Israel takes on PA Pirates in preparation for WBSC World Cup Group B qualifier

Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald Liam Forberg of Team Israel prepares to swing at a pitch during an exhibition game at Prime Ministers' Park on Sunday night.

The Group B qualifier for the WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup doesn’t begin until Wednesday, but that didn’t stop Team Israel from taking on the Prince Albert R and W Pirates in a pair of five inning exhibition games last weekend.

Israel head coach Corey Vyner says his team is excited to play for a spot in the World Cup, also being held in Prince Albert, in 2025.

“As most people know, there’s a little bit of problems going on in Israel in the area. To get out of the country to come play in such a prestigious event like this, we’re lucky, we’re proud, we’re happy to be part of this and to be good enough to be part of this. We’re excited to be here.”

There is a difference in team construction for Team Israel for the WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup and the World Baseball Classic, another WBSC sanctioned tournament hosted in collaboration with Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association.

Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic only featured one Israeli-born player (Shlomo Lipetz) with the rest of the roster being formed by American-born Jewish players.

For the WBSC Mens’ Softball World Cup, the entire Team Israel roster holds Israeli passports. The team also has a security guard with them at all times.

“I don’t know that much but every time we go to Europe or North America (or) anywhere in world competition, we usually unfortunately have to take some kind of security.” Vyner explained. “The gentleman here with us today is through the Israeli embassy in Canada. He stays in the hotel, he basically is around us all the time.”

Israel would take the first exhibition game against the Pirates by a 3-0 final score. Seth Ross pitched the whole game for the Israeli squad.

In the second game, Prince Albert would finally break through on the scoreboard in the second inning as Logan Schmatz would hammer a solo home run to dead centre field.

Israel would respond with a single run in the top half of the third inning and would take the lead in the top of the fifth as Ofer Bobrov would drive home Aviv Yaakov who reached on an error.

Prince Albert would tie the game thanks to an infield RBI single by Schmatz, but the game would finish in a 2-2 tie.

Vyner says Team Israel has been extremely pleased by the reception they have gotten in Prince Albert so far.

“The reason for the friendlies are exactly that, just to get the nerves out, to get the butterflies out. But I want to spend a quick second talking about Prince Albert. As a Canadian myself, born and raised in Toronto, I know hospitality, but so far in our two days in PA, it’s over the top how nice everybody from the hotel to the local organizing committee. We’re thankful for the opportunity to be here and we say thank you to everybody in PA (who is) part of this, the volunteers including this friendly tonight, it’s wonderful. We’re over the top happy with how we’ve been treated and it doesn’t go that way sometimes when Israel travels abroad.”

Entering the Group A qualifier, Israel sits in 16th place in the world rankings. When asked about the strengths of his team, Vyner says Israel will have to keep the scores low.

“We’re a little hitting challenged, and I say that because in our small country, softball is not a big sport. We got to go abroad to be better. We have a great starting pitcher, we play good defence. We’re a little hitting challenged, but our top four can compete.”

“We’ve got to pitch and play defence, it’s the only way because we can’t score 7 or 8 against the big teams. We’ve got to keep scores down, it’s all about the defensive side and hopefully we scratch out a couple of runs.”

The top four teams will qualify for the playoff bracket, with the top two qualifying for the 2025 WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup taking place in Prince Albert.

Vyner says he is hopeful Israel will be in the conversation for a playoff spot on the weekend.

“It’s a long haul to get here from Israel. We’re here to embrace the challenge of playing the top teams. We’re looking forward to playing (against) Singapore and Hong Kong. We’re closely ranked in the world rankings. We’re trying to fight for fourth. That’s our goal, to get into that potential playoff and the chips fall where they may.”

Israel begins Group B action on Wednesday when they take on Argentina at 11 a.m.