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Cuba’s early offence enough to top JNT

HAVANA, Cuba – Runs in the first three innings was enough for Cuba to put away the Junior National Team, whose offence came mostly from one player today in a 5-1 defeat in game four of the Cuban exhibition series.

The Canadians put up five hits in the contest, three of them off the bat of Darren Kolk (Duncan, BC) who went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and drove in the only Canadian run.

“Usually it take two hits in a row to get things going,” says Kolk of the Canadian offence. “One hit is not enough when the next three guys are grounding out. We just need to piece things together and have good at-bats all the way through.”

The Cubans opened the scoring in the top of the first when a line drive comebacker hit Canadian starter Jonathan Paquet (Ancienne Lorette, QC) in the leg with runners on the corners, allowing Eduardo De Oca to score for Cuba and take a 1-0 lead. Paquet was down for a few minutes, but was able to stay in the game.

In the top of the second, the Cubans doubled their lead when Yaidy Gainza hit a leadoff double and scored on a sacrifice fly from Lazaro Ramirez to make it 2-0.

Errors came into play in the third inning for the Canadians. With Anibal Medina on first with a leadoff walk, Victor Rivas reached on an error from Jeff Hunt (Cambridge, ON) allowing Medina to move to third. This allowed Jose C. Gonzalez to bring in Medina on a fielder’s choice to give Cuba the 3-0 lead.

Gonzalez would then move up to second on an error by Kevin Biro (Bowser, BC), which proved costly as Alej Garcia would drive him in with an RBI single and give the Cubans a four run lead.

After Ramirez singled to put runners on the corners with one out in the fourth inning, that was the end for Paquet. Nicholas Pivetta (Victoria, BC) came in relief and was able to get out of the jam by getting De Oca to pop out and Medina to hit into the fielder’s choice to end the inning.

Pivetta would then take control for the JNT on the mound, throwing 4-1/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits and a walk while recording four strikeouts, keeping his team in the ball game.

“Today was way better for me,” says Pivetta of his performance. “I threw the ball way better, let the hitters hit it and get ground balls. Just keeping it simple.”

With the score now 5-0 in the bottom of the ninth, the JNT offence started to show some signs of life and showed perhaps some glimpses of another comeback when Biro reached on an error to leadoff the inning and Kolk drove him in with his second double of the game to make it 5-1. But it was too little too late for Canada as the next three batters would make the final three outs and give the Cubans the win.

In all, the JNT got five hits in the ball game. They stranded 11 runners and struck out a combined 12 times.

“I’m not discouraged and I’m not disappointed,” says JNT Manager Greg Hamilton of his team. “We need a little bit of a better effort, especially early in the ball game, but after a while I thought the game settled in pretty good.”

The Junior National Team and Cuba will meet again for game five of the Cuban exhibition series on Tuesday, July 7 at 2 PM at the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana.