By Gabriel Fidler
ZÜRICH – No. 14-ranked Ukraine took an early lead against Poland in the final day of pool play at the European B-Level Championships and survived a late comeback to win 10-7. The victory qualifies Ukraine for a championship game appearance, while Poland, rated 19th, finishes 2-3.
Andriy Kubalskyi put Ukraine on the board in the second inning with a line drive down the right field line that the fleet-footed number three hitter stretched for three bases. The triple scored Enver Lyumanov and gave starting pitcher Anatoliy Korolov all the momentum he needed in the early innings.
The blue-and-yellow added more in the third, as Sergii Tykhonets singled and stole second with one out. After a walk and a single loaded the bases, it appeared that Artur Strzalka would get out of the jam with a big strikeout of Lyumanov.
Ivan Cherepanov had other ideas, though, ripping a two-run single to centre and advancing on the throw. Ukraine’s catcher would score on a fielding error for a 5-0 advantage.
Korolov continued mowing down Poland’s hitters, allowing only one hit in the first four innings. Ukraine’s offence continued to pile up the runs, adding two more in the fourth on a balk and a RBI-single by Roman Lopata.
Poland finally had a chance to score in the fifth, but left the bases loaded after Korolov struck out the last two batters of the frame. A double by a red-hot Ruslan Deikun plated Ukraine’s eighth run in the bottom of the inning, and it appeared that the blue-and-yellow would win easily.
Korolov began to run out of fuel in the seventh after retiring the first two hitters. Miliusz Paprocki singled, took second on a walk, and came around to score on a single by Maciej Wroblewski. Piotr Mikolajczyk pinch hit and stroked a RBI-single and Dominik Golubiewski followed with a two-run double to cut the lead to 8-4. A strikeout would end the threat, but Poland had finally solved Korolov.
Ukraine got one run back in the seventh on an error and a run-scoring safety by Deikun, but Poland set to work again in the bottom of the inning.
Despite having already thrown 127 pitches, Korolov started the eighth and was greeted by a bouncer up the middle by Mariusz Paprocki. After walking Przemyslav Paluch, Oleh Bovko finally yanked Korolov and inserted Sergii Shtapura, who had a chance at a double play, but a grounder to short was booted to load the bases.
The scorching Miliusz Paprocki ripped a single to right, and Poland was suddenly only down 9-5. Grzanowski, who had reached on the error, would score on a sacrifice fly by Wroblewski, but the red-and-white was not finished. Mikolajczyk laced a double into the gap in left centre, and Ukraine’s lead was shrunk to two. Shtapura finally buckled down and induced a flyout to end the rally, but Poland now trailed 9-7.
Ukraine would add an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth on a series of Polish miscues. Oleksandr Mamontov reached on an infield single to the left side, and moved to second on an ill-advised throw by the shortstop to try and get the out. With one down, Mamontov took off for third and raced all the way home after an errant toss by Paluch sailed down the left field line.
Poland had one final chance to narrow the deficit and had a runner on third in the ninth, but Shtapura prevented any more damage and the blue-and-yellow had their third Euros win in five tries.
Strzalka took the loss after surrendering six earned runs on nine hits and five walks in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out four and threw 108 pitches. John Dobkowski finished off the contest with 3 1/3 frames, giving up five hits and no earned runs, whiffing one. Poland’s defence did the team in, with six errors and four unearned runs.
Ukraine did only slightly better in the field, committing a pair of miscues which led to two unearned runs. Korolov ate up seven-plus innings, with a final pitching line of nine hits, four walks, five runs, and six strikeouts that does not do justice to his strong performance. Shtapura hurled two frames, allowing three hits and no earned runs.
Poland pounded out 12 hits and took four walks. Miliusz Paprocki had another banner day with three hits and two RBIs, with Wroblewski and Mikolajczyk joining him as leaders in the latter category. Mikolajczyk was the only other member of the red-and-white with a hitting brace. Golubiewski’s double was his fifth extra-base hit of the tourney, giving him a .737 slugging percentage, first overall.
Six different hitters for Ukraine had a pair of safeties, though Deikun was the statistical leader with a double and a single, a brace of RBIs, two walks, and a stolen base. The first baseman is hitting .429 and is among the leaders in RBIs (6, tied for second), hits (9, tied for first), doubles (3, tied for first), extra base hits (4, tied for first), and slugging percentage (.667, second). Lyumanov went 2-for-5, dropping his average to .500, still second among all batters in the tournament.
Cherepanov was the unsung hero for Ukraine. While contributing only one hit, which did score two runs, he handled 10 outs flawlessly, assisting on four and throwing out all three runners that attempted to steal.
Ukraine’s performance, coupled with a loss by Bulgaria, moved them from a tie for third in the table to second, qualifying them for a place in the championship game against No. 5 Great Britain. The winner-takes-all contest commences at noon GMT on 27 July, with a live box score by EasyScore.
Stay tuned to Extra Innings for coverage of the championship game.