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JNT storms back in ninth to beat Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba – The Junior National Team got their offence going when it mattered most as Canada scored four in the top of the ninth to erase a two run deficit and hold on for the 5-3 win over Cuba in game three of the exhibition series.

The JNT was down to its last out in the top of the ninth with runners on first and second, down 3-1, when Jeff Hunt (Cambridge, ON) laced a double down the right field line to bring in both Wes Darvill (Langley, BC) and Brandon Dailey (Brantford, ON) to tie the game at three.

“I was actually pretty nervous going into it,” admits Hunt. “I’ve been working on slowing things down and simplifying my approach and that’s all I was focusing on. The first pitch I felt I was still a little quick, but (Carlos Martinez) gave me another fastball and I was able to place it perfectly down the line.”

Then, Adam Nelubowich (Stoney Plain, AB) drove in Hunt with the winning run with a second consecutive double and put the Canadians ahead 4-3.

After an intentional walk to Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC), Jordan Boston (Brampton, ON) drove in Nelubowich for the fifth Canadian run with a double of his own, but the inning ended when Deglan was caught going too far at third and was tagged out to end the inning.

From there, Evan Rutckyj (Windsor, ON) shut things down after giving up a leadoff walk to Guillermo Heredia. He got Julio Gongora to ground out, Yandy Diaz to line out and Daniel Carbonnell to ground out to end the game.

“I thought we pitched well for the most part today and we played well defensively and our hitting was able to come alive at the end,” says JNT Manager Greg Hamilton.

It was the JNT who got on the board first in this one and early. Darren Kolk (Duncan, BC) led off the top of the first with a walk, advanced to second on a walk to Nelubowich and moved up to third on an error. Daniel Altoe (Burnaby, BC) drove in Kolk with an RBI single and give Canada the 1-0 lead.

Paul Barton (Qualicum Beach, BC) got the start on the mound for the Canadians and was able to get out of trouble early as in both the first and second innings he let two runners on with less than two outs, but was able to escape both innings without allowing a run.

After a one hour rain delay in the middle of the third, Barton came out for the bottom half of the inning and was not as fortunate this time as Diaz would hit a leadoff double and come around to score on a fielder’s choice, tying the game 1-1.

Barton would recover for the rest of his outing, allowing only one base runner for the remaining two innings he was on the mound. All together, Barton allowed one run, which was unearned, on three hits and four walks while striking out four in five innings of work.

“Overall I thought I pitched well today,” says Barton. “I was able to manage the strike zone better than my last start, so I thought today was pretty good.”

The Cubans would break the tie in the sixth inning against Canadian reliever Brian Smith (Pickering, ON). Lander Pedraja drew a walk, stole second and was waved in to home on a single to left from Anibal Medina. But Altoe’s throw was off line, allowing Pedraja to score and give Cuba a 2-1 lead.

Almost the exact same play happened later when Heredia hit a single to left and Medina was being waved in, only this time Altoe’s throw sailed high and Medina scored to make it 3-1.

The JNT had only three hits and struck out a combined 11 times until the heroics of Hunt and Nelubowich in the ninth gave Canada the comeback win.

“It felt great putting one in the win column today,” says Barton. “It’s great to see these guys... we’ve been struggling a little bit lately so this is good.”

The Junior National Team and Cuba face off again for game four of the Cuban exhibition series on Monday, July 6th at 2 PM at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana.