GB wins tenth European Slowpitch title

Mon 3 Aug 2015

By Bob Fromer

The GB Slowpitch Team won its 10th straight European Slowpitch Championship in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria on Saturday 1 August, and they won it on the basis of 10 straight round-robin wins, without having to go through playoffs.

After heavy rain on Friday cancelled five of the eight games remaining to be played in the tournament’s double round-robin, the Chief Technical Commissioner for the ESF, Mike Jennings, and the Umpire-in-Chief, James O’Farrell, decided that the remaining round-robin games would be played on Saturday, playoff games would be cancelled, and most of the medals and placings would be decided on the round-robin results.

The one exception was a playoff game to be staged late on Saturday afternoon to determine third and fourth place.
 

Early win

That announcement, made on Friday evening, meant that the GB Slowpitch Team had already won the tournament, because the standings at that point looked like this:
 

GB (8-0)
Ireland (5-3)
Germany (5-4)
Czech Republic (4-4)
Bulgaria (3-5)
Lithuania (0-9)
 

So even in the unlikely event that a GB Team that had streamrolled all opposition over the first four days of the tournament was to lose its final two round-robin games on Saturday, no team was close enough to displace them from the top of the standings.

In the event, GB didn’t come close to losing either of those games, beating Ireland 25-10 in six innings and Lithuania 22-0 in five innings on Saturday to finish the tournament with a perfect 10-0 record.

The two final round-robin games after GB had finished playing, which had a say in determining who came second and who made the third place playoff game, were close and exciting.  The Czechs scored a walk-off run in the bottom of the seventh inning to break a 14-14 tie and edge Germany 15-14, and Bulgaria scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to come from 26-25 down and beat Ireland 28-26.

The third place playoff game was won by Ireland, who beat Germany by a score of 12-7.  So the final tournament standings, with final round-robin results, are:
 

1.  GB (10-0)
2. Czech Republic (6-4)
3. Ireland (5-5)
4. Germany (5-5)
5. Bulgaria (4-6)
6. Lithuania (0-10)
 

Last two games

GB’s final two round-robin games on Saturday, against Ireland and Lithuania, continued a theme that had run through the whole of the week in Dupnitsa: GB dominance.

But it took a while for GB to put their foot down against Ireland on Saturday morning.

In their opening game of the tournament on Tuesday, GB had scored 20 runs in the first inning against the Irish.  Today it was “only” eight GB runs in the first inning, built around a three-run home run by Chris Yoxall and five Irish errors. 

This time, however, the Irish came right back and scored six runs in the bottom of the first inning off GB pitcher Dan Spinks, on six hits including a two-run triple by Norma McIntyre.  After two innings, thanks to a three-run home run for the Irish by Barry Casey in the bottom of the second inning, the game was tied at 9-9.

After that, however, GB simply kept on scoring while the Irish didn’t.  The British scored three runs in the top of the third, five runs in the fourth, five more in the fifth and three in the sixth, to which the only Irish reply was a single run in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Danny Gunn hit a pair of two-run homers, one to right field and one to left, Steve Hazard added a solo shot for his 12th home run of the tournament, Dan Spinks continued his torrid batting with a 3-for-4 game, Ruth Macintosh and Emily Clifford had two hits each and Aaron Thomas, rapidly becoming a new GB star, went 4-for-5 with seven RBIs.
 

Initially, GB scored at a more sedate pace against Lithuania in their final game of the tournament, putting up just a pair of runs in each of the first two innings.  But after that, the runs kept on coming for GB, and a 10-run top of the fifth inning brought the mercy rule into effect with the score at 22-0.

Lithuania left the bases loaded in the bottom of the first inning, but had only one baserunner over the rest of the game against the pitching of Brad Gilmour.

GB added three more home runs – by Steve Hazard, Dan Spinks and Ian Kulka – to give them 36 for the tournament, more than double the total compiled by the nearest challenger, Germany.  Steve Hazard finished the tournament with 13 home runs, and his four RBIs against Lithuania, added to three more against Ireland this morning, gave him 42 runs batted in over 10 games.

Against Lithuania, Steve Hazard went 4-for-4, Ian Kulka had three hits, and Jenny Ball, Dan Spinks, Claudine Snape and Ben Taylor had two hits each.

GB’s two runs in the first inning came on a triple by Jenny Ball and Steve Hazard’s home run to left field, and two more runs in the second inning resulted from a double by Ian Kulka, a single by Ed Watkinson and one of the nine errors Lithuania committed during the game.

