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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Hosts Shining In Baseball Tournament

This week, the the sound of cracking bats has been echoing around the quiet surroundings of Moscow State University at Sparrow Hills.

For the first time, Russia is hosting the European Baseball Cup -- the equivalent of the Champions' League in soccer. The honor can be largely attributed to a growing popularity of baseball recently in this country.

Yury Kopylov, president of the Russian Baseball Federation, was all smiles on opening day Tuesday, as he watched CSKA of the Moscow suburb of Balashikha hammer Croatia champion Vindijia.

In the bottom of the third, outfielder Dmitry Lukyanchenko, who went 3 for 3 in this game, drove in another two runs with a double down the line, making the score 10-0 in favor of the Russians.

By the seventh inning, the score had grown to a whopping 26-0, and the game was called off because of a rule in European baseball dictating that if one team is ahead by 10 runs or more the game is stopped after seven innings.

On Wednesday, the hosts scored another convincing 23-5 victory, this time, over Lithuanian and Russia will meet Spanish champion Pamplona, also 2-0 after two days of competition, for first place in Group B, while Italy and France will square off in Group A.

The two semifinal matches will be played Friday, with the champion to be crowned Saturday.

CSKA, Russia's representative in the eight-team tournament, is the flagship club of Russian baseball, having won the last two national championships, and is leading the six-team league again this year.

"Being the army club does have its advantages," Kopylov explained . "While the rest of our teams are pure amateurs made up of students, workers or businessmen, CSKA is a different story. All of their players, who make up almost 80 percent of our national team, can be called semi-pro."

"I must admit that playing at home, we can contend for the title," Kopylov said matter-of-factly. "Last year in France, we finished fourth at the European Championship -- our best showing ever. And for the first time in the history of Russian baseball, we've earned the right to participate at the upcoming World Championships -- something our nation's soccer team failed to do this year."

Nevertheless, Kopylov stopped short of saying that everything is going fine in Russian baseball.

"Obviously, we've made big strides in recent years, and we are now on equal terms with most of the European countries," he said. "But I would be foolish to claim that we are ready to challenge the world's elite."

Friday's games start at 9 a.m., with the semifinals scheduled for about 3 p.m. Saturday's final is also scheduled for 3 p.m. All games are played at the Moscow State University baseball stadium.