Jpost sports

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

The blue-and-white is moving its way to the top.

Israel made the biggest jump in the World Baseball Softball Confederation World Rankings in 2017, advancing from No. 41 to No. 19.

The blue-and-white defeated four Top 10 nations – Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Korea and Netherlands – in its World Baseball Classic debut in March of last year.

Team Israel ended the WBC with a 4-2 record, reaching the last eight of the tournament. Israel registered three consecutive victories in Pool A in Seoul, South Korea to advance to the second round in Tokyo.

The blue-and-white then beat Cuba, before losing to the Netherlands and Japan, who both went on to progress to the semifinals.

Elsewhere, first-time winner of the World Baseball Classic, the United States moved to within 321 points of top-ranked Japan, cutting the lead by 450 points. USA Baseball National Teams are the current title holders of three WBSC World Championships: U-12 Baseball World Cup, U-18 Baseball World Cup and World Baseball Classic.

The absence of the US in the first two editions of the U-23 Baseball World Cup (2014 and 2016) has been significant, with Japan, the current U-23 world champion, maintaining the No. 1 ranking by earning 1,236 points in these two events.

Baseball’s world rankings weigh a country’s national team performance in WBSC-sanctioned international competitions (from U-12 to Professional) over a four-year period. Points earned from the 2013 WBC have expired.

Read more

Original Article at The Jerusalem Post

BROOKLYN – The mood at MCU Park an hour before the first pitch of Sunday night’s World Baseball Classic Qualifier final was so relaxed one might not know it was the “do-or-die” game for Israel and Great Britain.  As the evening went on, the significance of the outcome was clear to all: The loser was going home, while the winner would earn a trip to South Korea in March for Pool B of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

Peter Kurz, CEO of the Israel Association of Baseball, was smiling and schmoozing with Daniel Kurtzer in the stands as the former US Ambassador to Israel and current Princeton professor prepared to throw out the first pitch.

Team Israel player RC Orlan, the 26-year-old left-handed pitcher for the Potomac Nationals was chatting with his father, Adam Orlan, and grandmother, who came up from Richmond, Virginia, to watch their son play.

“I am very proud of Team Israel,” said Adam Orlan.  “It has been a fun experience.” 

Autograph seekers of all ages lined up near the blue-and-white dugout for signatures – with former New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis the clear crowd favorite. Davis patiently signed well over fifty autographs. Both the young fans and their parents were quite appreciative and thankful.

Cody Decker, the third baseman and chief kibitzer, kept order.  When a fan requested an autograph from Decker, who was having a catch with a teammate, he playfully remarked, “Don’t be greedy. I already signed for you… give me a minute!”  

Some experienced older fans came with photos in plastic sleeves in three-ring binders. Who knows who the next star be?  Howard Kaplan of Medford, Long Island, was in search of 21-year-old left-handed pitcher Alex Katz, currently of the minor league Winston-Salem Dash. 

“I’m a fan, a collector and I’m Jewish so I figured I’d come down. I travel all over for autographs!” 

No one was talking about the game yet. 

As the 6 p.m. start time approached, loyal fans began settling into their spots.

Daniel Weiss of Brooklyn, who regularly sits in the first row on first base side for Brooklyn Cyclones home games, was celebrating his birthday at the ballgame. He and a friend were both wearing Cyclones jerseys written in Hebrew. Weiss readied his drumsticks and cowbell on a stand. 

Sixteen-year-old Rina Koegen, a student at the Prospect Yeshiva in Brooklyn, had so much fun at Thursday’s game that she brought her mother along today. 

“I don’t even know who I took pictures of!” remarked her mom, who planned to figure out who is who when she gets home. “My daughter was never a baseball fan, but she is so into it,” she continued.  

“I love rooting for Israel,” added Rina with great excitement, “My brother and I waved pom-poms the other night and made up cheers for each player!”

Weiss had some sense of the game’s importance. 

“My brother lives in Israel and is going to a friend’s house at 1 a.m. to watch it live. Team Israel playing in the World Baseball Classic is good for Israel and baseball in Israel.” 

Adam Orlan also understands what tonight means for his son and for Team Israel. 

“If they win, I am buying tickets and going to South Korea!” 

“You know what – I just might go too!” adds RC’s elderly grandmother. 

The small crowd of 2,016 crowd remained subdued through 41/2 scoreless innings. 

In section two, a fan blurted out, “Some runs before Rosh Hashanah.”

