Diós crushed a ball to left center in the fifth for a big fly. Finland would erase the run in the bottom of the frame against a new pitcher, Zsolt Győri – all of 17 year old – on an infield error, a free pass, a plucky infield forceout, and two overpowering Ks.
In the seventh, a single and a plunking put two on for Finland with only one out. Győri played to his strengths, inducing a bouncing ball to shortstop, but a wild throw allowed the Finns to tie the game at two.
As the de facto Finno-Ugric championship progress to the next frame, Hungary quickly took the lead once more. Bálint Piros – younger brother of the game’s starter – led off with a base knock to star the eighth. His baserunning machinations were quickly simplified when Rubio followed him by drilling a 3-1 pitch to left center for a haza–futásütés as Finland’s outfielders turned and stared. Hungary left runners at the corners, but Győri was more than up to the task, punching out two in the bottom of the frame.
The game entered its final inning, with both of the nines saving some fireworks for the end. Diós beat out a tapper to the hot corner with one out and pilfered second. After a second out, Rubio was allowed to trot to first after Finland refused to pitch to him. Ohlone College’s – the No. 1 California JuCo in 2020 and 2021 – Sean Fekete then ripped a mammoth blow to left center that Apollo Bratislava’s park just held in. Diós would easily touch home, and Hungary had a 5-2 lead.
Sticking with the hot hand, Győri headed back to the mound for his fourth inning of relief work and was greeted by an Andres Mena round-tripper to left, but the athletic righty would finish the game without further mishap. Hungary’s two teenage moundsmen were impressive against the veteran Finns. Ádám Piros sent down eight on strikes on strikes in five frames, with only three hits, although he walked nine. Győri – who in many ways applies the reverse of Piros’ sturm und drang approach – did not issue a free pass and, instead, scattered three hits, recording four strikeouts to record the victory.
Bálint Piros, all of 15 years old, led both clubs with three base hits from the three-hole, while Rubio notched two hits and two walks. Rubio, Diós, and Paris Ketema each had a brace of hits among Hungary’s 12, while the Magyar men – ahem, boys – stole six bases. Mena was the only Finnish hitter with two hits, adding a pair of base on balls as the tournament concluded for both clubs.
Ireland 5 – Slovakia 15 (8)
The nightcap from Slovakia’s capital was a story of a single inning – in this case, the third – as Ireland and Slovakia each held a dress rehearsal for the Bratislava bracket’s championship.
Although Ireland came as close to scoring in the second as a forceout at the plate, neither club looked ready to take the lead until the fateful third. Ireland quickly lurched to lead after juicing the bases with no outs, with Leo Farrell’s leadoff single getting the Green-and-Orange going. Jamie Cuevas and Brendan Power would take advantage, each lining one-base hits that plated an initial two runs and then a third. Cuevas and Power would move up a bag on a wild pitch, repeating the manoeuvre only three pitches later, this time to give the Irish a 4-0 advantage. It was only fitting when another errant throw allowed Power to skip home, with Slovakia finally ending the slippage.
Slovakia looked recharged after a fiery mid-frame, and immediately set about repairing the damage. A base on balls was followed by an Adam Macko double, with veteran Martin Brunegraf delivering as he has so many times, immediately dropping a single to right field. A strikeout, a groundball to second, and a pop fly to the left side should have ended the threat, but the ball to the infield went for an error and another miscue further prolonged the frame. Slovakia’s tight-knit club then did what it does best: hit. The next five hitters generated a double, courtesy of Denis Pakši, three consecutive one-base hits, and a looping triple from Brunegraf. By the time that the staggering run was over, Slovakia held a 10-5 lead, having scored eight unearned runs.
Shockingly, neither club could get anything going until the bottom of the seventh, when Ireland issued three walks to start Slovakia’s half of the frame, with another base on balls after one out. Mario Gottschall made the Irish pay, drilling a two-bagger to left center for a 14-5 lead. Ireland would then walk off in the eighth via the mercy rule after a – guess who – Brunegraf double, leaving Slovakia’s leadoff hitter a dinger short of the cycle.
Daniel Just would earn the win with four strong relief innings, tabulating seven whiffs and surrendering two runs on four hits and two walks. Juraj Bartók was just as good to finish, punching out three in two scoreless frames.
By Gabriel Fidler. It should be noted that Fidler is Hungary’s Under-18 Head Coach, leading the team in 2019 to its best finish at the Under-18 European Championship Qualifiers since 1995.
June 30: Finland 1– Ireland 6
June 30: Hungary 2 – Slovakia 3
July 1: Ireland 16 – Hungary 3 (7)
July 1: Slovakia 12 – Finland 1 (7)
July 2: Hungary 5 – Finland 3
July 2: Ireland 5 – Slovakia 15 (8)
July 3 (Final): Slovakia 12 – Ireland 2 (7)