GB U-19 Men fight to stay in the Euros

Fri 28 Jul 2017

By Ian Tomlin

Prague, Czech Republic: 27 July – The GB Under-19 Men’s Fastpitch Team went into the last day of the round-robin stage at the European Junior Men’s Championship knowing that this was the last chance saloon and that two wins were probably needed to get them through to the Page Playoff.

Alternatively, just perhaps, they could also make it with a single win if they could beat Croatia by 24 runs or more.  As they say, it’s never over until it’s over.

But the task, basically, was to beat the Croatians and then the Czechs.  A tough ask, but the squad set out to do what was necessary, and first up was Croatia.  A win and the dream was still on; defeat and all that would be left would be playing for pride against the Czech Republic.

Croatia 6, GB 3​

GB’s opening game of the day was breath-taking at times and almost made you believe in fairy tales. 

The British team had lost 23-0 to the Croatians on Tuesday, but here they opened the game by scoring two runs in the top of the first inning on consecutive singles by George Young, Tom Russell and Kai Benaim.

But the Croatians responded immediately in the bottom of the first inning and batted virtually through their order, putting three runs on the board to take a 3-2 lead.

In the top of the second inning Croatian pitcher Bruno Kukolja struck out Ben Tomlin, Max Fagan and Tom Lang around an error that allowed Jonathan Downes to reach base, and the Croatians then scored two more runs to stretch their lead to 5-2.

The third and fourth innings were very tight, with the respective defences dealing with their opponent’s offense.

in the top of the fifth inning, Tom Lang led off with a line drive single to centre field and George Young’s double to right field moved Tom to third, from where he scored on a ground out to shortstop, cutting the Croatian lead to 5-3.

Croatia got the run back in the bottom of the fifth inning on a double by Matei Potocki and a single by Bruno Kukolja and the game played out over the full seven innings, keeping the spectators on the edges of their seats.

But the Croatians retained thir 6-3 margin, as Alen Beris came in to close the game in the seventh inning.  Tom Lang reached on an error to open the inning, but a fly ball out and two ground outs
ended the GB squad’s last hope of making the Page Playoff.

Czech Republic 11, GB 0​

So GB went into their last round-robin game on Thursday knowing that qualification was out of their reach.  However, a floodlit game against the host Czech Republic seemed to appeal to the young squad and appeared to be a good way for the team to end its campaign.

Tom Lang and George Young opened the top of the first inning with walks against Czech pitcher Vojtech Buchner, and a run looked odds-on.  But Buchner struck out the next three batters to deny the opportunity.

The Czechs then made a statement of intent in the bottom of the first inning with some positive hitting.

Opening batter Lukas Kubat hit for the fences, only to be caught by Jake Roberts in right field.  But a triple, three walks and a two-RBI single from Martin Magula took the score to 3-0.

In the top of the second inning, Vojtech Buchner again made life difficult for the GB offense, striking out three in a row, and the quick turnaround energised the Czechs, who scored six runs to bring the score to 9-0 after two innings.

Again, the GB offense had no answers to the Czech pitching, even after Jiri Seda replaced Vojtech Buchner in the top of the third inning.  Seda struck out two of the three batters he faced.

Two more Czech runs in the bottom of the third inning brought to score to 11-0, at which point a storm came over and a torrent of rain concluded proceedings.  The teams agreed to end the game and the GB Juniors were left to ponder what might have been.

There are two more days to go in the 2017 European Junior Men’s Championship, and the Czechs, Danes, Israelis and Croatians will battle it out for the medals.  But the GB Team can now only watch from the stands.

Final round-robin standings were:

Czech Republic (8-0)
Denmark (6-2)
Croatia (3-5)
Israel (3-5)
GB (0-8)

Reflections

This has been a tournament where our young players have faced challenges that most of them have never experienced before, and I feel that this competition is something the participants will remember for many years to come.

Seven of the nine players on the field in the later games of the tournament will be able to attend the WBSC Junior Men’s World Championship in July 2018, where I am sure that the GB Team will go on to greater things.

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