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SEPTEMBER 24 ROUNDUP

Korea clinches medal-round berth

By John Manuel

Team USA 12, Australia 1 (7)

Korea 13, South Africa 3

Korea went just 1-6 in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a disappointing result that prompted the nation to send a dream team to Sydney. The Korean Baseball Organization suspended its regular season so this year's team would have its best chance at a medal.

But Korea was just 1-3 through four games, with all three defeats coming by narrow margins. The Koreans' medal hopes looked especially dim after the Netherlands upset Cuba, but they beat the Dutch and then upended rival Japan on Saturday.

All Korea needed to do Sunday was beat the draw's worst team, South Africa, to clinch a spot in the four-team medal round. The Koreans (4-3) took care of business in impressive fashion, scoring six runs in the fourth inning and cruising to a 13-3 win in a game ended in the bottom of the eighth by the mercy rule. They'll play Team USA Tuesday night in a semifinal game.

Korean home run champion Seung-Yuop Lee, back at first base as he recovers from heel and back troubles, went 2-for-5 with two RBIs against South Africa (1-6). Catcher Sung-Heon Hong, a backup who has replaced injured starter Kyung-Oan Park, went 3-for-4 with three RBIs to lead the offense, which had 15 hits and five walks against six pitchers.

"I had an injury and my condition wasn't very good at the beginning, but it improved and I played well yesterday and today," Lee said. "I'll try my best going into the finals."

Korea lost an outfielder during its exhibition schedule and Park during the round robin, and ace righthander Chung Min-Tae left his start against Japan after just one-third of an inning after getting struck on his shin by a line drive. Though X-rays were negative, his prognosis for the medal round is unknown.

Korea will start amateur Tae-Hyon Chong, a submariner who shut out Team USA for seven innings on Wednesday, in the semifinal.

"Apart from the injured players, the rest of us should try our best," outfielder Soo-Keun Jung said. "If Chong is pitching well, we will have a chance to going to the final."

First baseman Nick Dempsey hit his first homer of the tournament, a two-run shot in the fifth inning, for South Africa's lone highlight.

Cuba 6, Japan 2

The heart of Cuba's lineup helped the two-time defending Olympic champions wrap up the top seed for the medal round by pounding Japanese pitching in a 6-2 win at Blacktown Ballpark.

Both Cuba (6-1) and Japan (4-3) had clinched berths in the next round, so they were playing only for positioning. Had the Japanese won, they would have been seeded second behind Team USA. Instead Cuba and No. 4 seed Japan will tee it up again with much more intensity on Tuesday afternoon.

Cuban third baseman Omar Linares, who entered the game hitting just .227 for the tournament, went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles. DH Orestes Kindelan hit his second homer of the Olympics, a three-run shot, and went 2-for-4 with four RBIs. First baseman Antonio Scull also went 2-for-4 as Cuba pounded 13 hits off four Japan pitchers.

Veteran reliever Lazaro Valle went 3 1/3 innings for the win. Maels Rodriguez worked two innings in a tuneup outing, striking out five, to finish up.

Netherlands 3, Italy 2

The Netherlands had a higher finish within hits grasp, but will have to console itself with a best-ever fifth-place finish in the Olympics after edging European rival Italy 3-2 at Blacktown.

"This is our highest finish ever," said Netherlands manager Pat Murphy, who said he didn't expect to coach the Dutch again. "We certainly shocked the world with our win against Cuba, and we beat Australia. We really progressed in the game. In some games, we didn't put our best pitcher in, like against South Africa, and we paid the penalty."

Netherlands righthander Rob Cordemans pitched eight strong innings for the win, giving up five hits and no walks while striking out four. The two runs he yielded were unearned. Lefthander Ferenc Jongejan, who pitches for the University of North Alabama, struck out the side in the ninth to end the game in the ninth as the Dutch (3-4) finished with a better record than Italy (2-5).

"It's kind of a consolation prize," Cordemans said. "The loss to South Africa was disappointing, and we always expect a good game with Italy. We won to the best, and we lost to the bottom team."

Center fielder Rikkert Faneyte had four hits in four at-bats, scoring in the first on left fielder Hensley Meulens' two-run homer. The Netherlands took a 3-0 lead in the fourth off Italian starter Jason Simontacchi. Catcher Johnny Balentina singled with two out, moved to third when third baseman David Sheldon booted first baseman's Percy Isenia's grounder and scored on a double steal, with Isenia getting in a rundown and being tagged out after Balentina crossed the plate.

Italy got its runs in the fifth inning on a two-run home run by left fielder Daniele Frignani.

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