Nicaragua, Mexico aim for qualifier final

Nicaragua, Mexico aim for qualifier final

By the end of play on Friday, either Nicaragua or host Mexico will have clinched a spot in the World Baseball Classic qualifier final in Mexicali, Mexico.

Each club notched a victory in its respective opener on Thursday, with Nicaragua knocking off Germany and Mexico defeating the Czech Republic as part of the double-elimination qualifier. Thus, prior to Nicaragua and Mexico meeting at 10:30 p.m. ET at Estadio B-Air for a spot in the final, Germany and Czech Republic will play an elimination game on that same field at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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The four-team qualifier began with Nicaragua rallying from not one but two deficits in a come-from-behind extra-innings victory. Down to its final out, Nicaragua tied the score at 3 with a two-out run-scoring single to force extra innings.

Then, after Germany plated a run in the top of the 10th, Nicaragua put together another rally, capped off by Reds prospect Alex Blandino's walk-off two-run double. Blandino's clutch hit sealed Nicaragua's first win in a World Baseball Classic qualifier after the nation went 0-2 in its Classic debut, in 2013.

Blandino on walk-off hit

Nicaragua will now set its sights on Mexico, which held off the Czech Republic for a 2-1 triumph. Mexico plated all the runs it needed in the opening frame, first on an RBI single before Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez scored what would prove to be the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly. Gonzalez went 0-for-1 but worked three walks.

Mexico's two-run lead would hold up until the top of the eighth inning, when outfielder Matej Hejma clubbed a solo homer to cut the lead in half. That would be the only blemish for Mexico's pitching staff, however, as the club had five pitchers combine for 11 strikeouts in the one-run effort.

The winner of Friday night's clash between Nicaragua and Mexico will advance to the tournament final, to be played on Sunday night. The losing club, meanwhile, will square off with the winner of the Germany-Czech Republic contest in a do-or-die game that will determine which team advances to the final from that bracket.

The ultimate winner of the Mexicali qualifier will earn an invitation to the fourth installment of the World Baseball Classic next March.

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.