The South Korean national baseball team eked out a 5-1 win over the military club Sangmu on Tuesday in a tuneup game for the upcoming Olympic qualifying tournament.
Park Jong-hoon of South Korea pitches against Sangmu during the national team's tuneup game ahead of the Premier12 tournament at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Starter Park Jong-hoo tossed three shutout innings and slugger Choi Jeong had two of the team's seven hits at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, where pitchers generally looked sharper than hitters.
Managed by Kim Kyung-moon, South Korea is gearing up for the Premier12 tournament, which begins next week as the Olympic qualification event. South Korea will host Australia, Canada and Cuba in Group C action from Nov. 6-8 at the dome. The top two teams from the group will advance to the Super Round, to be played in Japan.
Kim will take a team of 28 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) players. The training camp opened earlier this month, but Kim didn't have his full roster on hand until Tuesday. The playoffs ended last Saturday with the Doosan Bears sweeping the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korean Series, and those two clubs have a combined 12 national team players.
South Korea and Sangmu, a team made up of conscripted players, traded zeroes through four innings. The national team broke the ice with Hwang Jae-gyun's RBI single in the top of the fifth, and Sangmu responded with Hong Hyeon-bin's hit in the bottom fifth.
South Korea then put up a three-spot in the sixth to pull away. It loaded the bases with a double and consecutive walks. Choi Jeong drove in one run with a single, and Yang Eui-ji drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 3-1. Kang Baek-ho's double-play ball plated another run for a 4-1 lead.
South Korean closer Ha Jae-hoon ran into a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom eight, but the infield behind him turned a 5-4-3 triple play off a groundball by Yang Suk-hwan.
Kim Ha-seong knocked in South Korea's final run with a triple in the ninth.
The national team will have a day off on Wednesday and resume training on Thursday. It will then host Puerto Rico in more tuneup games at 7 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday, both at the dome.
Puerto Rico will compete in Group B at the Premier12 against Venezuela, Chinese Taipei and Japan.
South Korea is the last Olympic baseball champion, from 2008. The sport wasn't part of the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and rejoined the program for 2020. To have a chance to defend that gold medal, South Korea must reach the Super Round and also finish ahead of its two Asia/Oceania rivals, Australia and Chinese Taipei.