Canada earns spot in Super Round at Olympic qualifier with win over Cuba

Canada's manager Ernie Whitt speaks during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

SAINT LUCIE, Fla. — Connor Panas went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and a walk, and Michael Crouse went deep in the seventh inning with a solo shot, and Canada hung on to beat Cuba 6-5 on Tuesday for its second straight win at the Baseball Americas Olympic Qualifier tournament.

The victory guarantees Canada a spot in the next round of the tournament with one round-robin game to go.

Eric Wood also went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI for a Canadian squad that was up 5-1 going into the bottom of the seventh.

Dustin Molleken was credited with the win after pitching 2 1/3 innings of relief, allowing two hits and one earned run. Former big leaguer John Axford came on with two outs in the ninth to get the save.

Ryan Kellogg started and went 3 2/3 innings for the 13th-ranked Canadians (2-0), giving up five hits and no runs with two strikeouts.

Carlos Viera started for No.7 Cuba (0-2) but didn’t make it out of the first, allowing four hits and three earned runs to go with a walk.

Canada scored three runs in the top of the first and could have been up more as it left five men on base in the first two innings.

The Canadians left a total of 11 runners on base in a game that became close following three fielding errors made by Canada — including a throwing error in the bottom of the ninth leading to Cuba’s second run of the inning to make it a one-run game.

Canada was outhit 11-9 and combined to be struck out 14 times, but was helped with eight free passes on balls.

Canada is in Palm Beach and St. Lucie, Fla., at the May 31-June 5 competition.

The winner of the eight-team tournament will qualify for the Tokyo Games this summer. The second- and third-place finishers will compete at a last-chance qualifier for the sixth and final entry at the Olympics.

Canada is competing in Group B and will face Venezuela (2-0) on Wednesday for first place in its group. The Canadians opened their tournament with a 7-0 win over Colombia Monday.

The host Americans are in Group A with the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. The top two countries in each group will advance to the Super Round.

Teams will play two Super Round games with head-to-head contests from the opening round counting toward the Super Round standings. The team with the best Super Round record will be declared the winner.

Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Israel have already secured berths in the Tokyo field.

The national team last competed internationally in 2019 at the WBSC Premier12 in South Korea. Canada beat Cuba and lost to the host team and Australia in first-round play.

All international baseball events were either cancelled or postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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