August 2, 2021

By Paresh Dave

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) -Defending champions South Korea smashed Israel’s pitching on Monday, earning 18 hits in an 11-1 mercy-rule win to secure the first final-four berth of the six-team Tokyo 2020 tournament.

South Korea struck first with a sacrifice fly, and added two more runs on a homer by Oh Ji-hwan, his second against Israel at the Games.

Israel first baseman Danny Valencia walked with the bases loaded to make it 3-1 in the fifth inning.

But the score lasted for about as long as rain fell in the inning. Valencia spiked a throw to home plate in the bottom half of the fifth, allowing the first of seven runs that would go on to put South Korea up 10-1. A run in the seventh ended the game under the tournament’s mercy rule for blowouts.

Both sides entered Monday weary, with South Korea playing just 14 hours after ending their last game and Israel enduring a second-straight hot afternoon game. Israel mustered only three hits.

The teams replaced their starting pitchers early, making it a game for bullpens to fight. The same happened last Thursday at the Games when Israel were poised to defeat South Korea for the second-straight time in international competition before being downed by two consecutive ninth-inning hit-batsmen.

Israel’s pitching staff, which lacks significant professional experience, came into the Games an obvious weakness. They outpitched Mexico on Sunday to notch Israel’s first-ever Olympic baseball victory.

But that left Israeli arms worn out, which Korean players said benefited them and made the difference in the game.

Israel get no day off. They now play a win-or-go-home game against a rested Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The side left standing then play on Wednesday against the loser of Monday’s later game, which is between Japan and the United States.

“Our goal is not be content with just one win,” Israel captain Shlomo Lipetz said.

Korea play the U.S.-Japan winner, also on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)