GB U-19s get great workout in Schiedam

Tue 19 Jan 2016

A GB Select Women’s Fastpitch Team, made up mainly of GB Under-19 players, had a great weekend of high-level softball on 16-17 January at the annual Indoor Cup played in Schiedam, near Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

In the end, the GB Team, a mixture of experienced and very new Under-19 players, a couple of adult players (including GB Women’s Team Head Coach Rachael Watkeys) and two talented 16-year-old Dutch players from a local club in Rotterdam, won two games out of six and finished in 12th place out of 16 teams.

But the results were not important – the chance to play a high-level competition in the middle of the winter was what counted.  “It’s great to be able to see good live pitching so early in the year,” said GB Under-19 player Chelsie Robison, and the Under-19 players also had their first competition experience under the helm of two of their three new coaches, Amanda Murphy and Sarah Pike.

The third member of the coaching trio, former GB Women’s Team player Natalie Leyland, was unable to make the trip.

There were a lot of positives over the weekend for a team with a wide mixture of softball experience.  The GB Select Team was in every single game they played, allowed a total of only 10 runs in six games, beat two long-established Dutch club teams including one in the top division, and only lost 2-1 to the team that came third in the Dutch top division last summer and third in this tournament, Terrasvogels.

The Indoor Cup has been running for more than 20 years in two adjacent sports halls in Schiedam, and always hosts a number of American teams as well as club and national teams from Holland and Europe.  This year, the Dutch Under-22 National Team, the French Senior National Team and the GB Select Team were joined by the top Czech club team Joudrs Prague, six high school All-Star teams from the United States and six adult club teams from the top two divisions in Holland.

In a thrilling and well-played extra-inning final, the tournament was won by the Dutch Under-22 National Team, who came from behind to defeat a Dutch club team called Roef! 4-3 in nine innings.  Roef! is based in Brabant, near the Belgian border, and the team is a mixture of Dutch and Belgian players.

Wake-up call​

Here is a recipe for how not to start a tournament.  Spend seven to ten hours travelling by car, plane and train to get to Schiedam, check in to the hotel well after midnight, get up on Saturday morning at 6.30 am, bolt down some food, warm-up up in a cold indoor hall, and then play one of the top three club teams in Holland, facing a pitcher who eventually won the Best Pitcher award for the tournament.

The result was that the first 11 GB hitters to face Malou van Dusschoten over the first two innings and then Nienke Verhodstad for the third and fourth innings all struck out without putting bat to ball, while an error in the bottom of the first inning gave Terrasvogels an unearned first run.

But in the bottom of the fourth inning, the GB Team, trailing 2-0 by that time, suddenly woke up.  Young Dutch guest player Bobbi Scheurkogel slashed a double into left field, Amie Hutchison doubled to centre, and GB had cut the margin to 2-1.  Unfortunately, time ran out soon after (the tournament is played in 50-minute games), but at least the GB Select Team was now properly in the competition.

Two more losses followed – 3-0 to the Dutch club team Eurostars and 5-0 to one of the American teams, Impact United, and so GB finished bottom of their pool group with an 0-3 record.  But the new GB coaches were learning more about their players and making adjustments to the line-up, and by the time the second round started on Saturday afternoon, the GB team was ready to play.

Facing Twins, a team from the top Dutch division, GB Under-19 pitcher Amie Hutchison, who will begin playing US college softball at Eastern Florida State College next August, pitched a three-hit four-inning shutout, striking out seven, while GB squeezed home a run in the top of the third inning on an error, a walk to Lauren Futcher, a bunt single by Bobbi Scheurkogel and an RBI single to centre by the other Dutch guest player, Esmee Toet.

Day 2​

The 1-0 win over Twins ended Saturday for GB on a high note, and they picked up again on Sunday morning against Gryphons, a club team from the Dutch second tier.  This time Amie Hutchison threw a brilliant four-inning perfect game, striking out six, while GB scored twice in the bottom of the second inning, added three in the third and could have had more, as they left the bases loaded in each of the first three innings.

Chelsie Robison’s two-strike bunt single, and further infield hits by Esmee Toet and Emma Harris, a young American catcher resident in England who has played domestically with the Under-19s for over a year, helped produce the two GB runs in the second inning.  In the third inning, Ella Henson led off with a sharp single to left field, Gryphons’ pitcher Jasmijn Besselink then walked the next three hitters, and her replacement, Linda Hanegraaf, walked two more as GB took the score to 5-0.

The final game of the tournament for GB Select, just after lunch on Sunday, was against a mix of junior and senior players from the top club team in the Czech Republic, Joudrs Prague.

Amie Hutchison didn’t give up a hit over the first three innings, running her streak of hitless innings to nine, but two walks led to a Czech run in the third inning.

The GB Select Team also failed to record a hit over the first three innings, but had their best and only chance in the top of the fourth.  Sian Wigington singled with one out, but was cut down trying to steal second on a missed sacrifice bunt.  That was a shame, because Chelsie Robison followed with a single, and Rachael Watkeys and Ella Henson both walked to load the bases.  But Bobbi Scheurkogel bounced out to short to end the threat. 

Joudrs had their first two hits of the game in the bottom of the fourth inning, added a second run and won the game 2-0.

Plus points

The chance to play against this level of competition at such a dead time of the year for softball was hugely valuable, and the GB programme plans to send a team to the Indoor Cup against next year.

There were a large number of plus points.  Amie Hutchison threw just under 20 innings and struck out 33 opposition hitters, an average of around 12 batters per seven innings.  Pitchers who can leave their fielders to only produce around nine of 21 outs in a game are going to help their team, and Amie is getting these results on the back of improved control and a sharp-breaking drop ball that hitters in this tournament had trouble dealing with.

Despite the improvised nature of the team, GB fielded well throughout the tournament.  Two key plays were a wonderful diving stop by Ella Henson in the game against Gryphons, and Emma Harris throwing out a baserunner (with shortened bases) trying to steal second base in the final inning of GB’s 1-0 win over Twins to nip a potential rally in the bud.  Emma caught all six games, was wonderfully solid behind the plate and was voted the team’s MVP for the weekend.

GB hitting was patchy, and with such good pitching and defense, a little more offense would have won more games.  But for the five players in the GB Under-19 pool and the two new Under-19 coaches, the tournament provided a good opportunity to get to know each other better, and also provided GB Women’s Team Head Coach Rachael Watkeys with a chance to cement links between the Under-19 and Senior programmes.

This will be crucial to GB efforts to build a team over the next three years that can challenge for a place in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

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