BELGRADE — The fourth pool of qualification for the European Championship began today in Serbia with a dominant performance by Christian Bokich, as the hosts claimed a 7-0 victory. Earlier in the day, Ukraine romped to a blowout victory over Estonia, 11-1. One of two Baltic nations to field a team in qualification, Estonia is making its debut in the B-Pool, although it achieved solid results in its only appearances in Pool C, finishing 2-2 in both 2016 and 2018.
Estonia 1 – Ukraine 11 (7)
The first game of the tournament was a rematch of 2018 C -Pool 2 Qualification, which was hosted by Ukraine. The event was Estonia’s last outing as a national team, though it began with a 15-0 loss to the hosts. This time, the Baltic republic took an early lead after a pair of one-out singles by Aleks Koppel and Vahur Põder allowed the former to scamper home from second on an error.
Yevhenii Tkachenko settled down after the unearned run, and Ukraine came to bat in the bottom of the first down 1-0. Põder took the mound for Estonia and induced three groundballs and two flyouts in the frame, but an error and a double steal resulted in two markers.
Tkachenko looked locked in when he next took the mound, and Yevhen Zhantalai found himself leading off with a double after three Estonian outs in only five pitches. Vladyslav Kosenko roped a ball to the fence in center to score him, but Ukraine left the bases loaded.
With Tkachenko still dealing, Ukraine steadily added to its lead in the third, turning four singles, a free pass, and an error into three runs. Another three runs would cross in the fifth, by which time Estonia had put only one man on base since the first, immediately to be erased by a double play. The recipe for Ukraine’s bats was similar to previous rallies, with a one-out walk followed by a “Little League homer” for Illia Velykyi, who singled to left and raced all the way home after a relay throw went wild. Another miscue and three consecutive free passes led to a third run and a 9-1 lead.
In the sixth, two more errors – on the same play – by Estonia’s hapless third baseman send the game into mercy rule territory. After six excellent innings by Tkachenko, in which he needed only 56 pitches to strike out five and allowed only five baserunners, Bohdan Lucheiko entered to slam the door. The Ukrainian reliever did just that, striking out the side on 10 pitches.
Zhantalai led the offences with a 3-for-4 day, while Kosenko and Dmytro Limarenko each had two hits and a base on balls. Kosenko pilfered three bases. On the other side, Põder turned in a solid effort for Estonia, surrendering six earned runs on nine hits in six innings, but undone by seven errors behind him.
Serbia 7 – Bulgaria 0
If one ignores the final score momentarily, the nightcap from Serbia’s capital was a thriller for most of the game, as Bokich and Petyo Petkov matched up for one of the better pitching duels in the four Euro qualification tournaments.
It took Petkov longer to find his rhythm, with three walks loading the bases with two down in the bottom of the first. Marko Badovinac beat out a slow roller to third base for the game’s first run, but that was all Serbia could manage that frame.
By the time Serbia threatened again in the third, Bokich had yet to allow a hit and already registered six strikeouts. A leadoff single by Alen Pantelič and a free pass set up Vlastimir Aranđelovič for a RBI-single, but Petkov induced a double play to end the threat.
The game settled into an easy pace in the middle innings, with Petkov sending down six in-a-row at one point and holding Serbia hitless in the fourth and fifth. Bokich was even better, finally giving up a single with one out in the fourth, by which time – if four errors had been recorded as outs – he would have retired 15 straight batters. Even still, it was not until fifth that Bulgaria had two runners on base, though neither would make it to third.
A hit batter, one-base hit, and a groundball gave Serbia a 3-0 margin through six, before Aranđelovič stuck a dagger in any thoughts of a comeback. After consecutive plunkings to start the bottom of the seventh, the Serbian leftfielder feasted on a 2-0 offering, blasting it over the right field fence for a three-run bomb. Danilo Cvijovič would score after a double in the eighth, and Serbia would claim the 7-0 victory after Dorđe Tomič pitched a scoreless ninth.
Bokich punched out 10 and set down the remaining Bulgarian hitters on seven groundouts (with four more ending in a miscue), three infield pop-ups, and a sacrifice bunt, with only a single flyball hit to the outfield. The former Lee University (Tenn.) pitcher looked every bit the big game pitcher that Serbia now relies on, permitting a mere two hits and four walks in eight innings.
Petkov allowed three runs on five hits and five walks in six innings, whiffing four. Serbia’s Pantelič and Aranđelovič were the only hitters with two safeties, the latter crossing home three times to the four RBI of Aranđelovič.
July 1: Estonia 1 – Ukraine 11 (7)
July 1: Bulgaria 0 – Serbia 7
July 2: Ukraine – Bulgaria
July 2: Serbia – Estonia
July 3: Estonia – Bulgaria
July 3: Serbia – Ukraine
July 4 (Final): TBD