Baseballers stun Japan
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National Senior Mens site
August 25th 2004
The Australian baseball team has come of age in Athens on Day 11, beating Olympic favourites Japan 1-0 in a stirring performance to win through to the gold-medal game.
They will play two-time Olympic champion Cuba in the final, after the Cubans came from behind and then held on in the ninth to beat Canada 8-5.
Someone forgot to tell the Dave Nilsson-led Australians that Japan has sent a team full of the highest-profile professional all stars from the Japanese league to Athens and was expected to win the gold.
Japan has only been beaten twice at these Olympics, both times by Australia, with the result of their preliminary round clash a convincing 9-4 victory to the underdogs from Down Under.
In the semi-final, pitchers Chris Oxspring and Jeff Williams were both outstanding and, just as significantly, were supported by an infield that pounced on anything within reach.
Each team managed just five hits as Japanese starter Daisuke Matsuzaka bamboozled the Australians for the most part, racking up 13 strikeouts, although he also walked three.
He struck out the side in the first and Australia was unable to get a hit off the star pitcher until Andrew Utting found a way in the fifth.
But in the sixth inning, centre-fielder Brett Roneberg got a one-out single, a walk to Nilsson moved him round to second and when Glenn Williams grounded into a fielders choice - the Japanese taking care of Nilsson - Roneberg was at third.
First baseman Brendan Kingman then did the honours with an RBI single.
Oxspring's effort as starting pitcher was sensational, only giving up five hits in six-and-two-thirds innings against the most potent batting line-up in the tournament.
Australian manager Jon Deeble brought in Williams after his team made back-to-back errors - one on a high fly ball which fell untouched between the infield and left field and one a throw to first which Kingman failed to glove - giving Japan two men on with two out.
But Williams picked up where Oxspring left off, having Atsushi Fujimoto caught by shortstop Rod van Buizen to end the inning, before holding firm for the final six outs without conceding a hit, while making three strikeouts.
Both pitchers received tremendous support from Nilsson who called the shots from behind the plate and picked the most opportune times to steady his men.
Kingman told Australian radio he was excited by the result but there was still one more match to concentrate on.
'We didn’t come here to just compete and we didn’t come here for silver, we came here for gold, so there are no celebrations yet,” Kingman said.
'It is unbelievable. For 12 months we have been working really hard. It's a reward, because in Sydney we were really disappointed with the outcome [seventh place].'
In the second semi-final, Canada led 3-2 into the bottom of the eighth, but Cuba rallied after a Canadian error with six runs to jump to a seemingly decisive 8-3 advantage.
However Canada wasn't done with and rallied with two runs and had two men on base, but the final out was made with a catch against the home-run wall in left field - a metre short of a three-run home run that would have tied the game.
Cuba won the baseball gold medals in 1992 and 1996 and silver in Sydney.