The United States minor leaguers may be no match for the Japan major leaguers, but they were still able to beat the Korean professionals from the KBO to advance to the second round. The Japan major leaguers had a bit of a struggle over Venezuela having to rally for two in the bottom of the ninth to remain undefeated and Puerto Rico shocked the Taiwan major leaguers to send them home if they were not already home. Canada keeps on winning and one has to wonder how? They certainly were not one of the favorites in their brackets at the beginning of the tournament. The one exciting aspect of the Premier 12 is the unpredictability of the games.
Advancing to the second round are Japan, United States, Korea and Mexico from Group B. From Group A it was Canada, Cuba the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.
United States 3 Korea 2
The United States kept its hope alive to still keep playing by squeezing one out over the Korean professionals. The United States got six shutout innings from Zake Spruill to lead them to the win. It took a tenth inning run and two innings of shutout relief pitching from Seth Simmons to harness the victory.
The United States scored first on an RBI single by Tyler Pastornicky and a RBI double from Dan Rohlfing. They had an opportunity to expand the lead but failed to score despite having runners on second and third with no outs. Sang-Woo Cho came on in relief and struck out two, the final whiff being Brett Eibner with the bases loaded.
The United States went to their bullpen in the seventh and Korea took advantage. John Church walked the first two hitters he faced, a bunt moved them over and Byung-Hun Min plated them both with a single.
The Koreans had an opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the ninth. Three singles loaded the bases with the Koreans preferring a base at a time philosophy. With the bases loaded and one out Simmons got a line out and a ground out to end the inning and send the game into overtime.
With two runners placed on first and second the United States tried to bunt as is traditionally the expected practice and bunted into a double play, Adam Frazier advancing to second on his failed bunt attempt. Brett Eibner atoned for his whiff with the bases loaded by delivering a clutch single to score Frazier to give the United States a 3-2 lead.
Korea put their two runners on base and were unsuccessful with the bunt. Yong-Kyu Lee flied out to left. This brought up the hottest hitter on the Korean team, Hyun-Soo Kim, but he popped to short. The slugger Byung-Ho Park walked to load the bases bringing up Min-Ho Kang. Kang grounded out to first to end the game. Normally Dae-Ho Lee may have batted in that spot, but Korea had already clinched a spot in the second round and chose to rotate Park and Lee in the DH spot. With the win the United States advanced to the second round.
Japan 6 Venezuela 5
Japan had already advanced to the second round so there was no motivation to win this game. A loss to Venezuela would not have transferred since Venezuela was not advancing. The only thing Japan was playing for was pride and that pride showed up in the bottom of the ninth.
Venezuela started their ace Freddy Garcia. He limited Japan to three runs in 7.1 innings. Venezuela held a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the eighth, but Garcia was removed after giving up a one out single. The bullpen could not protect the lead. With one out and runners on second and third Luis Sojo chose to intentionally walk Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to load the bases to face one of the hottest hitters in the tournament Sho Nakata. A bold move to set up a double play but one that did not pay off after a Nakata double scored two and gave Japan the lead. Japan could not expand the lead after a runner was thrown out at home on a ground out and they turned the ball over to closer Yuki Matsui to finish the game.
Yuki was not sharp, issuing a walk and two hits to load the bases. Jose Yepez sent the Japanese fans into apoplexy with a pinch hit two run double to recapture the lead. With runners on second and third and one out Yuki was able to entice a pop up and strikeout to end the inning, keeping the deficit to one.
Venezuela went with their closer Fernando Nieve. A walk and hit by pitch put two runners on with a bunt moving them up a base. With one out Sojo continued his strategy with an intentional walk to Tatsuto Yamada to load the bases. A wild pitch scored the tying run forcing Sojo to intentionally walk Shingo Kawabata to load the bases again. With Sho Nakata on deck the strategy backfired when Akira Nakamura buzzed a single into left field.
Venezuela had scored their first three runs when Rainer Olmedo started the game with a homerun off Japanese starter Yuki Nishi. In the fourth Juan Apodaca hit a two run homer off Nishi to give Venezuela a 3-1 lead.
Puerto Rico 7 Taiwan 4
Puerto Rico was able to advance with their win over Taiwan, knocking out their hosts, which also dashed any hope of large attendance figures in the second round. It was a pitcher’s duel to begin the game with each staff giving up only one run through the first nine. Andres Santiago got the start for Puerto Rico going 6.1 innings. Chun-Lin Kuo got the start for Taiwan and completed eight innings. Kuo struck out 10 in his effort.
A Chih-Sheng Lin homer in the fourth accounted for the only run for Taiwan in the regulation frames. Puerto Rico scored their one run on a wild pitch in the bottom frame after a double by Joiset Feliciano and a bunt moved him to third.
Neither team scored in the first extra frame, Taiwan failing to exercise a bunt to advance the runners and Puerto Rico successfully bunting but failing to score with runners on second and third with one out.
Taiwan was more successful with the bunt in the 11th inning, resulting in RBI singles from Chih-Hsien Chiang and Chih-Kang Kao. Puerto Rico countered with two runs on a two run double from Jorge Jimenez. An intentional walk loaded the bases with no out, a prime opportunity for Puerto Rico to pull it out in 11. They failed. A force out at home, a pop out and a ground out ended the inning with the game still tied.
They went to the 12th. Taiwan scored a run without benefit of a hit going up by one. Puerto Rico responded with a bunt single to load the bases with no out bringing up Aldo Mendez. The previous inning Puerto Rico could not score a run with the bases loaded and no out. Mendez left no doubt about this outcome, sending Taiwan fans home in tears with a shot to right field that cleared the fence and gave Puerto Rico an unlikely 7-4 win.
Cuba 2 Italy 1
Cuba advanced to the second round with a hard fought win over Italy. Italy went home winless, seeing their rivals the Netherlands advancing to the second round. Cuba got a good effort from Yosbany Torres, who went 6.2 innings. They gave the ball to Livan Moinello to finish the game and advance Cuba to the second round. He retired all seven hitters he faced. Italy went with their Japanese professional Alessandro Maestri. He could only go 4.2 innings.
Both teams scored in the second. Italy got an RBI single from Alberto Mineo. Cuba scored their run on a Osvaldo Vazquez RBI single after Maestri walked the leadoff hitter and advanced him to third with a wild pitch.
Cuba benefitted from more walks after two were issued in the seventh giving Alfredo Despaigne an opportunity to give Cuba the lead for good with an RBI single.
Canada 3 Netherlands 1
Canada finished the first round of play undefeated, but it will be interesting if they can replicate that in the second round playing Korea, Japan and the United States. They tamed the high powered Netherlands offense to just one run, Chris Leroux going seven innings. Jordan Lennerton gave them all the runs they needed with a two run double in the sixth after an intentional walk to Tyler O’Neill put two runners on.
The Netherlands scored their only run in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI double from Wladimir Balentien. Sean Jamieson hit a solo shot in the eighth for Canada to get the run back. In the bottom of the ninth Dustin Molleken struck out the side to earn his third save of the tournament.
Mexico 9 Dominican Republic 6
In a game that did not mean much, Mexico sent the Dominicans home winless. Mexico almost did not make the tournament, asking the organizing officials to send Panama instead. They can now go home, but at least they won two games. Not a lot to say about this one except it is over for both sides. Apologies to Mexico. The win advanced them to the quarter finals, so they can’t go home yet and are scheduled to face Canada. Wouldn’t it be fun if they happened to win the tournament?