Largely written off as a joke by the baseball community, Team Israel celebrated on the field after defeating the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 4-2, to secure the #1 seed from Pool A of the World Baseball Classic. The underdogs stood atop a group of four very qualified baseball teams, having defeated Korea, Chinese Taipei, and the Netherlands.

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Brooklyn Qualifier

Four years after their heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Team Spain in the 2013 qualifiers, a rag-tag group of mostly Jewish-American ballplayers suited up for Team Israel in the Brooklyn Qualifier in September 2016. This four-team qualifying tournament between Israel, Great Britain, Brazil, and Pakistan would send one victorious team to the world baseball classic.

By all expert accounts, Brazil was supposed to wipe the floor with the three "nobody" teams.

Surprising Israel prepares for 2nd round at WBC - The Edwardsville ... - theintelligencer.com
Surprising Israel prepares for 2nd round at WBC - The Edwardsville ... - theintelligencer.com

After Israel defeated Great Britain 5-2, they lined up against the Brazilians. However, behind five shutout innings from Israel starter Corey Baker, the Jewish baseball team downed Brazil 1-0 in a shocking upset, advancing to the championship game against Great Britain.

Israel took down the British once again, 9-1, to advance to the World Baseball Classic for the first time ever. Over the winter, the team was treated to a tour of Israel, which had an impact on all of them, bringing them closer to their Jewish roots and their ancient homeland.

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Pool A: Seoul, South Korea

Already considered the clear underdog, nobody expected much from Team Israel, but the chemistry should have never been underestimated. Israel's first game was set against host Team Korea, one of the strongest teams in the entire sixteen team tournament, right in the heart of Seoul in the Gocheok Sky Dome. A raucous home crowd cheered on the Koreans, looking to Israel as a warm-up game.

However, at the end of nine inning regulation, the game was knotted at 1-1.

In the top of the tenth, shortstop Scott Burcham hustled out an infield single that brought home Mike Meyers, giving Israel a 2-1 lead that closer Josh Zeid would hold in the bottom of the inning. With the big win over a talented Team Korea, Team Israel had officially announced its presence.

Next up for the Israelis was another strong team in Chinese Taipei, but Israel never looked back after jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and a 6-0 lead by the third inning, ultimately winning 15-7.

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Meanwhile, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was also walking all over the two East Asian teams, defeating Korea 4-0 and Chinese Taipei 6-5. That meant that by the time the two faced each other, both had already locked up a trip to Tokyo to compete in the next round of the World Baseball Classic.

Still, the two undefeated teams met to determine seeding and bragging rights. Again, the Netherlands were heavy favorites, sporting a lineup that included MLB stars Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, Jonathan Schoop, and Jurickson Profar.

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And yet again, Israel looked like it didn't stand a chance.

Wrong again. Israel jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning off of Dutch starter Robbie Cordemans, and that proved to be all the run support the Israeli pitching staff needed as nine Jewish pitchers combined to hold the Dutch offense to two runs, only one earned, in Israel's 4-2 victory. Against all odds, Israel was now 3-0 and WBC play and 6-0 since the qualifiers had begun.

What's next

Israel and the Netherlands will head to the Tokyo Dome in Japan to face off against Cuba and Japan. Israel's first game will be Saturday night at 10pm Eastern Standard Time, where they will face Team Cuba, as tough an opponent as any the Israelis have faced so far. Team Japan may be the clear favorite in this group of four, but the perpetual underdogs have heard that saying before.

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