By Gabriel Fidler, http://www.extrainnings.co.uk/
CAPE TOWN, South Africa – You heard it here first: South African baseball is on the rise! With yet another dominant performance, South Africa put an exclamation point on its series with France, claiming an 11-4 victory to defeat its European visitors five games to two. Rowan Ebersohn jacked two home runs and drove in six to finish with five of the hosts’ 16 round-trippers.
If the following sounds familiar, it is not a coincidence: South Africa came out charging, scoring two runs before French starter Yoan Antonac could record an out. In fact, for the sixth time in seven games, the home side scored in the opening frame.
It was Kyron Bibis, who has served in the leadoff spot with Victor Ngoepe unavailable for the three games in Cape Town, who got South Africa started. The centerfielder walked to start the game and went to third on a two-bagger by Nicholas Eagles. Ebersohn then drove both runners home on a single to centre. Antonac, as he did in first start, recovered momentarily to notch a pair of strikeouts, but his defence let him down.
Benjamin Smith bounced a ball to shortstop that should have erased Ebersohn, but the transfer was bungled and South Africa had two on. Dayle Feldtman made France pay with a hit up-the-middle, and the score read 4-0. A strikeout, Antonac’s third of the frame, ended the threat.
Dean Jacobs, who had walked a pair and thrown a wild pitch in the top of the first, settled down in his second inning of work. Jacobs went 1-2-3 with a whiff to keep France off the board.
The bottom half of the frame was all Charl Cordier. Benjamin Bodet replaced Antonac for the visitors, but Cordier greeted him with a first-pitch homer to left field. Bodet got the next three batters, but South Africa now sported a five-run lead.
France fought back in the third against reliever Damon King. F. Kovals reached on a defensive miscue and stole second before Dylan Gleeson took a free pass. King then induced a groundball to second that turned into a nifty double play, but veteran Andy Paz singled through the left side to break up the shutout.
An inning later, South Africa’s defence imploded. Leonel Céspedes started a rally with a leadoff double and José Paula joined him on the bases after a walk. A double steal moved both runners into scoring position and groundball by Kovals turned into a two-error, two-run safe call. Gleeson then bounced another ball to shortstop with the same result, with Kovals coming around to score. A fourth error on the infield sent Gleeson to third, but the unlucky Timothy Lee finally generated a grounder that was fielded and the nightmare inning was over. France, however, had posted three runs on the board.
The next two half-innings saw three-up, three-down in each, with South Africa clinging to a 5-4 lead. A switch by France to Jonathan Mottay, however, jumpstarted South Africa’s bats again.
With one down against Mottay, Ebersohn mashed a longball to centre for one run and Brandon Bouillon took a pitch before belting his four-bagger, targeting the left field wall for back-to-back jacks. A pair of walks spelled the end of the day for Mottay and Clémént Esteban had to come in to get France out of the inning.
Neither club could change the 7-4 scoreline until the eighth inning. Yesterday’s hero Kyle Botha, who had entered as a defensive replacement at first, led off with a base on balls issued by Franklín de la Rosa and moved over two bases on an errant pickoff throw and a wild pitch. After a free pass to Cordier, Bibis drove a ball to centre for the sacrifice fly and Eagles drew yet another base on balls.
Up stepped Ebersohn and crushed a home run to right field and the scoreboard changed to double digits for the fourth time in seven games. Jayde Thorne then concluded the contest with a quick 1-2-3 and South Africa celebrated its resounding series win.
South Africa picked up 110 rankings points during the recently concluded Under-23 World Cup and will add at least six more points for its defeat of France. As previously reported [link], when the new WBSC World Rankings are released, South Africa will find itself at No. 23, quite possibly the first time it appears inside the Top 25. France will fall a place to 25th.
Ebersohn finished 3-for-5 with six RBI and three runs, the only player on either side with more than one hit. His pair of dingers gave him five in his last 10 games. Bibis reached base three times in the victory. South Africa totalled nine hits and eight walks as a team, while France could muster only five hits and four free passes. Maxime Lefevre, Paz, Céspedes, Paula, and Kovals all had a hit and a walk for France.
Six pitchers saw action for France, with Antonac (0-1) taking the loss. The Phillies’ farmhand had his second-straight rough appearance as one of the youngest players in the tournament. Bodet put in one of France’s better pitching performances of the series with three innings of one-run relief, sending down three on strikes. Clémént and Maxence Esteban each were unscored on the bump.
Seven moundsmen took the hill for South Africa, with Brad Erasmus earning his second win. He struck out two in two scoreless, while Jacobs did not allow a hit in his two innings to start. Jacobs issued two free passes but struck out four. All four runs for France were unearned.
We will release a list of tournament awards and statistics tomorrow. An unofficial box score is available [here]. Other articles for this series: Game 1 [link], Game 2 [link], Game 3 [link], Game 4 [link], Game 5 [link], and Game 6 [link].