ITALY wins first European Championship since 1997
With a 8-4 win over the Netherlands in the final game on Sunday in Stuttgart (Germany), Italy (8-1) claimed the first European Championship title since 1997. The Dutch team (7-2) had won the last five titles in a row. Both teams were stocked with native players (born outside national territory but enabled to play with the national team thanks to IBAF rules).
The Netherlands took the lead in the first inning when leadoff hitter and former major leaguer Eugene Kingsale (211 games between 1996-2003 with Baltimore, San Diego, Seattle & Detroit) belted a HR to center on a fastball left over the plate by Italian starter RHP Tiago Da Silva. Italy answered with three runs (two earned) in the bottom half thanks to a two-run double by 3B Giuseppe Mazzanti and a sac fly by C Juan Pablo Angrisano off Dutch starter LHP Diegomar Markwell, a former Blue Jays farmhand.
In the 6th Italy hit hard relief pitcher Leon Boyd (released by the Blue Jays during the spring training back in March) with back-to-back homers by Mazzanti (who hit a fastball high and in) and 1B Jairo Ramos Gizzi (fastball left in the middle of the plate) to make it 5-1. The Dutch team cut the deficit in the eighth with singles by 3B Rayli Legito and C Sid de Jong off relief RHP Justin Cicatello and a RBI-single by 1B Bryan Engelhardt off LHP Carlos Pezzullo that prompted Italian manager Mazzieri to replace the lefty with hard throwing RHP Marco Grifantini, but a passed ball and a RBI-double by 2B Dwayne Kemp (released by the Cubs back in March) put the score 5-4. In the bottom frame Italy scored three more runs off the erratic Dutch bullpen on a BB, a HBP and a wild pitch.
The winning pitcher was Justin Cicatello (5 IP, 3 H, 2 ER). The sidearmer relied on the sink action of his fastball/changeup to induce many groundball outs, despite leaving some pitches over the plate. Diegomar Markwell settled in after the first inning and gave up 3 hits, 3 BB and 3 runs (2 ER) in 5 IP. Marco Grifantini recorded the Save with two scoreless innings. Giuseppe Mazzanti (2-for-5, HR, DB, 3 RBI) was named the MVP of the Tournament.
NOTES: The pitcher who impressed the most was former University of California-Davis alumn Marco Grifantini (25 years old) who threw his fastball in the low-90s (reaching 94 mph), mixing in a 12-to-6 solid curveball … Italy defense was very good with some outstanding defensive plays by Mazzanti, Gizzi and former Cubs farmhand SS Anthony Granato (29) who showed solid defensive tools, a good arm, good plate discipline and a good run on the base-paths … Dutch SS Michael Duursma made an outstanding diving catch on an infield hit showing above average range … despite the poor pitching line, RHP Arschwin Asjes displayed a good fastball/slider combo; the 25-year-old Curacao native was released by the Reds at the end of spring training … Mike Piazza served as Team Italy hitting coach.