DURBAN, South Africa – After three days of early South Africa leads on the way to offensive outbursts from both sides, France waited until the game’s final frame to win the pitching duel, 5-4. The walkoff win tied the series at two, with the series shifting to Cape Town for the final three games.
Kyle Townend and Jonathan Mottay, both of whom had already pitched in the game, matched goose eggs for the first two and one-half innings. Each side put the leadoff on base to start the frame, but neither team could scratch a run until the third.
With France batting as the home side, Dylan Gleeson walked to lead off the bottom of the third, moving to second on a wild pitch. Felix Brown received identical treatment, with Townend’s second wild pitch putting runners in scoring position with nobody out. Townend buckled down for a K, but veteran Andy Paz elevated a fly ball to right to score Gleeson. The relay throw went wild, however, and France took a 2-0 lead without a single hit.
Kyron Bibis drew a four-pitch walk to start and, after two first-pitch outs, Jonathan Phillips singled to left. Both runners moved over on a wild pitch, but Mottay generated a groundball and another ‘0’ went on the scoreboard.
France then added another run to its lead and it was Gleeson who prompted the rally. After leading off with a double to right field, Gleeson advanced to third on a flyout. Maxime Lefevre followed with his own two-bagger to almost the same spot and the French side took a 3-0 lead. Townend ended the threat with a foul out and grounder.
Mottay finished his outing on a high note, going 1-2-3 with two strikeouts in the sixth. France could not break through against reliever Cameron Fortuin, who struck out the first two batters before loading the bases on a Bastien Dagneau single, a walk, and a hit batter. Fortuin buckled down, however, and got Brown swinging to end the frame.
After posting first innings of three, two, and four runs en route to flexing its offensive muscles in the first three games, South Africa finally got things going in the seventh. With Mottay over 100 pitches, Bibis laced a double to centre, moving Charl Cordier, who had reached on an error, to third. Clifford Heberden took over and struck out Victor Ngoepe on four pitches, but Kyle Botha got South Africa on the board with a sacrifice fly.
Phillips and Rowan Ebersohn put together a pair of great two-out plate appearances to keep the runners moving. Phillips laced an 0-1 pitch to centre to score Bibis, before Ebersohn dropped a one-base hit into the gap in right to score Phillips. Ebersohn was thrown out attempted to get a second bag, but the RBI-single tied the game at three.
France wasted no time in reclaiming the lead, however, as Lefevre singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh and then swiped second. A flyout sent him to third, but Leonel Céspedes made sure Lefevre could cross home with a long two-base hit down the left field line. Fortuin provoked a fly ball, but the damage was done.
With six outs to score a run, Clément Esteban came on to protect the lead and quickly got two outs. Brandon Bouillon showed some serious clutch hitting with one strike left, powering a ball over the left field fence. The game-tying dinger was greeted with enthusiasm on a day when the South African juggernaut had finally been slowed at the plate.
Jared Elario, who was very solid in a Game One start, navigated the eighth without issue and South Africa had one final chance to take the lead in regulation. Instead, France’s closer-rightfielder Céspedes entered and mowed down the hosts’ three batters, striking out two to set up the walkoff win.
Lefevre once more caused trouble, drawing a leadoff walk and racing to second on a bunt. A wild pitch moved him to third and, after a pair of intentional walks, Dayle Feldtman got crossed up on Elario’s offering and Lefevre sprinted home on the passed ball.
Elario (0-1) was the unlucky loser, with the continuing narrative of ‘a walk is as good as a hit’ proving true for the fourth straight day in the series. France made the most of its seven hits and six walks (two intentional), but it was all Lefevre, who reached base three times, doubled, stole a base, and scored twice. Only Dagneau joined him with multiple hits.
Phillips banged out four hits to raise his average to .474 in four games, but could not singlehandedly lift South Africa to the victory. Only four other players collected hits, while France surrendered only three free passes.
Céspedes, who leads France in hitting at .353, earned the win and has thrown 2 2/3 scoreless innings with no hits, one walk, and four strikeouts in his three games. After a disastrous relief appearance in Game One, Mottay looked like a different pitcher, scattering five hits and three earned runs over six frames, failing to allow an earned run and whiffing five.
The series is now tied 2-2, despite South Africa leading in hitting (.347/.474/.620 to France’s .265/.398/.507), pitching (7.56 ERA, .265 opponents’ batting average, and 34-28 K-BB ratio to 11.73, .347, and 32-35 for the visitors), and fielding (.935 to .922). Two victories for either side will secure the lion’s share of the WBSC rankings points, important for two nations that came in ranked Nos. 23 (France) and 26.
The series moves to Durbanville, Cape Town, for the fifth game on Friday, due to start at 1:30 p.m. local time. The game will be available to watch via live stream [link].
A big ‘thank you’ to South Africa’s scorekeeper, Augusta ‘Gussie’ Phillips, for the box scores and statistics. All pictures copyright Extra Innings.