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Updated: March 1, 2020
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(Story by Marco Stoovelaar; Photos by WBSC & Marco Stoovelaar)

Japan captures Under-18 World-title; First medal for Czech Republic

PALMERSTON NORTH (New Zealand) - Japan captured the title at the 13th WBSC Under-18 Men's Softball World Cup on Sunday (March 1) by winning the Final against Australia 9-2. With that, Japan remained unbeaten during the event, which was organized in Palmerston North (New Zealand). In a great pitching-duel, the Czech Republic won 2-0 against Argentina in the Bronze Medal-game. The Czechs won their first-ever medal in a Men's Softball World Championship, including both the men's and juniors Championship.

Two years ago, in Prince Albert (Canada), Japan and Australia also faced each other in the Final. Australia then won 6-1. But today, Japan won its third World Championship-title in history. Japan won the very-first Championship in 1981 in Edmonton (Canada). Thereafter, the team won Silver three times (2001, 2005, 2012) and Bronze four times (1989, 1993, 2008, 2014), before winning its next title in 2016 in Midland (USA).

The Under-18 Championship went underway on February 22 and all games were played at Colquhoun Park in Palmerston North on the North Island of New Zealand. Back in 1994, the Netherlands Women's Softball Team played two games there during a trip across the North Island. In total, the Netherlands women's team then played 18 games, including five against the National Team of New Zealand. Only two members of that group are still active. One is pllayer Mary-Ann Hatt, who is now a coach. The other is official scorer Marco Stoovelaar, who then was with the team as its media officer, cameraman and scorekeeper. During the New Zealand-trip, the Orange Team was coached by Ruud Elfers (Head Coach), Don Wedman (Assistant Coach) and Ton Hendriks (Pitching Coach). In Palmerston North, the Netherlands played two games against Manawatu and won 16-2 and 1-0.

Last year, the WBSC Men's Softball World Championship in Prague (Czech Republic) ended with an exciting Final between Argentina and Japan. The game needed ten innings and it was Argentina that captured the title for the first time by winning 3-2. The younger men softball-athletes of these countries also played very well in New Zealand, which next year will host the 17th WBSC Men's Softball World Cup in Auckland.

Twelve countries participated in the Under-18 Championship, divided into two groups of six teams. In Pool A, Australia remained unbeaten (5-0) and qualified with Argentina (3-2) and the Czech Republic (3-2) for the Super Round. The remaining three teams in this Pool, Canada (2-3), Singapore (2-3) and South Africa (0-5), continued the tournament in the Placement Round. In Pool B, it was Japan that dominated and won its five games. Joining the Asian team to the Super Round were New Zealand (4-1) and Guatemala (3-2). Mexico (2-3), the USA (1-4) and Denmark (0-5) failed to finish in the top-3 and went to the Placement Round.

The Super Round and Placement Round went underway on Thursday. Japan recorded a convincing 8-1 win against Argentina in five innings, while Australia shutout Guatemala, 13-0. At that moment, it was clear that Japan and Australia would be the favorites to reach the Final. On Friday, the two strong teams faced each other and Japan won 5-2. On Saturday, Japan won 8-1 in five innings against the Czech Republic to stay unbeaten and finish in first place in the Super Round. Australia took second place after winning 2-0 against host New Zealand.

...Jakub Osička dominated for the Czechs in the...
...Bronze Medal-game and threw an one-hitter...
(© Photo: WBSC)
The Czech Republic and Argentina (World Champion in 2012 and 2014) also played a good tournament. The Czechs opened the Super Round with an 8-2 win against New Zealand, then shutout Guatemala, 10-0, before facing Japan. After losing its opener against Japan, Argentina outscored New Zealand, 7-3 and won 8-1 against Guatemala.

On Sunday, the Bronze Medal-game between the Czech Republic and Argentina was a pitching-duel from the beginning. Czech pitcher Jakub Osička struckout 13 batters, walked two and gave up only one basehit. Argentinian pitcher Franco Saenz also struckout 13 batters, but he walked four and also gave up four basehits.

