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U.S. baseball team blasts its way to Premier12 final round

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Thanks to a barrage of four home runs, the U.S. baseball team kept alive its hopes of winning the Premier12 and snagging an Olympic qualifying berth at the first opportunity, beating the Dominican Republic 10-8 Monday in Guadalajara, Mexico, to take second place in its group.

After a loss to host Mexico on Sunday, the U.S. needed a win to advance to the Super Round next week in Tokyo. Six teams will play in Tokyo, with Olympic berths going to the top team from the Americas and the top team from Asia/Oceania (excluding Japan, which qualifies automatically as the Olympic host).

Outfielder Mark Payton (Oakland/AAA) led off the game with the first of four U.S. home runs. Shortstop Jake Cronenworth, who played middle infield and pitched for Tampa Bay’s AAA affiliate the Durham Bulls this year, hit another solo shot in the second, in which the U.S. picked up three runs on five hits.

The Dominican Republic cut the lead to 4-2 in the second, but third baseman Alec Bohm (Philadelphia/AA) hit a three-run homer in the third. Right fielder Daulton Varsho (Arizona/AA) stole second base and scored on a Bobby Dalbec (Boston/AAA) single in the fourth, and catcher Erik Kratz, who has 10 years of experience in the majors, hit another home run in the fifth to extend the lead to 9-3.

MORE: Premier12 provides clues to possible Olympic roster

After the Dominican Republic rallied with four runs in the fifth, Wyatt Mills (Seattle/AA) took the mound in the sixth and retired all six batters he faced. Kratz hit a double and scored on a Jo Adell (Los Angeles Angels/AAA) single for an insurance run in the eighth.

Mills got the win in relief. Brandon Dickson, who just finished his seventh season with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, pitched the ninth, conceding one run but picking up the save. For the Dominican Republic, catcher Charlie Valerio of the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and the Dominican league’s Leones del Escogido went 3-for-3 with three RBI. First baseman Edwin Espinal, who also plays in the independent Atlantic League and the Dominican league, also had three RBI.

Mexico and the U.S. advanced from Group A. Group B is underway in Taiwan, where the hosts opened with a 6-1 win over Puerto Rico and Japan beat Venezuela 8-4. Group C features host South Korea, Australia, Cuba and Canada.

MORE: U.S. drops decision to Mexico

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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