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Juniors humbled in Cuba Series opener

Guines, Cuba – Cuba pounded out 18 hits en-route to a 14-3 drubbing of the Junior National Team in the opener of the 9-game Cuban Summer Series.

“Internationally, these guys (Cuba) are the standard because they compete so well,” said JNT Manager Greg Hamilton (Ottawa, ON) after the game. “The competitive nature of the Cubans when they play together as a team is something that I think, until you’ve seen it, you’re not really used to it.”

The JNT had an opportunity to put some runs on the board in the first inning after Justin Marra (Toronto, ON) singled home Jacob Robson (Windsor, ON) with the bases loaded and nobody out. However, the Cuban pitcher countered with three straight strikeouts and the threat was over.

“We had a chance to get to their pitcher in the first inning and didn’t do enough damage,” continued Hamilton. “You get an opportunity against a good arm like that - you’ve got to score more than one run and we didn’t do so.”

JNT starter Ryan Kellogg (Whitby, ON) cruised through two innings before Cuba put two runs on the board in the 3rd inning by virtue of a ground-rule double that scored a run and a sacrifice-fly to put the Cubans on top.

The Juniors would even the score in the 4th when Johnny Caputo (Toronto, ON) walked with the bases loaded to score Marra. Earlier, Marra singled for his second of three hits in the game.

The bottom of the inning saw Cuba score three times to regain the lead, and set off a string of five consecutive innings where they would score at least a run.

Kellogg’s day ended after the 4th inning and his line saw him give up 5 runs (3 earned) on 10 hits, 2 walks and 2 strikeouts.

Roberto Suppa (Connor, ON) was called into duty in the 5th when Michael Clouthier (Guelph, ON), who started the inning, had to leave after suffering discomfort in his shoulder.  Clouthier had already given up a walk and a triple, which scored a run, and left with a 2-2 count on a batter.

Suppa threw two balls to walk the batter he took over for and walked the next batter to put two on with one out. After a line-out to Jerod Bartnik (Surrey, BC) in left field, Caputo fielded a grounder and touched third to end the inning.

Cuba would continue to roll by scoring three runs in the 6th, one in the 7th and three more in the 8th.

“Pitching-wise we didn’t throw enough strikes and we were sloppy defensively,” explained Hamilton. “We weren’t as clean as we needed to be.”

Caputo smoked a double to right-centre to lead-off the 7th inning and then advanced to third base on a wild-pitch. Brody Hawkins (Delta, BC) then lifted a fly ball that the centre fielder dropped, which allowed Caputo to score.

Jake Hansen (Fort Macleod, AB) gave up and run in the 7th and Logan Seifrit (Spruce Grove, AB) allowed three more in the 8th before Cuba closed out the game in the 9th inning.

After the game, Hamilton held a lengthy discussion with his players, preaching the value of being able to compete to achieve success at the international level.

“The biggest lesson for our guys, is we have to go out there and match their compete level, because these guys (Cuba) are not going to slow down, they are going to keep bringing it.”

Notes: The JNT face a doubleheader on Tuesday (July 5th) at Heroes de Mayabeque Stadium in Guines…Skylar Janisse (Maidstone, ON) will start game one while Clayton Isherwood (Van Anda, BC) will take the mound in game two…Caputo, Hawkins, Daniel Pinero (Toronto, ON) and Jamar Burnette (Toronto, ON) all made their JNT debut today…the game took 3 hours and 5 minutes to complete…The game was played in front a few hundred fans, which mainly included children…The Cuba Summer Series is an important step in the process as the JNT will attempt to qualify for the 2012 World Junior Baseball Championship (scheduled for Seoul, South Korea) at the Americas World Junior Qualification Tournament in Cartagena, Colombia from September 23rd - October 2nd, 2011.