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Netherlands, Japan to fight for WBC semis

TOKYO: Slugger Sho Nakata earned a game-winning run by hitting a sacrifice fly in an extra inning to give two-time defending champions Japan a 4-3 victory over Taiwan in the World Baseball Classic yesterday.
The result left Japan to face the Netherlands on Sunday, the winners over powerhouse Cuba 6-2 earlier in the day, vying for a place in the semi-finals to be played in San Francisco from March 17.
“My players were really tenacious at the very last moment,” Japan’s head coach Koji Yamamoto said of Hirokazu Ibata’s timely single, which equalized the score at 3-3 in the ninth inning at two downs.
“I must take my hat off to Ibata. He is really a mentally tough fighter who can hit in that situation. For the winning run, I believed that he (Nakata) would be able to hit at least a fly to the outfield,” he added.
Earlier, Japanese starter Atsushi Nomi gave up one run with a walk when Taiwan had occupied three bases in the bottom of the third inning, and Peng Cheng-min added another by hitting a timely single in the fifth, while Washington Nationals hurler Wang Chien-ming shut out the first six innings.
But Japan once evened it at 2-2 in the eighth inning with Shinnosuke Abe and Hayato Sakamoto hit a timely single consecutively before Chou Sze-chi hit a get-ahead single for 3-2 in the bottom.
However, Takashi Toritani chose a walk and then courageously stole the second base at two downs before Ibata fired a single to the center for 3-3.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was the hero of the Netherlands against the 2006 finalists Cuba, earning four runs, including a three-run homer in the sixth inning.
“It’s a great moment for our country. We have the momentum on our side right now. The guys are playing great. They’re scoring first to keep the pressure off the pitching, they play great defense,” said Dutch head coach Hensley Meulens.
Schoop said: “Maybe I just see the ball well, and try to put the ball in play. I feel comfortable everyday.” After missing a big chance at two downs and full bases in the first inning, the Netherlands took a 1-0 lead at the beginning of the second when Curt Smith fired a solo home run off Cuban starter Ismel Jimenez.
Andrelton Simmons then hit a single to get Kalian Sams back home, after the left outfielder had hit a double and advanced to the third base on a sacrifice bunt.
Cuba pulled one back with Alfredo Despaigne’s solo home run in the bottom of the second inning, but Schoop stretched the lead to 5-1 by unleashing a three-run homer in the sixth inning.
Yulieski Gourriel pulled another run back for Cuba by hitting a solo homer to trail 2-5 in the seventh inning, but Schoop regained the four-run lead with a double to the left.
Cuba and Taiwan will play each other in a repechage play-off for another chance to reach the final stage.