Powered by two home runs from Nate Freiman, Israel built a 7-0 lead en route to defeating South Africa, 7-3, in the first game of the World Baseball Classic’s qualifying round on Wednesday in Jupiter, Florida.

Freiman, who plays minor league Class AA baseball for the San Diego Padres organization, went yard in the first and ninth innings.

“It’s the most people I’ve ever represented wearing a jersey and I’m willing to bet for most people on the team, it’s the same way,” Freiman said after the round-opening win.

“You could see the energy in the crowd.”

Team Israel, who had hoped to employ MLB stars such as Ryan Braun, Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler, was forced to stock its roster with mostly minor-leaguers like Freiman after the qualifiers were moved up to September, as the Major League season is still proceeding.

“Once the qualifier was moved to September as opposed to November, in my mind, [Freiman] was our three- or four-hole hitter,” Israel manager Brad Ausmus said.

South Africa’s starting pitcher Dylan Unsworth allowed just five hits while striking out six over six innings, drawing high praise from Ausmus and the rest of his crew, but Team Israel’s pitchers, including starter Eric Berger, stifled South Africa’s lineup for most of the night.

“He came right at us,” Ausmus said of Unsworth.

“He threw strikes. He wasn’t intimidated.

“It was a very tight ballgame for the great majority of it.”

Reliever Josh Zeid kept the momentum in Israel’s favor. Zeid, who played this year with Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros organization, entered in the bottom of the sixth with runners at second and third with one out, a onerun lead and the heart of South Africa’s lineup due up.

Zeid struck out three-hole hitter Jonathan Phillips, intentionally walked Shannon Ekermans and induced an infield popout from Brett Willemburg to escape the jam and allow the entire Israeli roster to breath a sigh of relief.

“Huge difference. Not only is it a big difference in terms of the scoreboard, it could be a big momentum shift,” Ausmus said.

“Zeid’s inning-plus there was probably the turning point of the game for us.”

Israel will face next against either Spain or France tonight, and the winner of the four-team bracket advances to the next phase of the international tournament in March 2013.

If Israel advances past the qualifying round, several current Jewish MLB stars may join the team, including Youkilis, Braun, and Kinsler.

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