Israel qualified for the Olympic baseball tournament for the first time, with former major leaguer Danny Valencia hitting a three-run homer in an 11-1, eight-inning rout of South Africa on Sunday at Parma, Italy.
The Israeli team beat South Africa a qualifying contest between European and African nations.
The Israelis took a 4-0 lead in the second after losing pitcher Jared Elario loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter with no outs. Garth Cahill relieved, Simon Rosenbaum had a sacrifice fly, Mitchell Glasser walked after the bases were reloaded and Blake Gailen hit a two-run single.
Winning pitcher Joseph Wagman allowed one run and six hits in seven innings with six strikeouts and a walk.
There are only six national teams in the Olympic baseball event and Israel is the first to qualify for the contest. Japan, as the host nation, automatically qualifies and the other teams will earn their places during various preliminary competitions.
Team Israel advanced to the Europe/Africa Olympic qualifier after beating France in the European Championship on September 13. Overall, the white and blue crew finished fourth in the competition.
ISRAEL’S NATIONAL BASEBALL TEAM IS GOING TO THE OLYMPICS!!!
Watch the final out as Shlomo Lipetz gets the South African batter to fly out to Simon Rosenbaum.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
Let’s Go #israel!! @ILBaseball #RoadToTokyo pic.twitter.com/r24ZwY8e9Z
— Dov Lipman (@DovLipman) September 22, 2019
The Israeli team, which is packed with Jewish-American college players and some pros, had the country’s best showing in the last World Baseball Classic in 2017, surprising many by making the main tournament, where it finished sixth.
While the World Baseball Classic only requires that players be eligible for citizenship of the country they represent, for Olympic qualifying tournaments and for the actual Olympics, players must be citizens of the country they represent. The majority of the national team players are Jewish Americans who received citizenship in order to play or Israelis who live in the United States. Among the former pros on the squad are Valencia, 34, and Jeremy Wolf, 25.
The last time an Israeli team qualified for a ball event at the Olympics was in 1976, when a soccer team competed in Montreal, Canada.
Baseball has made sporadic appearances at the summer Olympics and was last played at the Beijing Games in 2008. Under new International Olympic Committee policies, the host country’s Olympic committee can propose additional sports to be played alongside the standard events. With the backing of Japan, where the sport is popular, the IOC approved baseball as an event at the 2020 games.
Israeli teams have already secured places at the Tokyo games for the show jumping and the rhythmic gymnastics contests.
Gymnastics star Linoy Ashram on Friday took home the bronze medal in the all-around contest in the world championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, her sixth medal of the competition and the most important since it gave her a ticket to Tokyo, where she is the top Israeli hope for a medal.
Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.