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‘Double-header force’ U-18s fall to Japan 1-7 in Super Round…Finals challenge ‘yellow light’

A grueling schedule saw the Korea U-18 Baseball Team get swept by Japan in the first game of the Super Round.

The Korea U-18 Baseball Team, led by Lee Young-bok (Chungam-go), fell to Japan 1-7 in the first game of the Super Round of the 2023 World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-18 Baseball World Cup in Taipei, Taiwan on Sunday.

South Korea’s lineup was Lee Chung-heon (center fielder-Chungam-Go), Jung Ahn-seok (second baseman-Hwimun-Go), Yeo Dong-gun (first baseman-Seoul-Go), Park Ji-hwan (shortstop), Lee Seung-min (left fielder-Hwimun-Go), Cho Hyun-min (third baseman-Chungam-Go), Lee Yul-ye (catcher-Gangneung-Go), Lee Sang-joon (designated hitter-Gyeonggi-Go), and Yeon Jun-won (right fielder-Busan-Go). The starting pitcher was Bae Chan-seung (Daegu).

Japan’s lineup was Ryusei Terachi (1B), Shuya Yamada (shortstop), Ren Ogata (2B), Haruto Morita (designated hitter), Yuzuki Nakayama (3B), Minato Maruta (center field), Shinnosuke Chibana (right field), Mikito Ogata (catcher), and Koga Hashimoto (left field). Yugo Maeda started on the mound.

South Korea had to play what was essentially a “doubleheader” on this day. The previous day’s final group game against Puerto Rico was suspended in the top of the third inning due to heavy rain, and Korea traveled from Taichung to Taipei to play the remainder of the game for the Super Round.

After play resumed, Korea finished second in the group with an 8-1 win over Puerto Rico, but they didn’t have much time to rest. While their situation was better than that of Puerto Rico, who prepared for their Super Round match against the Netherlands immediately after their last game of the preliminary round, the tight schedule was bound to require more stamina than usual.

Furthermore, Korea faced Japan in their first game. Young players, as well as adult players who are currently playing professionally, feel the pressure of playing against Japan whenever they go to an international tournament, and on this day, Korea felt the difference in quality between the two countries.

The Korean bats, which came into the game somewhat tired, struggled to find their groove against Japan’s Maeda. It was a far cry from the focused performance against Puerto Rico, where they were able to put together big innings.

In the first inning, Lee Chung-heon, Jung An-seok, and Yeo Dong-gun were retired on a strikeout, grounder, and fly ball to left field, respectively, and in the second inning, Park Ji-hwan flied out to right field, Lee Seung-min grounded out to shortstop, and Cho Hyun-min flied out to left field to end the inning. In the first and second innings, Maeda threw just seven and 12 pitches, respectively.

Japan, on the other hand, responded with a big inning, scoring three runs in the bottom of the second. Bae Chan-seung started the inning with runners on first and second before being hit by a pitch and advancing to third on a wild pitch. The next batter’s grounder to the shortstop allowed the runner from third to score, extending the gap to 3-0.

Korea looked to break through in the top of the third inning when Lee Sang-joon singled, but the next batter, Yeon Jun-won, threw cold water on it with a double. In the top of the fourth inning, Lee Chung-heon, Jeong An-seok, and Yeo Dong-gun all walked and had to return to the dugout.

If there was a chance for Korea to score, it was in the top of the fifth. Japan pulled Maeda and brought in their second pitcher, Mori Kodai, who led off the inning with a single up the middle before Lee Yul-ye singled to put runners in scoring position. However, Lee Sang-joon, who was hit by a pitch, flied out to center field to end the threat.

After five scoreless innings, Korea had another chance in the top of the sixth when Lee Chung-heon led off with a single and Jung Ahn-seok followed with a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Yeo Dong-gun singled to left after an eight-pitch at-bat, and with runners on second and third, Park Ji-hwan drove in Mori’s two-pitch at-bat to left, allowing Lee Chung-heon to cross home plate and give Korea its first run.

Japan didn’t sit idly by as Korea rallied. In the bottom of the sixth, leadoff hitter Maeda drove Bae Chan-seung off the mound with a single, and after Jeon Mir (Kyungbuk High) came on in relief, Ren Ogata singled, Jeon Mir walked, and Nakayama singled to put runners at 1-3.

Maruta’s grounder to the pitcher threw out Ren Ogata at third, but Chibana singled up the middle to bring home Nakayama and Maruta from second and third. Mikido Ogata followed with an RBI single to extend the lead to six runs.

In the top of the seventh, Lee Yul-ye calmly picked off four pitches to draw a walk, and Lee Sang-joon’s single seemed to keep a glimmer of hope alive, but after Yeon Jun-won’s catcher’s interference at first and second, Lee Chung-heon’s grounder to first ended the game without a run.

Bae Chan-seung, who struggled against the Japanese bats, took the loss after giving up four runs (two earned) on five hits and seven strikeouts in five innings, while Jeon Mirrors, the second pitcher on the mound, also struggled, giving up three runs on three hits and one walk in one inning. At the plate, Lee Sang-joon had the only multi-hit game with a 2-for-3 performance, but his efforts were overshadowed by the loss.

With the loss to Japan and Korea putting a yellow light on their ‘Challenge to the Finals’, Korea will look to turn things around in their second Super Round game against the United States on Aug. 8. Last year’s team, despite going undefeated in the Super Round at the tournament, failed to reach the final stage as a loss to the United States in the first game of the preliminary round counted against them, and they ended the tournament in fourth place with a 2-6 loss to Japan in the third-place game 온라인바카라.

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