Israel's national baseball team qualifies for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The Israeli team made history Sunday by defeating South Africa 11-1 in Italy, after beating the Netherlands on Thursday and tournament host Italy on Friday.

Team Israel qualifies for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (photo credit: screenshot)
Team Israel qualifies for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
(photo credit: screenshot)
PARMA - Israel’s national baseball team made history on Sunday by winning the six-team Europe/Africa Olympic qualifying tournament here, assuring itself a spot in the Tokyo Olympics in July.
This will be the first team sport that Israel will field in the Olympic Games since the national soccer team in 1976.
Starting on only three days of rest, Israeli ace Joey Wagman – who pitched a brilliant three-hit complete game shutout to open the tournament on Wednesday – carried the hopes of his teammates, and perhaps the entire country, as he took the mound against a South African nine that was determined to play the spoiler.
Wagman’s first few pitches were torched by the South Africans, but brilliant outfield play by centerfielder Blake Gailen and Rob Paller – who made a lunging grab of a ball hit over his head in left – amounted to nothing more than harmless outs. The sturdy team defense set the tone for a game in which every Israeli player found a way to contribute.
Israel got on the board in the second inning, as catcher Nick Rickles, who displayed outstanding defense and brute power at the plate throughout the tournament, drew the first of several walks to load the bases and motored home on Simon Rosenbaum’s shallow fly to right, his first of two sac flies.
This was followed by key RBIs by Gailen, whose bases-loaded single up the middle was kept in the infield by a great play by the South African shortstop. This should have saved a run, but Zach Penprase, who for two weeks had shown the instincts of a thoroughbred every time he got on base, would not be denied as he scored from second with decisive running and a perfect slide.
Other clutch hits with men in scoring position were delivered by Benny Wanger and Gailen – his second of two RBI hits – which put the game out of reach.
Yet it was fitting that Danny Valencia, Team Israel’s most prolific slugger throughout the tournament, would crush a three-run homer to put a final exclamation point on a team performance.
Valencia’s blast widened the lead to 10 runs, allowing Israel to celebrate an inning early if it could hold onto the margin when South Africa came up in the bottom of the eighth, due to the 10-run mercy rule.
With two outs and a runner on base, all eyes turned to veteran Israeli pitcher Shlomo Lipetz, who came on to induce the final out. Lipetz’s appearance was poetic justice. Not only has the Tel Aviv native represented Israel in international baseball for more than 30 years, but it was Lipetz’s inspirational speech that fired up a disheartened team after the previous night’s loss to the Czechs.
AB President and Team Israel GM Peter Kurz took pride in the incredible achievement which was the product of mixing homegrown talent with American Jews who idealistically became citizens to contribute to the Jewish state. Speaking with philanthropist Sylvan Adams, who called the clubhouse to congratulate the team which had benefited from his leadership and through Nefesh B’Nefesh’s help, Kurz was already focused on his next challenge: Tokyo 2020.