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U.S., Mexico face off for Olympic baseball berth

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The U.S. and Mexico will play a winner-goes-to-the-Olympics game at baseball’s Premier12, a global Olympic qualifying tournament, after four straight game results went the U.S.’ way.

The game is Saturday at 10 p.m. ET in Japan.

Two Olympic bids are available at Premier12 — one to the top finishers from the Americas and Asia/Oceania, granted Japan is already in as host nation. Israel previously qualified at an Africa/Europe qualifier. South Korea grabbed the Asia/Oceania spot.

The U.S.-Mexico loser can still qualify for Tokyo at one of two tournaments next March and April.

Mexico, managed by former MLB infielder Juan Castro, beat the U.S. last week and clinched a spot in the medal round days ago. The U.S., which lost its first two games in the six-team super round, rallied to sneak into the bronze-medal game against Mexico.

From Wednesday through Saturday, the U.S. needed to beat Chinese Taipei and have Japan beat Mexico, South Korea beat Mexico and Chinese Taipei beat Australia. They all happened.

Mexico, seeking its first Olympic baseball berth, beat the U.S. 8-2 in Mexico on Nov. 3. Its starting pitcher was 39-year-old Horacio Ramirez, who played with six teams in the majors from 2003-11.

Active MLB players are not on Premier12 rosters and are not expected to be in the Olympics in July. MLB has never stopped its season to send players to the Olympics.

The U.S. team at Premier12 is mostly made up of double-A- and triple-A-caliber players.

If the U.S. loses to Mexico, things get tricky in Olympic qualifying.

It could get as many as two more chances to qualify for the first Olympic baseball tournament since 2008, but the next one is in March during MLB spring training. MLB clubs may be less inclined to release the caliber of minor leaguers that featured on the Premier12 roster.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

The U.S. qualified for all but one Olympic baseball tournament when the sport was previously part of the program from 1992 through 2008, earning gold in 2000.

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Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

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Russia trounces U.S. boys’ hockey team to wrap up Youth Olympic Games

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Russia routed the U.S. 4-0 in the boys’ hockey gold medal game Wednesday, the final day of the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The U.S. had more penalties (three) than shots (two) in the first period. Russia’s Matvei Michkov converted the first power play and added an even-strength goal later in the period. Another power-play goal in the second period ran the score to 3-0.

Michkov just turned 15 and is projected as a top pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

The gold medal was Russia’s ninth of the Games, excluding events that featured mixed-nationality teams, and 27th overall medal. Both numbers were the best of the competition.

Switzerland finished second in the medal tally with nine golds and 22 total. Japan, the surprise winner in girls’ hockey, matched Switzerland with nine golds among its 17 medals.

The U.S. had two gold medals and 11 total. Kiernan Fagan took gold in the boys’ ski slopestyle and silver in ski big air. Dusty Henricksen won the boys’ snowboard slopestyle.

Fagan, who turned 18 during the Games, already has a couple of World Cup podiums and finished 12th in slopestyle in last year’s world championships. He also took silver in big air and slopestyle in last year’s world junior championships.

Henricksen, who’ll turn 17 next month, placed 17th in the World Cup big air event last month in Atlanta.

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