The Czechs won 2-0 to win their first-ever medal at a Men's Softball World Championship after having finished in seventh place in the last two Championships. Both runs were scored in the top of the second inning. After Saenz had struckout the first two batters, TadeŠš Kalčv singled and Jan VorŠček walked. Next batter VŪt KočŪ delivered a runscoring single that brought in Kalčv, while VorŠček advanced to third base. With Kalčv at first base as temporary runner for KočŪ, a great double-steal situation followed. Kalčv took off from first base, drawing a throw from the catcher, while VorŠček took distance from third base. At the moment, the Argentinian second baseman started to throw the ball to first base, instead of back to the catcher, VorŠček speed up towards the plate and scored the second Czech run.

Jakub Osička retired the first twelve batters he faced (nine strikeouts). His Perfect Game ended in the bottom of the fifth when he walked lead-off hitter Juan Etchevers, but Osička eliminated the next three batters (two more strikeouts). The No-Hitter ended in the sixth, thanks to Osička's colleague Saenz. Eloy Capdeboscq led off with a walk. Hereafter, Franco Saenz grounded to deep short for an infield-hit. With a 2-0 lead and two Argentinian runners on base, the game was now clearly on the line. A bunt-attempt failed and was caught by Osička. The two runners then advanced on a grounder to raise the suspense. But the inning ended when Capdeboscq tried to score on a wild pitch, as he was eliminated at the plate. In the bottom of the seventh, Osička retired the side again (two more strikeouts) to seal the win.

...Stefan Slinger...
(© Ph: Marco Stoovelaar)
Dutch international scorer Stefan Slinger was one of the three Official Scorers in the Bronze Medal-game, the others being Lynette Leathart (New Zealand) and Kirsty Andrews (Australia). Slinger was one of two Dutch officials in this tournament, as Mariana Prins was one of the umpires, but she had no assignment in the two final games. Initially, Marco Stoovelaar also was appointed as one of the international scorers for this World Cup, but unfortunately, he was unable to travel to New Zealand.

In the Final, Japan initially faced an early 2-0 deficit. In the first inning, defending champion Australia opened the score on a single by Hayden Shaw, then doubled the lead in the second at bat when Caleb Van De Griendt homered. Japan cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the second inning when Rui Mimoto hit an inside-the-park-homerun.

From the third inning on, Japan turned the game its way by scoring three runs. Masaru Nishimori and Masaya Ohashi led off with singles. But hereafter, pitcher Jeremy Garland struckout the next two batters. However, the runners advanced on a wild pitch during the second strikeout. They then scored when Rui Mimoto followed with a single to put Japan ahead. Mimoto was able to score himself also, as an outfield-error followed.

...Japan celebrates winning the World-title...
(© Photo: WBSC)
In the fourth inning, Japan scored four runs to decide the game. With one out and two runners on base, Masaru Nishimori homered to deep leftfield to lift the lead to 7-2. Hereafter, Jack Besgrove took over the Australian pitching. But he was greeted with a double by Masaya Ohashi, who advanced to third base on an error. He then scored when a fielder's choice-grounder by next batter Hitto Nagayoshi didn't result in an out. Nagayoshi advanced on a single by Ayato Iseki and after a double-steal, he scored the ninth run on a sacrifice fly by Rui Mimoto.

Koki Yagi, who went the distance for Japan, then gave up a 2-out single to Joshua Banks in the top of the fifth inning. But he then struckout the next batter to end the game.

Final Standings:
1. Japan, 2. Australia, 3. Czech Republic, 4. Argentina, 5. New Zealand, 6. Guatemala, 7. Canada, 8. Mexico, 9. Singapore, 10. South Africa, 11. USA, 12. Denmark.

All World Team:
Pitcher-Jakub Osička (Czech Republic), Catcher-Luciano Biondi (Argentina), 1st Base-Adam Buchner (Czech Republic), 2nd Base-Hitto Nagayoshi (Japan), 3rd Base-Riley James (Australia), Short Stop-Jeremy Garlan (Australia), Outfield-Joshua Banks (Australia), Joshua Routledge (Australia) and Kai Yamamoto (Japan), Designated Hitter-Dylan Jackson (New Zealand).

Hitto Nagayoshi (Japan) was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

(March 1)

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