Ireland misses fairytale ending at U-19 Euros

Sun 22 Jul 2018

By Bob Fromer

The Irish Under-19 Women’s Softball Team couldn’t quite give their fairytale a deliriously happy ending on Saturday evening 21 July at the European Junior Women’s Fastpitch Championship in Ronchi di Legionari, Italy, losing the final to the host Italians by 7-3.

But it was an amazing run for the Irish, who came to the tournament with hopes of perhaps making the playoffs, and wound up making it all the way to the final.

For a fastpitch programme that’s only a few years old, that’s a considerable achievement, and one that Softball Ireland and President Colum Lavery, who has thrown his weight behind the programme, will hope can go on to even bigger and better things.

Ireland held a 2-1 lead in the final after the top of the third inning, but after that the Italians scored slowly but steadily, and eventually pulled away to their winning margin, though Ireland was never outclassed.  However, four Irish errors helped the Italian cause.

Two years ago, the GB Under-19s had defeated Italy 1-0 in the final; now, the Italians have the trophy back in their possession for the first time since 2010.

Bronze medal game

In the bronze medal game, played earlier on Saturday, the Czech Republic out-slugged the Netherlands to win 12-8 and clinch the third qualification place for next year’s WBSC Junior Women’s Championship in California. 

The Czechs might have won by even more, as they out-hit the Dutch 16-6, with Eliska Stejkalova going 4-for-4 with a home run and Natalie Kopicova going 4-for-5.

So Europe’s three representatives at the World Championship will be Italy, Ireland and the Czechs, but the Dutch will not be going, which will be a blow to their pride and will mean that, like GB, the Dutch Under-19s will not have an official competition next summer.

Who saw Ireland coming?  Certainly not the Dutch – and it was arguably Ireland’s unexpected 6-4 win over the Dutch last Thursday that ultimately knocked the Netherlands out of the final and into the bronze medal game.

GB regrets

The Great Britain U-19s defeated Ireland twice over the course of the tournament by scores of 5-2 and 5-0, so Ireland didn’t work their magic on GB.  But any hopes of the British retaining their championship, or even making the bronze medal game, were dashed by the three consecutive losses they suffered to the Czechs, the Italians and the Dutch on Wednesday evening and Thursday.

All the games were tense, hard-fought and agonizingly close, two of them went to extra innings, and GB had a late-inning lead in all three of them.  So GB could have won all three games – and had they managed to win even one, the tournament might have taken a different course for them.

As it was, the unexpected loss to Germany that a weary GB Team suffered in their final game on Friday evening didn’t matter; other results meant that even had GB beaten the Germans, they would only have finished fifth rather than sixth.

GB finished the tournament ranked second in pitching, and that was behind Russia, who failed to make the playoffs and lowered their stats accordingly against weak teams in the second half of the week; so it would be fair to say that Hannah Edwards, Beth Fleming and Kyra Watson made up the best pitching staff among the top teams.

However, their efforts were undermined by the fact that GB only ranked 10th in team batting.  And though GB came fourth in the team fielding table, the fact that GB gave up 14 unearned runs out of 30 conceded overall -- most of those in the tough games they lost -- is probably the statistic that tells most of the story.

Now, for 11 for the 16 players who made up the GB Under-19 roster in Italy, it’s on to Slovakia for the European Under-22 Women’s Championship that starts on Monday 23 July in Trnava.  You can read a full preview of this tournament here.  

Final standings

Final placings at the 2018 European Junior Women’s Championship were:

1 – Italy
2 – Ireland
3 – Czech Republic
4 – Netherlands
5 – Germany
6 – Great Britain
7 – France
8 – Belgium
9 – Russia
10 – Spain
11 – Ukraine
12 –Denmark
13 – Croatia
14 – Poland
15 – Serbia
16 – Israel
17 -- Bulgaria

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