THUNDER BAY – Team Canada is still in the hunt for a Baseball World Cup championship.
The host squad on Wednesday sent 14 batters to the plate in the seventh inning, plating 10 runs that turned a close contest into a laugher, their 15-3 win over Nicaragua securing them a spot in the three-day Super Round that will decide which teams play for the title.
Jason Willow and Victor Cerny homered for Canada, Cerny’s three-run, seventh-inning shot putting his team beyond the 10-run mercy rule limit – a 1-2-3 effort by reliever Michael Stovman ending the game a couple of innings ahead of schedule.
The win earns Canada an immediate date with the United States on Thursday at 6 p.m. Games against Japan on Friday and Cuba on Saturday follow.
“It’s exactly what we needed to go into the second round, especially tonight after an exclamation point, a big win like this, putting up a lot of runs,” said Willow, who went 3-for-4, scoring twice with a pair of RBI.
“I think we’re ready for tomorrow night against the USA. It’s going to be a good second round and it’s going to be exciting.”
The decisive inning couldn’t have come at a better time. Canada opened a 5-0 lead through three innings, but after a strong start, pitcher Griffin Hassall struggled in the fourth and fifth, the Nicaraguans stringing together a series of hits and walks to close the gap to two.
Stovman, who started the game at first, led off with a single. Willow and Cerny reached to load the bases and Denzel Clarke ripped a two-run double that hugged the right-field line.
Up 9-3 after a wild pitch and Marc-Antoine Lebreux single, Edouard Julien slammed a double off the outfield wall to score one more.
Archer Brookman appeared to hit a three-run home run, but the ball bounced back onto the field after hitting the top of the fence and the umpires ruled it a two-run triple. It mattered not.
After Stovman walked to put runners on the corners, Cerny connected off Nicaraguan reliever Gonzalez Miranda to push the game into mercy territory.
“It’s a great feeling, especially that being my first Team Canada home run,” Cerny said. “It’s a great feeling to do it in this atmosphere.”
Moving on is a fantastic feeling, he added, especially after Canada started the tournament with losses to Chinese Taipei and Korea.
“We faced two good teams right off the start. We gave it our all, but it just didn’t go our way,” Cerny said. “Toward the end we started hitting the ball more and it turned our way.”
Canadian manager Greg Hamilton said it’s good to see his players getting loose and having fun – and winning ballgames.
“They’re excited, we cross over 1-1 and we couldn’t be in a better spot,” Hamilton said.
The Super Round is a three-game round robin, with the top three teams from each group advancing and playing each of the teams in the other group. Each team carries over the record against advancing teams in the group stage.
In Canada’s case, that’s a win against Australia and a loss to Korea.
The Koreans and U.S. will start 2-0, Canada and Japan 1-1 and Australia and Cuba bring up the rear at 0-2.
The teams with the top two records after the Super Round play for gold on Sunday, the next two taking part in the bronze-medal game.