MOSCOW — Belarus defeated Switzerland 8-6, despite a spirited ninth-inning comeback from the Red Crosses, claiming a spot in the title game of the Russian qualifier for the 2021 European Baseball Championship, where it will face off against the slugging home nation. Russia had a rest day on the penultimate day of competition from the nation’s capital. Earlier in the day, Slovenia earned its first win, 18-2, as Turkey’s re-baptism by fire concluded.
Slovenia 18 – Turkey 2 (5)
Turkey’s exhausted but resolute national team concluded its third-ever tournament – and first since 2006 – with another blowout loss, but the Red Crescents were the first and last to score in the 18-2 win for Slovenia. Meanwhile, Jan Pučnik hit the alpine country’s first round-tripper in the tournament, a fitting exclamation point for Slovenia’s first win in B-Pool action since 2008. All but one of the intervening years have seen the Slovenes compete in the now-defunct Pool C, in which it had a 7-6 record and lost twice in the championship game.
It was Turkey, however, that started more brightly. A pair of errors by Slovenia’s third baseman and a hit batter loaded the bases with no outs. Žan Primožič then froze the next two batters on strikes, but Görkem Bal tapped a ball to third and sprinted down the line, beating the grounder for the RBI-single.
Slovenia quickly erased the run in very similar fashion, as Primožič began the lower half by reaching on an error, moving to second on obstruction. Tosja Lesjak bounced a ball over second base to score him, later crossing home on a wild pitch. A walk and Turkey’s third miscue of the frame set up two more runs.
By the bottom of the third, the Slovenes had a 5-1 lead. Pučnik started the frame by drilling a big fly over the wall in left, signalling the start of a big inning. The next nine batters would all reach, with five free passes and a hit batter sandwiching three singles. A dropped fly ball and another one-base hit added up to a 12-run inning.
By this point, Lesjak had taken over on the mound and followed a hitless third with a scoreless fourth, although Mehmet Saki Yildirim did lead to runners on the corners. Lesjak would single and score Slovenia’s 18th run in the fourth.
Down by 17 runs in the fifth, Turkey showed the pluck that has been one of its characteristics in the qualifier. Ekrem Çalişkan watched four pitches go by to start the frame, trotting down to first and moving to second on a one-out walk. After a bouncing ball moved him to third, Yildirim delivered again, dropping a single into left for a consolation run.
Yildirim led the Red Crescents in hits at the tournament, going 3-for-5, adding two stolen bases in this contest. Although their statistical records are rather unsightly, Utku Ergün and Ahmet Bayrak gave heroic efforts on the mound in this game, each recording six difficult outs via 70-plus pitches. Ergün started three of the four games in Moscow, totalling eight innings before twice finishing the game off at a different position. Bayrak came in from second base or right field to pitch in every game, striking out seven in seven frames.
Lesjak was 4-for-4 with two runs, two RBI, and two stolen bases, raising his tournament average to .500 in 12 at bats. The right-handed shortstop struck out three, walked five, and allowed only two hits in his three frames. Primožič was excellent, punching out five in two innings with only a single hit. He finished the game at second and drove in three in a 1-for-4 performance that left him with a .400 tournament average.
Belarus 8 – Switzerland 6
With a spot in tomorrow’s final on the line, Belarus and Switzerland tangled in the final game of pool play from Russia’s capital. Yauheni Kurhun got Russia’s neighbours to the east off to a dream start, stepping into the box after Yauheni Karalevich and Siarhei Sokal singled and Ilya Sladzinski drew a free pass. Belarus’ centerfielder took a look at the first offering, and then seized upon James Sanders’ next pitch, drilling the bowl well over the left field fence for a grand slam.
Kiryl Kazlouski took over on the mound in the bottom of the frame, and worked around a pair of walks to keep the score at 4-0. Although both nations put runners on base in almost every half inning – and, indeed, each sent a runner to third – neither club would score again until the top of the fourth. This time, it was Kazlouski backing himself up, stroking a two-bagger to right and crossing home on a single by Sokal. This, however, was the only blemish on Sanders’ record since the first.
In the bottom of the fifth, Kazlouski issued free passes to the first three hitters. Saentis Zeller would drive two of them home with a long single to the wall in right, with Rafael Eigenmann lifting another deep fly ball to play to third run.
Belarus immediately answered, as Uladzislau Barashenka singled and moved up on a walk. Karalevich would drive him home on another single before Switzerland finally recorded an out, a sacrifice fly by Sokal. A third run would score when Karalevich scampered home on a pickoff attempt.
Although the Red Crosses would tack on another run in the seventh on another sac fly from Eigenmann, Belarus looked to have the game well in hand. Yauheni Kisliakou looks solid in relief in the middle innings, and the game quickly proceeded to Switzerland’s half of the ninth.
The Red Crosses Had one final comeback attempt left in them, though, with Harry Wischnewski drawing an inning-starting base on balls and Joshua Crouse following him with a base hit, knocking Kisliakou out of the game. Thierry Burkhardt then ripped a double to deep right center, driving both baserunners home. Zeller trotted to first on walk and, suddenly, Switzerland had the tying run at the plate with no one out. The new pitcher, Kurhun, slammed the door, retiring the next three batters in order.
Sanders took the loss after allowing seven earned runs, 12 hits, and four walks in seven innings, with seven Ks to his credit. Kazlouski took home the win after firing five two-hit innings, permitting three earned runs on six walks and two hits. Kurhun earned his second save of the tournament and has not allowed a run in three innings. Karalevich was 3-for-5 and scored twice, while Sladzinski reached base four times, twice each on hits and free passes. Wischnewski and Crouse equalled the feat, with the former scoring three runs in a 1-for-1, three-walk day. Crouse was 2-for-2 with two walks. The bottom four in Switzerland’s order were 0-for-15 with a walk and six strikeouts as the team left 10 men on base.
June 29: Belarus 31 – Turkey 2 (5)
June 29: Slovenia 0 – Russia 20 (5)
June 30: Slovenia 8 – Belarus 13
June 30: Switzerland 4 – Russia 19 (6)
July 1: Turkey 7 – Switzerland 30 (5)
July 1: Russia 17 – Belarus 0 (5)
July 2: Switzerland 25 – Slovenia 4 (5)
July 2: Russia 24 – Turkey 0 (5)
July 3: Turkey 2 – Slovenia 18 (5)
July 3: Belarus 8 – Switzerland 6
July 4 (Final): Belarus – Russia