Home British baseball Great Britain aim for World Baseball Classic in Sunday night qualifier versus Israel

Great Britain aim for World Baseball Classic in Sunday night qualifier versus Israel

by Matt Smith

Long distance drivers and those operating heavy machinery can be exempt, but for every other type of British baseball fan let’s agree on one thing: your boss/teacher won’t be too upset if you’re a little tired just for one Monday at work/school.

First pitch for Great Britain’s game against Israel is set for just after 23.00 BST and it’s one you’re not going to want to miss. A win would see GB qualify for the full World Baseball Classic tournament for the first time. The game is being streamed live, for free, on worldbaseballclassic.com.

Great Britain’s 4-3 victory over Brazil in the early hours of Sunday morning, UK time, was a thriller and we can expect more of the same tonight.

Chris Reed battled brilliantly on the mound, getting into a few scrapes but finding his way out of them during his 4.2 innings pitched, none more so than the stunning back-to-back strike-outs to get out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth inning.

The Brazil win was set up by a convincing 14-0 victory against Pakistan, who were always likely to be the tournament underdogs. Greg Hendrix followed up his good pitching in the Euros with four shut-out innings and the British bats kept adding on runs after a score-less first frame.

Great Britain’s 5-2 loss to Israel in the first game put their backs against the wall, but that has seemed to bring out the best in them. It was a close game that could have gone either way, with Michael Roth pitching superbly over his six innings, before Israel got to the British bullpen – with a few fortunate bounces along the way – to edge it.

Israel were able to throw experienced Major League pitchers at GB in the form of Jason Marquis, Josh Zeid and Craig Breslow.

They deliberately kept all three below the 50-pitch mark so that they could play in the final qualifier; however, the British hitters now have the benefit of having seen them from the batter’s box only a few days ago. They’ll know what’s coming at them from the pitcher’s mound and the speedsters will also have a better idea of what they do from the stretch to help in reading potential pick-offs at first base.

That’s not to downplay the challenge in front of GB though. GB Head Coach Liam Carroll doesn’t have the luxury of sending a 15-MLB season veteran like Marquis to the mound and instead will be trusting in Spencer Kreisberg, who earns his living as a High School PE teach in California.

Yet this is what ‘the GB way’ is all about. Kreisberg helped the Southampton Mustangs capture their first ever National Baseball League title this summer. He’s already seen teammate Rei Martinez strike out ex-Major Leaguers Nate Freiman and Ike Davis back-to-back in the first encounter between the two teams, whilst another Mustang Maikel Azcuy got himself a pinch-hit double against Pakistan.

The commitment and passion showed by all the GB players is great to see, but it’s extra special to see guys who have played for British teams on such a big stage.

Given the pitching options open to Israel, and the potential power they have in their line-up, it would be fair to peg them as slight favourites heading into this decisive game. The win against Brazil already means Great Britain have bettered their performance in the WBC qualifier four years ago, so whatever happens the team can be rightly proud of how they’ve done.

But GB have just played two ‘must win’ games and come out on the right side of both of them. Why not make it a fabulous three and book a place in South Korea next March?

Make sure you’re watching from 23.00 tonight to see if they can do it.

Reports of GB’s three games can be found on the BBF website.

Video highlights, and the full archived games, can be found on the WBC website.

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