Two straight wins for Israel to open European Championship in Germany

Blue-and-white ekes out walk-off conquest of Sweden after downing Czech Republic, in good position to advance to Olympic qualifying tournament.

Israel playing at the 2019 European Baseball Championship in Germany, September 2019   (photo credit: MARGO SUGARMAN)
Israel playing at the 2019 European Baseball Championship in Germany, September 2019
(photo credit: MARGO SUGARMAN)
After beating the Czech Republic 6-1 on Saturday in its debut at the European Baseball Championship in Bonn, Germany, Israel followed that up with a 4-3 walk-off victory over Sweden on Sunday.
Eric Holtz’s blue-and-white got on the board in the second inning, while the Swedes knotted things up at one in the fourth on a home run by Nicholas Filice. Israeli pitcher Eric Brodkowitz’s three consecutive balks gave Sweden another run and they tacked on another in the seventh on a sacrifice fly.
Sweden’s two-run lead held up until the ninth inning, but Jacob Syren couldn’t close things out. Singles by Israel’s Nick Rickles and Danny Valencia, combined with a throwing error, a walk and a wild pitch helped Israel tie the contest at three.
With runners on second and third base, the Swedish team decided to intentionally walk Robb Paller and load the bases. The strategy came back to bite them when a four-pitch walk gave Israel the dramatic triumph.
Meanwhile, from a look at the box score, Israel’s win over the Czech Republic on Saturday was a lopsided victory. The blue-and-white out-hit its opponent 13-6 and outscored it by five runs without giving up an earned run.
But what makes baseball great is the story hidden beneath the numbers. The Czechs took advantage of Israel’s early-game jitters to push across a run in the opening frame. Two innings later, Blake Gailen displayed the same MVP form he showed in this summer’s previous tournament, tying the game with a solo home run.
However, the game remained a test of nerves with neither team scoring and Team Israel’s terrific pitching staff bending but never breaking. They held the Czechs in check by extinguishing several scoring threats, with catcher Rickles repeatedly digging balls out of the dirt with men in scoring position, a contribution that doesn’t show up in game stats.
The 1-1 nail-biter continued into the seventh, when Rickles  hit a bases-clearing double for three runs and Valencia singled him home to give Israel a commanding 5-1 lead.
But a steady rain that had been falling stopped the game. Had it continued, Israel’s four go-ahead runs would have been washed away. When the rain stopped and play resumed it was the Czechs who now threatened, putting two men on base in the in the bottom of the inning. The field was also slick now – but not as slick as shortstop Zach Penprase who atoned for an earlier misplay with a brilliant web gem to quash the rally.
Israel still must face Germany, Great Britain and Germany over the next three days. If the blue-and-white winds up in the top five in Bonn, it will advance to the WBSC Olympic Qualifier Europe-Africa tournament in Parma, Italy, beginning on September 18.
Finishing first in Italy would land Israel in next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.