GB Cadette dream is foiled by Germany

Fri 14 Jul 2017


By Bob Fromer

Ostrava, Czech Republic: 14 July – The dream of getting to the last four of the European Cadette Championship and playing for at least a bronze medal, is over for the GB Under-16 Fastpitch Team.  They were thwarted at the last hurdle this morning by Germany, who hung on to defeat GB by a score of 4-2.

The loss ends GB’s involvement in the tournament, but the team has finished in a very creditable fifth place.

Although the players will regret not having gone one stage further, this was an excellent result for a mainly young and inexperienced team and for a coaching staff that also combined youth and experience, headed by Johanna Malisani, that took the team further than might have been expected.


Pitcher’s duel​

Like all good softball games, this one had its Schroedinger’s Cat moments, where tiny changes in the softball universe might have produced a wholly different result.

The cliché is “a game of inches”, but like most clichés, it has more than a grain of truth.

Initially, the game was a pitcher’s duel between GB’s Hannah Edwards and Germany’s Lee Lankhorst, and no runs were scored during the first three innings, with both teams managing just a single hit -- though Lee Lankhorst, a better pitcher than either of the Russians GB had seen the day before, was piling up the strikeouts and using a change-up to good effect.

Breakthroughs

Both teams broke through in the fourth inning.

In the top of the fourth, German third base player Lara Brockmeyer and catcher Jennifer Weil opened the inning with successive singles.  Hannah Edwards struck out Leah Fries for the first out, but both runners moved up on a passed ball to increase the tension.

Hannah created the second out when she induced and caught Lee Lankhorst’s infield pop-up.

But on a 3-1 count to left fielder Anna-Leah Kortencamp, Hannah threw a pitch that had too much of the plate, and Kortencamp hit a hard line drive to right field that just eluded the glove of right fielder Caitlyn Frank – by inches – and rolled on for a triple, bringing both runners home.

GB came back immediately in the bottom of the fourth inning, however, and cut the deficit in half. 

Pitching carefully to lead-off hitter Hannah Edwards, whom the Germans walked twice intentionally during the game, Lankhorst walked her and then proceeded to walk Ivy Clark as well.  Elise Coulthard hit a bouncer to third, and Lara Brockmeyer threw to first for the out.  But while Hannah Edwards advanced to third on the play, a mix-up on the bases cost GB a second out.

It looked like the rally might have been broken, but it wasn’t, as Glenys McGuire bounced a single up the middle on a 1-2 to count to bring Hannah Edwards home.

Strange twists

Neither team scored in the fifth inning, and the sixth and final inning (Under-16 games are played to six innings only) was to prove decisive.

In the German half of the sixth inning, lead-off hitter Lara Brockmeyer reached first on an error, but Jennifer Weil fouled out on an excellent catch near the fence behind first base by Glynis McGuire.  Hannah Edwards then walked Leah Fries on a 3-2 pitch, and when Lee Lankhorst blooped a fly ball single into centre field, Germany had the bases loaded with only one out.

At this point, GB caught a break.  The three umpires conferred and then called Lee Lankhorst out, presumably for stepping off first base after the ball had been returned to the pitcher in the circle, to the consternation of German Head Coach Stephanie Kuppers, who couldn’t believe the call.

So now there were two outs, and a route out of the inning for GB beckoned.

With the bases now unloaded by Lankhorst’s strange out, the GB coaches made the decision to walk Anna-Leah Kortencamp, who had hit the two-run triple in the fourth inning, intentionally.  That brought Helene Feldman to the plate, who had struck out in both her previous appearances.

But suddenly things unravelled for GB, and it had nothing to do with Helene Feldman.  Instead, Hannah Edwards’s first pitch to her was a passed ball, allowing Brockmeyer to score, and when a panicked throw back to the plate went into the middle of the infield, Leah Fries came in as well.

Helene Feldman eventually popped out to Rose Taylor Bhanji at first base, but the damage had definitely been done.

Never give up

Now down 4-1, GB certainly didn’t give up without a fight, and the Germans tried to help them.

Leading off the bottom of the sixth inning, Rose Taylor Bhanji hit a slow roller towards shortstop, and Mara Sandner, knowing she would have to hurry the throw, fumbled the ball instead.

Now the German coaches made a strange decision, intentionally walking Hannah Edwards yet again, which brought the tying run to the plate with no one out. 

Ivy Clark was the next batter, and her ground ball back to the pitcher produced a force out on Rose at third base.  Elise Coulthard followed, and her ground ball to shortstop produced a force out on Ivy at second base for the second out.  But the relay throw to first, trying for a double play that was never on, bounced away for another error and Kira Kenny, running for Hannah Edwards, crossed the plate to bring the score to 4-2.

But that was as far as GB could get, as Glenys McGuire hit a slow roller to first base player Janina Lubken for the final out.

Pride

After the game, Johanna Malisani said, “We were really proud of the players.  They left it all out on the field, and they played with GB heart and pride.  There’s nothing for them to be disappointed about – they fought to the end and showed a lot of grit and character.  It really bodes well for the GB programme, both on and off the field.

“We are a very different team from last Friday,” Johanna added, “when we played our first scrimmage game.  The players really did follow our mantra of getting 1% better every day, and playing with GB pride and GB heart.  Our goal was making the players better as a base for the Under-19 and the Women’s Teams to draw from, and there is a bright future for a number of players on this team.”

The coaching staff at this tournament included two Assistant Coaches – former GB player Laura Thompson, who is in the BSF Hall of Fame for her playing career with the GB Women from 2003-2014, and current GB Women’s squad member Sian Wigington – who were both taking on GB coaching roles for the first time.

The rest of the staff consisted of veteran Under-16 Assistant Coach Joss Thompson, novice Team Manager Leah Holmes and physio Edwin Lam, who had worked with the GB Under-19 Team in Spain last summer that won the European Junior Championship.

Johanna Malisani said: “This has been a great staff to work with, the best I’ve ever had.  Everyone contributed and made each other better, whether it was bouncing ideas off each other or being aware of the state of the athletes and helping to control their emotions.  We really complemented each other well.”

The fact that all of the players enjoyed the week, and improved individually and as a team, is a testament to the achievements of a staff that, individually if not collectively, also has a bright future in GB Softball.
 

State of the tournament​

Meanwhile, the European Cadette Championship is carrying on, unfortunately without the GB Team still in it.

This afternoon, in the first two games in the Page Playoff, Germany and Italy met in the 3 v 4 game, with the winner guaranteed at least a bronze medal.  Germany led for much of the game, but the Italians came back at the end to snatch a 7-6 victory.  So Germany has finished fourth and Italy may go further.

This was followed by the 1 v 2 game, with the Czech Republic playing the Netherlands to see which team would go straight to tomorrow’s final, while the loser would be forced to take on Italy in order to get there.

On Thursday night, the unbeaten Czechs had defeated the Dutch 2-0 in a second playoff round game, but tonight the result was reversed, and the Dutch were 2-0 winners.

So the Dutch will be in the 4.00 pm final on Saturday and are guaranteed at least a silver medal, while Italy and the Czechs will play at 10.30 am to see who will join them.

While the Czechs, Dutch and Italians were always expected to make the final four, the fourth team could have been GB if they had beaten the Germans this morning.  Instead, the Germans got a crack at a medal, but came up just short.

In the placing playoffs, the four team still contending for places 9-12 are Belgium, Poland, Slovakia and Serbia.

We already know that Germany has finished fourth, GB fifth, Russia sixth, Ukraine seventh and France eighth.

Photos (except for the team photo above) by Martin Clark

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