Israel’s under-16 national baseball team won the silver medal at the PONY Tournament in Prague last weekend, falling to a strong Czech Academy team in the finals. The second-place finish matches the team’s 2013 achievement at the same European tournament.
The team, led by head coach Amit Kurz, assistant coach Tal Erel and pitching coach Orr Gottlieb, and managed by Yaron Erel, started the tournament with an exceptionally strong performance against a weak Russian team from St. Petersburg, the North Stars, on Thursday April 17. Starting pitcher Yotam Ben Amram ended the top of the first inning quickly with two strikeouts and one ground out. Team Israel started strongly with a double and a triple by Yoav Halper, two doubles by Yotam, and doubles by Yoav Meoded and Noam Kalisar, enabling Israel to end the first inning with a lead of 11:0.
Assaf Lowengart relieved Yotam in the top of the second and allowed the Russians their only hit. Israel continued with strong hitting and little defensive resistance from the Russians, ending the game with a score of 27-0.
The second game of the tournament, last Friday, was against Belarus. Yotam opened the game with two strikeouts and a ground out to shortstop Noam. Noam started the bottom of the inning with a single to left field, and Assaf grounded out to first base but brought Noam in, enabling Israel to end the inning 1-0.
Yotam held the Belarus team off for another inning with no runs scored. Adam Miller came in to pitch in the third inning, also holding Belarus scoreless with a strikeout, fly out to left field and a ground out to shortstop. Israel scored eight runs in the bottom of the third, including a triple by Noam, singles by Assaf and Yotam and a bunt single by Hadar Sugarman. In the final inning, Israel scored two more runs to win 10-0 on a mercy rule.
Israel’s third game was its first real challenge, against the Czech Academy U15 team. Assaf started pitching with a walk, a fly out to right field, another walk and a line drive out to third base. Israel began the bottom of the inning well, with two runs scored by Noam and Assaf. Halper added another double before the inning ended with Israel leading 2-0.
The Czech team warmed up in the third inning, punishing Team Israel with eight runs. Israel started its at-bat with a triple by Halper. Yotam then walked and Adam stroked a double to score two runs to narrow the Czech team’s lead to 8-4. The Czechs continued adding runs in the fourth inning, and ended the game with a score of 10-4. This was the only game in the tournament Israel could afford to lose.
Team Israel’s quarterfinal game against Lithuania was crucial. It was also a rematch from last year’s quarterfinal game, when Israel fought back from a 9-5 deficit to win 10-9 in the bottom of the last inning with two outs. This year, Lithuania was anxious to avenge its defeat, but the team would have to wait.
Yotam started the game with a fly out to center field, a walk and then a ground out double play. In the bottom of the first, Noam walked, Assaf moved Noam to second base with a sacrifice bunt and Halper singled for an RBI. With bases loaded, Meoded hit a grand slam home run – the first grand slam for an Israeli team in international competition in many years. The Lithuanians scored one run in the second inning and Israel scored its sixth run in the bottom of the inning. Lithuania scored one more run, with Yotam pitching a complete five-inning game. Final score: 6-2 Israel, to advance to the semifinals.
Israel began Sunday with a semifinal against the English team London Mets, which beat Team Israel 10-5 two years ago. The game began well, with a triple by Noam, who then scored on an error on a throw into the dugout. Assaf singled, Halper singled, Yotam walked and Adam hit an RBI groundout. Meoded then singled and put Israel in the lead 3-0.
While playing strong defense, Team Israel also kept up the pressure, scoring another three runs en route to a 6-4 victory and its second championship game in two years – an outstanding achievement.
The championship game on Sunday afternoon against the Czech Academy started with Michael Goldberg pitching. The Israeli team held the strong Czech team to a 1-1 tie at the end of the first inning, with Adam Miller scoring for Israel. However, a relentless barrage of strong batting from the Europeans, coupled with hermetic defense, left Israel with few answers. The Czechs quickly ran up 17 runs, to win the championship.