His words were prophetic as they were followed by a pair of two-run homers for Israel in the four-run bottom of the fifth inning.  As the blue-and-white racked up one run in the sixth and seventh and three in the eighth, the fans began to grasp the momentous nature of the game.

Manager Jerry Weinstein was very aware of the significance of the evening.  He brought in Israeli-born Dean Kremer to pitch in the ninth. Kremer was the first Israeli drafted by a Major League Baseball team, when was chosen in 2015 by the San Diego Padres. In the 2016 MLB draft, Kremer was picked in the 14th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the20-year-old played the 2016 season with the Great Lakes Loons, a Dodgers affiliate.

The fans of sections 10 and 12 were on their feet. Kremer struck out the first batter, then gave up a single up the middle.  Then another strike out.  And amid chants of “od echad – one more,” Kremer struck out the side to end the contest.

The crowd goes wild, waving flags, chanting and singing.  Father and son Alex and Allen Golden were proud. 

“It is not just a victory for Team Israel,” notes Alex. “It is a victory for all Jews!  We have a responsibility to care for each other and to celebrate happy occasions together.” 

Allen understands the significance of Israel winning the qualifiers. 

“International baseball is getting more competitive.   Israel deserves a pat on the back for winning today.”

Liam Carrol, manager of Team Great Britain praised Israeli pitcher, Jason Marquis.

“He was outstanding.  He kept our guys off balance.” 

The Israeli players struggled to put in to words what winning the tournament meant to them. 

“Today was real emotional for a lot of us.  Today was special.  Today was perfect,” observed third baseman, Decker, who unveiled a stuffed “Mensch on the Bench” doll he felt was partially responsible for the team’s exceptional performance.

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway thought it was “cool to see all the kids out there in the stands with their yarmulkes on, cheering for Jews on the field.”

Weinstein hopes Israel’s win will heighten awareness of baseball in Israel and lead to even greater participation, more fields and coaches. He would welcome the opportunity to bring the team to Israel if funding is available.

He hopes to bring most of his current team to South Korea, even if he has the option to recruit major leaguers who weren’t available to play in September (due to pennant races) but might be available in March.

“I feel loyal to the group of guys who got us here and we have an obligation to a lot of them.” 

Did Team Israel think it could pull it off tonight and avenge the defeat in the 2012 qualifier final against Spain? 

Pitcher Shlomo Lipetz, a member of the 2012 team, thought they could. As he walked to the bullpen for the start of the game, we reminisced on having met four years ago at City Winery in New York City, site of his day job.

Lipetz smiled and quietly uttered, “I think we got it this time!”

He was right.  Israel is off to South Korea!

Read more

Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

When the going gets tough, the coach stays calm. Even during a heart-breaking loss for Yshai Oliel in the junior boys’ doubles semifinals at the US Open, coach Jan Pochter appeared relaxed.

Pochter accompanied the 16-year-old Israeli tennis player to New York for his week of juniors’ singles and doubles play at the US Open.

Pochter sat in the stands and maintained eye contact with Oliel.

Pochter studied each point Oliel played in his singles and doubles matches. Pochter will bring his thoughtful analysis and insight back to Israel and use it in his work to help bring him to the next level of play.

During their week in New York, Pochter watched Oliel come back from one set down in both the first and second rounds, even taking out the tournament’s second seed.

Pochter calmly watched Oliel receive a medical timeout to treat his leg early in his third round singles loss to No. 13 seed Nicola Kuhn.

And Pocther calmly watched as Oliel won two pulse-raising doubles matches in a super tiebreaker.

Fridays’ later afternoon doubles semifinals match against Juan Carlos Manuel Aguilar of Bolivia and Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves of Brazil was the ultimate testament to Pochter’s calm demeanor.

The doubles teams battled to a 4-4 tie in the first set on the way to a 6-4 Oliel/Bergs win.

In the second set, Oliel and Bergs’ 3-2 lead faded as their opponents battled back to a 6-6 tie, and crushed Oliel and Bergs 7-1 in the tiebreaker.

Pochter never flinched. Even trailing in the 10-point super tiebreaker 5-0, then 6-0, then 7-0, Pochter’s only response was a reassuring, “Fight ’til the end.” The end was near.

Aguilar and Alves won 10-2 to advance to the finals. Oliel, who won this year’s Roland Garros junior doubles title in June, left New York for Israel late Saturday night.

Pochter was doing double duty at this year’s US Open.

He also filled in for coach Tzipi Obziler. Oblizer was unable to coach Israeli junior girls’ player, Shelly Krolitzky through her two doubles qualifying matches and her US Open main draw singles and doubles matches.

