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(LEAD) Nat'l baseball team returns home after finishing 2nd in regional tournament

All Headlines 16:43 November 20, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS photo, comments, details from para 8)

SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean national baseball team returned home from Tokyo on Monday, after the young squad finished runner-up to Japan at a new regional tournament.

South Korea lost to Japan 7-0 to end in second place at the inaugural Asia Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) at Tokyo Dome on Sunday. The competition was open to professional players from South Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei under 24 years of age -- born on or after Jan. 1, 1993 -- or those with less than three years of professional experience.

South Korea lost to Japan in the first round-robin game 8-7 last Thursday, but bounced back to shut out Chinese Taipei 1-0 the following day.

Japan's 8-2 win over Chinese Taipei on Saturday set up a rematch against South Korea in the final. South Korea managed just three hits off Japanese starter Kazuto Taguchi, who tossed seven shutout innings, and Samurai Japan's opportunistic offense made the difference on the scoreboard.

Despite scoring just two runs in their final two games, South Korea still showed some hopes for the future. On the mound, right-hander Jang Hyun-sik held Japan to one unearned run over five innings in the tournament opener. Against Chinese Taipei, right-hander Im Gi-yeong threw seven scoreless innings and struck out seven.

At the plate, second baseman Park Min-woo went 4-for-10 with three walks from the leadoff spot. Lee Jung-hoo, the 2017 Rookie of the Year in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), picked up three RBIs.

Manager Sun Dong-yol, the first full-time skipper for the national team, is hoping to take virtually the same group of players through major international events over the next two to three years, including the 2018 Asian Games, the 2019 Premier 12 and the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Members of the South Korean team attend the awards ceremony at the conclusion of the Asia Professional Baseball Championship at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo on Nov. 19, 2017. (Yonhap)

Sun thanked his players for coming together as a unit, and said playing against other young professionals was a "valuable learning experience."

"Most players made the senior national team for the first time, but they didn't play scared," Sun told reporters at Gimpo International Airport. "The biggest objective of this tournament was to allow promising young players to experience an international competition. I am sure our guys learned a few things after playing Japan and Chinese Taipei."

Sun apologized to fans for bowing out so meekly against Japan in the final, but insisted it wasn't for lack of effort.

"Clearly, Japan has a clear edge in pitching, and when it comes to command of breaking balls, their pitchers are a few steps ahead of us," said Sun, arguably the greatest pitcher in the KBO. "We need fundamental solutions to command issues with our pitchers. It's hard to change grown-up pitchers. To get past Japan, we need changes at the youth level."

In the final, Taguchi and two relievers after him didn't walk anybody. South Korea used seven pitchers, who ended up walking eight.

Sun had the option of naming up to three players over the age limit for the APBC but elected not to exercise that right, so that he could test as many young players as he could. And because there was little at stake in the tournament, Sun could afford to experiment.

He won't have the same luxury down the road, starting with next year's Asian Games in Indonesia.

"Starting with the Asian Games, games will count more," Sun said. "Ushering in young players is important, but I'll try to assemble the best team possible to get the optimal results."

South Korean national baseball manager Sun Dong-yol answers a reporter's question at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul on Nov. 20, 2017, after returning from the Asia Professional Baseball Championship in Tokyo. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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