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By Yoo Jee-ho
JAKARTA, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korean hitters couldn't have picked a better time for the home run fest they enjoyed against Japan on Thursday.
Three South Korean batters each hit a solo home run in their team's 5-1 win over Japan in baseball's super round game at the 18th Asian Games.
With one more game to go in the super round against China on Friday, South Korea is in a prime position to advance to the gold medal game, scheduled for Saturday.
Kim Ha-seong's towering solo shot in the top of the third off starter Katsutoshi Satake gave South Korea a 1-0 lead. The ball went so deep over the left field that outfielder Kohei Sasagawa didn't even move from his spot.
Kim started in a 2-1 loss against Chinese Taipei last Sunday, but sat out the team's second game against Indonesia on Monday with a bout of stomach flu. He started the next day versus Hong Kong but was lifted after two at-bats while still dealing with the illness.
But he looked just fine on Thursday with a multi-hit effort.
Kim said while he was dealing with high fever and stomach pains, it was also frustrating to sit out after being tapped as the team's starting shortstop.
And making up for the lost time, Kim went 2-for-4 and drew a walk on Thursday.
"I think everyone was feeling some pressure after losing the first game," Kim said. "So we all wanted to focus on every play today. I've always been confident against Japan since my junior days. I wanted to swing the bat with confidence today."
By beating Japan, South Korea has put itself in a solid position to reach the gold medal game. South Korea will next face China in the super round on Friday and will be heavily favored to take that game.
If Chinese Taipei wins both of its games in the super round, then the gold medal game will be a rematch between South Korea and Chinese Taipei.
"I certainly think we'll win the rematch (if it happens)," Kim said. "I don't think we'll bow out so easily like the last time."
Two batters after Kim's homer, cleanup Park Byung-ho, Kim's teammate on the Nexen Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), took Satake over left-center field with a line drive home run, his second in two games.
Park hit a ninth-inning home run in a meaningless situation against Hong Kong as part of a 21-3 win. But in a far more important game Thursday, Park picked up where he left off as he doubled South Korea's lead.
Park said that prior to Thursday's game the players all took some time to reflect on the loss to Chinese Taipei and talked about how they didn't want to have any regrets the rest of the tournament.
"I think we were really well prepared for this game from the first inning," said Park, who also made an outstanding diving grab at first base in the second inning to keep Japan off the board. "I think everyone, myself included, made solid contacts today. I think we should be able to keep this up into the next game."
Then Hwang Jae-gyun, the most dangerous No. 9 hitter in the tournament, joined the parade with his tournament-leading fourth home run in the fourth inning. After hitting in the eighth spot in three previous games, Hwang dropped down to the ninth hole in the order.
All Hwang has done in Jakarta is hit home runs. Hwang carried the team's offense from well down in the lineup in earlier games, and South Korea needs big boppers at the top to keep swinging like they did Thursday to have some much-needed balance up and down the order.
On the other hand, South Korea is still waiting on a pair of All-Stars to break through at the plate.
Outfielder Kim Hyun-soo, known as "Hitting Machine" in the KBO, is only 2-for-14 without an extra-base hit. Another outfielder, Son Ah-seop, is mired in a 0-for-11 slump. The three-time hit king in the KBO was lifted during Thursday's game after going 0-for-4 with three groundouts.
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