UTENA, Lith. — As in Bratislava, the third bracket to begin European Championship qualification also featured multiple superb pitching performances. The mound mastery of Dimitrios Kourtis delivered a shutout victory for Greece over Poland, while NCAA Division I-starter Marius Balandis was aces for the home country in its drubbing of Romania.
Greece 7 – Poland 0
Neither side looked particularly close to scoring until the bottom of the third, when Antonio Torres led off with a single for Greece, moving to side after a plunking and a free pass. A ground ball scored Torres, with another runner coming round on a sacrifice fly. With two down, Poland was almost out of the inning, but a stolen base attempt by Alejandro Torres-Skerrett resulted in a wild throw to third, and Torres-Skerrett scampered all the way home.
Meanwhile, Kourtis was completely locked in, setting down nine in a row through the fourth, including five consecutive strikeouts. by the time that Greece came to bat in the bottom of the fifth, Poland had yet to hit safely.
This time at bat was similar to the third, with Torres reaching again, this time on a freebie. Although he was erased by fielder’s choice, two batters followed, setting up back-to-back two-run singles from Tom Roulis and Kourtis.
At this point, Kourtis finally showed that he was not untouchable, striking out the side in the sixth around Poland’s first hit. And, indeed, only a single runner for both teams would make it to second base by the end of the game.
The 7-0 final came on the back of Kourtis, who hit third in the lineup and fanned 14 batters in his six frames. The only blemishes were a pair of hits and two walks, while Yanni Orfanidis was also excellent, striking out three and surrendering only two hits in three innings for the save. The performance of the Polish bullpen was a bright spot, as Łukasz Krzemieniowski and Adrian Mularczyk combined for four Ks, no walks, and only two hits in three innings.
Lithuania 12 – Romania 2 (7)
Two of Eastern Europe’s best pitchers matched up in the nightcap on Day One and, befittingly, the early innings was all about the pitching. Lithuania struck first, finally breaking through against Edy Pirvu in the fourth. By this time, the right-hander already had seven strikeouts and, indeed, Lithuania was able to change the scoreboard only after a defensive error.
A fielding miscue put Vytas Valinčius aboard to lead off the frame, with Eimantas Zickus, who had an excellent season in the Lithuanian championship, singling him home after a pair of stolen bases. Valinčius Is a top high school prospect in the United States, and committed to the University of South Carolina at age 13. Zickus would come around himself on a wild pitch. Valinčius contributed a sacrifice fly in the fifth, putting Lithuania up three to nothing.
By this point, a Romanian hit had finally made contact, after Balandis struck out the first nine batters of the game. That contact, however, came in the form of infield ground balls in the fourth inning, with another strikeout. Balandis registered three whiffs in the 5th and 6th, each time also walking a batter. The one thing that he did not do in any of his trips to the bump was allow a hit.
After Lithuania added another two runs in the bottom of the sixth on a double from Kestas Vilimas and an error, Balandis’ day was done. Romania must have been relieved to see the bull pen gate opening, and the first two Romanian hitters made it to fast without touching the ball. The next two batters alternated run-scoring singles, and the visitors were finally on the board.
Lithuania responded loudly, with Dmitri Prongos taking advantage of three consecutive one-out walks bye ripping a single to left field that scored two. Another freebie then re-loaded the bases, and this time, it was Arunas Dankovskis who delivered the one-base knock to bring a pair home. Audrius Beliauskas then doubled him home and the game came to an early end when Edvardas Matusevicius drove home Beliauskas on a single. With only two outs, the seventh run of the seventh gave Lithuania the 12-2 victory.
Balandis struck out 15 and, although he surrendered three walks, did not allow a hit. Pirvu Took the loss despite an excellent performance, with only a single earned run and one free pass in five innings, with Lithuanian making the most of its six hits. Prongos collected three hits and a walk in as many plate appearances, swiping a bag as well. Dankovskis also had three hits, while Valinčius had a single, a walk, and three stolen bases.
June 30: Poland 0 – Greece 7
June 30: Romania 2 – Lithuania 12 (7)
July 1: Greece – Romania
July 1: Lithuania – Poland
July 2: Romania – Poland
July 2: Greece – Lithuania
July 3 (Final): TBD