Krolitzky returned to Israel on Friday.

For a coach, tournaments like the US Open are learning opportunities.

“The tournament was a good experience for Yshai,” said Pochter. “I think he learned that he needs to get stronger physically and mentally and to improve all parts of his game. If he does, he has a chance to become a very good player. We look forward to him playing on the professional level. I think he can do it.”

Pochter was impressed with Yshai’s performance and partially credits the Israeli and Jewish crowd who consistently filled the stands.

“The US Open is one of the best places to play. The atmosphere is amazing.”

Oliel, the tall, hard hitting left-hander with solid ground strokes and serve, showed the New York crowd how much potential he has.

Unlike the biblical Samson, who lost his strength after his hair was cut, Oliel seems to get only stronger post coiffing.

And Yshai’s motives for cutting his signature long hair were more earnest than in the Samson story.

“I cut it because one of my sister’s told me it is too long and I need to be more like a man. I donated it for children with cancer,” said Oliel.

Yshai is the youngest of five Oliel children.

While coach Pochter may have some specific areas for Oliel to focus on, he is not likely to address an area in need of improvement which was very obvious to members of the media. The sweet, modest player of humble roots could use some media training.

After he took out No. 2 seed and spoke to The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz journalists, another four writers, including US Open staff reporters, requested a press conference.

While Oliel was pleasant and cooperative, and his English was quite good, he didn’t have much to offer. He answered all questions, but didn’t elaborate, share or come across as full of life and great stories.

A trusted writer colleague present at the interview shared: “He could use some media coaching.”

Oliel will likely continue on a path of tennis success and will represent Israel tennis and Israel in many venues around the world.

The David Squad, ITA and various top coaches are working on his game.

I would love to see English speakers with media training reach out to Yshai and volunteer to help him get to the next level.”

Read more

Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israel will play in Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I for an eighth straight year in 2017 after losing 3-0 to Ukraine in Eilat on Saturday.

A 2-1 win over Croatia on Friday wrapped up first place in Pool C for Israel, but Julia Glushko and Shahar Pe’er ran out of steam on Saturday and couldn’t beat the strong Ukrainians to advance to the World Group II playoffs.

Pe’er, ranked No. 189 in the world, lost 6-1, 6-1 to Kateryna Bondarenko (73) before Glushko (126) fell 7-6 (1), 7-6 (2) to Lesia Tsurenko (35).

Shelly Krolitzky and Alona Pushkarevsky lost 6-2, 6-2 to Bondarenko and Olga Savchuk in the meaningless doubles rubber.

“This was a very long week and I woke up feeling completely exhausted,” said Glushko.

“Even though I feel a little sad now, I will try and take the positives from this week.”

Pe’er was also hopeful of building on her performances in Eilat over recent days.

“I end this week feeling much stronger and I’m going all the way in 2016,” said Pe’er. “I will give my all and hopefully the coming weeks will go well. There is no doubt in my mind that I’m a good enough player to be ranked in the top 100.”

Pe’er kicked off the action for Team Israel on Center Court in Saturday afternoon’s match against Ukraine’s Bondarenko.

This time, the hard-hitting Pe’er’s unforced errors, six double faults and generally weak serve made it impossible to recover from a 6-1 deficit in the first set. Pe’er went on to lose the match in 64 minutes.

Glushko faced off against Tsurenko in a hard fought, back and forth, two hours singles marathon. Glushko went up 1-0, and quickly fell behind 4-1 before going up 5-4. Glushko lost in the first set tie-breaker, only winning two points. In a heartbreaker second set, Glushko fell in a tiebreaker despite being up 3-0 and 5-3. Following the last point, Glushko pointed a finger at the chair umpire, said “no, no, no,” threw her racket and appeared teary in protest of what she thought was a bad call.

Belgium joined Ukraine in the playoffs, with Israel and Great Britain finishing in 3rd and 4th place.

Friday’s matches started late due to the long Belgium versus Bulgaria doubles match on Center Court. Pe’er battled back from a 6-3, 1-0 deficit to defeat Tena Lukas in two hours.

Pe’er hit hard from the baseline, moving Lukas from corner to corner and winning many long rallies. In the second match, Glushko went down to Ana Konjuh in straight sets, 7-6, 6-1.

Pe’er brought Glushko back to life in the doubles match versus Konjuh and Darija Jurak.

The Croatian team got off to a 4-1 lead before the Israeli team fought back with five straight games, to win 6-4, 7-6.

Read more