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JNT loses final two games of exhibition series

HAVANA, Cuba – The Junior National Team allowed three earned runs in the finale of the Cuban exhibition series, however 16 runs came across the plate for Cuba as they would go on to defeat the Canadians by a score 16-9 in the sixth and final game of the series.

Four errors and several misplays in routine situations opened the door for the Cubans who would score five runs in the fourth inning, only one of which was earned, and then seven in the ninth inning, again only one of which was earned.

However, the Canadians and Cubans had to play three innings prior to the finale to complete the suspended game from yesterday.

At the end of play yesterday, the Cubans were ahead 3-0 at the end of six innings. In the bottom of the seventh, Cuba put the game to bed with a four spot to take a 7-0 lead as they would go on to win by that exact score.

In the finale, it was an early tit-for-tat scoring but the wheels fell off in the fourth and again in the ninth to put out any Canadian resurgence.

The Cubans opened the scoring in the top of the first when Julio Gongora reached on a dropped third strike, advanced to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on a RBI single from Anibal Medina to take the 1-0 lead.

The Canadians responded immediately in the bottom of the frame when Darren Kolk (Duncan, BC) drove in his first of four RBI in the game with a single to score Ryan Clarke (Mississauga, ON) to tie the game at ones.

In the bottom of the second inning, the JNT took the lead when Kolk drew a bases loaded walk, the fourth of the inning drawn by the Canadians, to take a 2-1 lead.

But then in the top of the fourth, with one out and the bases loaded, Canadian starter Jake Eliopoulos (Newmarket, ON) got Onel Vega to ground into what could have been an inning ending double play, but shortstop Brandon Dailey (Brantford, ON) could not hold on to the ball and everyone was safe which also allowed the tying run to score. 

That was the only opening the Cubans needed as they would follow that play with an RBI ground out, a two-run double and another RBI double to make the score 6-2.

Cuba would increase its lead in the fifth. Lander Pedraja led off by reaching on a Kevin Biro (Bowser, BC) error and Daniel Carbonnell was hit by a pitch from Canadian reliever Joel Pierce (Windsor, ON). This allowed Vega to hit a two-run triple to put his team ahead 8-2.

The Canadians started to chip away at the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Jeff Hunt (Cambridge, ON) hit a two out single and Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, BC) followed with a RBI double to bring it to 8-3.

That lead was cut in half in the bottom of the sixth when Clarke hit a one out double and, after a walk to Dailey; Kolk drove in his third run of the game with a single to make it 8-4.

“I’ve been seeing the ball really well and over the last couple of games it’s really picked up,” says Kolk, who went 2-for-4 with a pair of walks. “It’s been easy to adjust lately because I’ve been seeing the ball so well.”

The Cubans got that run back in the top of the seventh when Guillermo Heredia drove in Carbonnell, who reached on an error, with a RBI single to Cuba ahead by five.

It would once again become a four run game in the bottom of the eighth when Chris Robinson (Uxbridge, ON), who reached on an error, would come in to score on another error to make it 9-5.

But in the top of the ninth the flood gates opened. With a runner on second and one out, Dailey committed his second error of the game which opened the door for four more hits, including a two-run double in the second at-bat of the inning for Alain Lagos to put the game out of reach 16-5.

The Canadians however did not go away quietly. In the bottom of the ninth, Hunt led off the inning by being hit by a pitch. Wick and Ryan Johnson (Winnipeg, MB) followed with back-to-back singles to load the bases. Clarke then drew a bases loaded walk to bring in Hunt to make it 16-6. 

Kolk made it 16-7 by drawing his own bases loaded walk, then Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC) reached on an error which allowed Johnson to score and Clarke came around when Jordan Boston (Brampton, ON) was hit by a pitch to make it 16-9, but that was all the Canadian could get.

Although the Canadian offence was able to break out by scoring nine runs on ten hits in this game, they also left a total of 15 runners on base.

“At the end of the day, we extended two innings which killed us,” says JNT Manager Greg Hamilton. “We had opportunities to convert routine plays and we didn’t play catch. If you don’t play catch and turnover routine plays and make double plays you’re going to pay for it and we did.”

Now the Junior National Team is on its way back to Canada and Hamilton will have some tough decisions to make and some more scouting to do prior to the World Junior Baseball Championship in Thunder Bay in just over a year’s time.

“The experience the players gained here is invaluable,” says Hamilton. “We have a pretty good idea of the needs we’ve got to address and you can’t hide in this type of schedule. But I think we’re going to be pretty competitive come next summer.”

The Junior National Team will now disband and head back to their club teams across the country. The next time they will reunite will be for the Fall Instructional League camp in Orlando, Florida in October.