By Yoo Jee-ho
TOKYO, March 13 (Yonhap) -- The Czech Republic arrived in Tokyo for its World Baseball Classic (WBC) debut mostly as an unknown. The European team will leave this week as the new darling of the baseball world, a feisty underdog that gave every opponent fits.
The Czech Republic entered the final Pool B game against Australia on Monday with a chance to reach the quarterfinals, joining the group winner, Japan. The Czechs had to beat Australia and allow fewer than four runs to hold off both Australia and South Korea in a tiebreak scenario.
The Czech Republic ended up losing 8-3, but they had a tying run on deck with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Czechs earned their first WBC win last Friday, scoring four runs in the top of the ninth to beat China 8-5. They even held a 1-0 lead over Japan before falling 10-2.
They went down 7-0 against South Korea before scratching out three runs in late innings in a 7-3 loss.
Then came Monday's loss. The teams were tied at 1-1 before Australia broke the deadlock with a pair of runs in the top seventh.
Australia added three more in the top eighth, but then the Czechs got two runs back in the bottom eighth. Australia scored twice in the top ninth and needed every one of those runs to hold off the Czechs.
In the aftermath of the loss, Czech manager Pavel Chadim took a step back and touched on what his team had accomplished.
"I am so proud of my roster, every single player," he said. "Australia is one of the top-10 baseball countries. We had the same number of hits (with eight). We scored a couple of runs. It was a special game."
The Czechs made it through the European qualifiers to get to this point, and should South Korea beat China later Monday, the Czech Republic will avoid finishing last in Pool B and thus having to qualify for the 2026 WBC.
"We wish we could advance to the second round. But we accept the result," Chadim said. "We played a hard game against Japan and Korea. We beat China. We just lost to Australia."
Asked how his players, most of who have regular jobs away from baseball, have been able to grind out every game so far, Chadim smiled and quipped, "It's a secret."
"For my national team, I chose the best guys with character and passion. They are hard workers," the manager said. "We have great leaders in (designated hitter) Petr Zyma and (catcher) Martin Cervenka."
Chadim said the current core of the Czech team "is not finished" and added, "In three years, I'd like to come back here to Japan (for the next WBC)."