BELGRADE — Danijel Kozjak tossed five excellent innings against Estonia in a 13-0 victory for Serbia that was significantly more difficult than expected on Day 2 in Belgrade. Earlier that day Bulgaria survived late rallies from heavily favored Ukraine to post a 6-3 result.
Bulgaria 6 – Ukraine 3
Serbia’s eastern neighbors pulled off a significant victory in Belgrade, as Bulgarian – ranked No. 54 in the world – scored in each of the first three innings and Evgenii Chernozemsky gutted out the 6-3 complete game win. Although talk of upsets at the second tier of European competition might seem overstated, Ukraine travelled to Serbia with reasonable expectations of, at a minimum, an appearance in the pool championship. Europe ‘s second-largest country is ranked No. 31 in the new WBSC poll, two spots higher than the last rankings, part of a 17-place rise since 2012.
As many a team has been reminded, ratings matter little once the first pitch is thrown, and Bulgaria started positively. Chernozemsky went three-up, three-down to start the first, while his offence strung together a run on a walk and two bouncing balls up the middle, the latter by Martin Andonov.
The second frame proceeded in a similar fashion, with Bulgaria’s starter heading back to the dugout after three batters. Stefan Beshkov led off with a base knock to right and took second on a wild pitch. A grounder and a sacrifice fly sent Beshkov hustling home.
Could Bulgaria repeat the result for a third inning? A fielding error finally gave Ukraine a baserunner, but that was all against Chernozemsky. In the bottom half of the frame, Dimitar Nassapov looped a ball to deep right center, bouncing on the first hop over the fence. After a long flyout to the same location advanced him, Panayot Zhaltov dug in with two outs and beat out a soft tapper to shortstop.
Now pitching with a 3-0 advantage, Chernozemsky finally gave up a hit with two outs in the fourth, and it was a long one. Illia Velykyi took a 2-1 offering and deposited far beyond the left field fence at Ada Ciganlija field. Bulgaria would finally be denied a run in the bottom of the frame and Chernozemsky then chucked a 1-2-3 fifth. Nassapov demonstrated his own offensive prowess to the start the frame’s lower half, drilling a longball to left center.
Neither club advanced a runner past first until the bottom of the seventh, when Chernozemsky stepped up with Nassapov on first via a free pass. In Europe – as these qualifiers have regular shown – pitchers can, in fact, rake. Bulgaria’s ace took the first two pitches before mashing a two-run tater to right for the 6-1 lead.
Ukraine, however, showed signs of life in the eighth. Kostiantyn Chukhas started things off by looping a single to left, racing to second on a fielding error. A walk and a stolen base by Chukhas put runners on the corners and, with Bulgaria’s defence staying back in hopes of a double play, a grounder to short scored one. Chernozemsky would get out of the inning with a K, but was quickly back on the mound after a 1-2-3 bottom half.
Pinch hitter Ihor Lukin lived up to his role, beating out a dribbler beside the mound with one out and inducing a wild throw to take second. Another groundball would follow, this time successfully converted, when Chukhas stepped in and slashed a one-base hit through the right side. Suddenly, Ukraine found itself down by only three with Chernozemsky laboring at 123 pitches. Four pitches later, though, and Bulgaria had secured the win.
Chernozemsky struck out five and walked four in his nine frames, while both of Ukraine’s pitchers turned in solid effort. Andrii Kostashchuk took the loss after surrendering Bulgaria’s first four runs and eight hits in five frames, though he walked just one, striking out one. Sergii Shtapura fared similarly in three frames (2H, 2ER, 1BB, 1K). Chukhas joined Bulgaria’s Georgi Georgiev and Nassapov as players with multiple hits, with the latter turning in a 3-for-3 day that was a triple shy of the cycle.
Serbia 15 – Estonia 0 (6)
Seldom can a game that finishes 15-0 be considered a pitchers’ duel, but Serbia and Estonia were surprisingly even in all but one of their matchup’s 12 half-innings. Although Kozjak turned in a superb performance, Estonia’s Aleks Koppel – all of 18 years old – was nearly his equal through the first four frames. In the end, the Baltic nine simply did not have enough arms, however.
Both sides put runners on in the first without posing much of a threat before Koppel and then Kozjak each faced only three batters in the second. Serbia then struck in the third thanks to Bojan Ninić. After dropping a single in right field with one out, Serbia’s second-sacker stole second with Ivan Šijačić batting. motoring to third after Koppel threw wildly to second in an attempt to erase him. Ninić then scampered home when Šijačić drove a pitch to the right side. Koppel would then induce another grounder for out No. 3.
By this point, Kozjak had hit his stride, running his streak of consecutive batters retired to eight with a 1-2-3 third. Rohi would take over for Koppel to start the fourth, providing plenty of action himself. After a groundout to start, Rohi punched out the next batter, hit the fourth up, issued a pair of free passes to load the bases, and then struck out the sixth hitter in the frame on a full count. Tauno Koppel doubled in the bottom half, but the game would then proceed quietly to the fifth.
To say that Serbia exploded in frame No. 5 would be an understatement. A total of 17 batters came to the plate in a half-inning featured 10 hits, three walks, a hit batter, a balk, a wild pitch, an error, two pitching changes, three pinch runners, and four defensive changes. Incredibly, one of the bullpen moves was to bring Koppel back to the bump, where he would register two of the outs in the frame. All of those numbers added up to one all-important figure, however: 13 runs.
The first four Serbians to bat all hit singles, with Alen Pantelič driving in two as the third hitter. The inning also finished with a bang, as Vlastimir Aranđelovič, Nikola Ignjatovic, and Marko Badovinac hit consecutive two-out singles. Vladimir Saravolac then ripped a triple to plate the final markers of the inning.
Estonia appeared visibly deflated after four superbly played innings led to this result, going down 1-2-3 in Kozjak’s final frame. A plunked Serbian would score on consecutive groundballs in the sixth and Nick van Kooten would then preserve the shutout.
Koppel went 4.2 innings across his two appearances, allowing four earned runs on seven hits and only two free passes. Kozjak, meanwhile, needed only 59 pitches in his five two-hit frames, sending down seven on strikes. Serbia fielded 13 players, which combined for 13 hits and seven free passes. Aranđelovič and Ninić were 3-for-4, the only players on either team 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 – Bulgaria
July 3: Serbia – Ukraine
July 4 (Final): TBD