South Africa's upset bid falls short

Despite battling hard, young team can't hold off Team Canada

Brett Willemburg hits a three-run double against Team Canada. (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- South Africa simply didn't quit.

The plucky underdogs gave Canada all it could handle and then some before succumbing, 11-8, Tuesday night in front of 5,829 in a first-round Pool B game at Scottsdale Stadium.

"We just never stopped," South Africa manager Rick Magnante said. "We just kept playing hard all the way. We got down, we came back, we got down, we came back. It was just a tremendous effort."

Not much was expected of South Africa coming into the World Baseball Classic. After all, it only fielded a national team in 1995, and its highest finish in any international competition was eighth place.

Tuesday night, though, they hardly played like newcomers to the world stage as they rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 7-4 to eventually take an 8-7 lead into the ninth inning.

"We couldn't have put ourselves in a better position," Magnante said.

But 17-year-old reliever Jared Elario seemed to run out of gas in the top of the ninth as he allowed a leadoff triple to Aaron Guiel and an RBI double to Adam Stern, which tied the game at 8.

Peter Orr then put down a sacrifice bunt and Phillips' throw sailed down the right-field line allowing Stern to trot home with the go-ahead run.

"I really thought we were going to win, especially with [Elario] on the mound," second baseman Paul Bell said. "He's young, but he has the mentality to close it out. But he was facing great hitters. It was tough."

Bell led South Africa's offense by going 3-for-3 with two doubles, a walk, a hit by pitch and four RBIs, including a pair in the eighth.

The grittiness South Africa showed in pushing Canada to the limit was amazing and surely was shared by a good number of folks watching back in South Africa, despite it being on television at 4 a.m. local time there.

"I know the baseball fraternity -- a lot of people we knew were watching the game," Bell said. "I can imagine that they are feeling joyous about what we did in the game because we had the lead, 8-7, in the top of the ninth inning. No one expected us to lead.

"[A win] would have been big for us and the people back home."

South Africa matched Canada zero for zero through the first four innings before allowing three runs in the top of the fifth.

That didn't seem to faze South Africa as it responded with a four-spot in the bottom of the fifth.

Longtime Major Leaguer Paul Quantrill came out of the bullpen to start the inning for Canada and allowed two hits, a walk and hit batter during the inning. One of the runs was unearned thanks to an error by shortstop Orr.

Suddenly South Africa led, 4-3, and an upset seemed entirely possible.

Canada scored four runs in the seventh to climb back on top, 7-4, and once again it seemed in control of the game.

But South Africa chipped away at the lead in the bottom of the seventh, scoring once and then scoring three runs off Atlanta closer Chris Reitsma in the bottom of the eighth to take an 8-7 lead into the ninth.

"We got ourselves back in the game and regained the lead and took a one-run lead into the ninth inning," Magnante said. "I couldn't be more proud of the effort, that's for sure. The kids came to play. We put ourselves in a position to win."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.