In the third inning, three more runs came in via the long ball: a two-run home run by Dan Spinks and a solo shot by Ian Kulka.

There were five GB runs in the fourth inning on singles by Vicky Chapman and Jenny Ball, a double by Steve Hazard and two errors.

Finally, in the top of the fifth, GB had yet another of the offensive explosions they have inflicted on teams through the tournament, scoring 10 runs on nine hits, including a single and double by Claudine Snape, and four more Lithuanian errors.

In two games against Lithuania, who entered the European Slowpitch Championships for the first time this year, GB put up 43 runs and conceded none.
 

Final tally

While Ireland, Germany, the Czech Republic and to a degree Bulgaria were fairly evenly matched during the tournament, and Lithuania was learning some painful lessons, the GB Slowpitch Team was simply in a different league.

As has become characteristic of GB Slowpitch under Head Coach Stephen Patterson, team morale was high, everyone on the roster played and contributed, and everyone played hard.  And despite the relative weakness of the opposition, GB played some very high-level softball during the tournament.

Over the 10 round-robin games played, GB scored 227 runs and conceded 40, for an average game score of almost 23-4.  The 23 runs per game is impressive, but holding all opposition to an average of just four runs per game is even more so, and almost unheard of in slowpitch softball.

In the batting stats for players with more than 10 at-bats over the tournament, the top six players are all British, and seven of the top ten, including the only woman in the top ten in batting, Areej Emaazi.

Dan Spinks led all tournament pitchers with an ERA of 2.47 and Steve Hazard led tournament in batting average (.833), home runs (13), RBIs (42) and total bases (71).  Danny Gunn led  the tournament in triples with seven.  Ten GB players batted over .500, another three over .400 and only one GB player batted under .300.

The question going forward is whether this kind of dominance might discourage some countries from entering the European Slowpitch Championships in the future.  Had Slovenia been playing, they might have given GB more of a challenge, and perhaps Austria or Belgium, had they been here, could have done so as well.  At the 2017 European Slowpitch Championships, there could be a team from Holland.

But the suspicion is that the depth of talent and experience among the top slowpitch players in Britain simply cannot be matched in the rest of Europe where, apart from Ireland, Guernsey and Jersey, fastpitch remains the main game for women and baseball the main game for men. 

Slowpitch is a different animal, with its own mindset and skills, and even if you put top fastpitch players and baseball players together to make up a co-ed slowpitch team, as the Slovenians, Czechs, Austrians and Belgians have all done on occasion in the past, it doesn’t necessarily add up to a successful slowpitch team – or at least not one that can match GB.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Team USA won the women’s fastpitch gold medal in a canter, much like the GB Slowpitch Team this week, going undefeated and outscoring their opponents by 51-2 over the tournament.  The following year, softball was removed from the Olympic programme.

The European Softball Federation is not about to throw the European Slowpitch Championships off its calendar, and there is much more competition in the European Slowpitch Cup, which has been won in recent years by both Irish and German teams.

But the ESF, probably with GB help, may want to look at a long-term programme for expanding both the quantity and quality of slowpitch in Europe, because blowout games and blowout tournaments, in the final analysis, are not very interesting for either the losers or the winners.
 

Results

A full list of scores from the tournament is below:
 

TUESDAY
GB 23, Ireland 2
Germany 18, Czech Republic 7
GB 21, Lithuania 0
Ireland 21, Bulgaria 5
Germany 13, Lithuania 10
Czech Republic 14, Bulgaria 9
 

WEDNESDAY
Ireland 23, Germany 20
GB 18, Czech Republic 4
Bulgaria 21, Lithuania 1
GB 19, Germany 2
Czech Republic 15, Ireland 3
Bulgaria 18, Germany 9
Ireland 16, Lithuania 1
GB 23, Bulgaria 2
Czech Republic 24, Lithuania 6
 

THURSDAY
Bulgaria 24, Lithuania 4
Germany 15, Ireland 10
GB 26, Czech Republic 5
Lithuania 24, Ireland 9
Germany 20, Bulgaria 5
Czech Republic 14, Lithuania 4
GB 26, Germany 6
 

FRIDAY
GB 24, Bulgaria 9
Ireland 8, Czech Republic 7
Germany 20, Lithuania 7
 

SATURDAY
Czech Republic 24, Bulgaria 8
GB 25, Ireland 10
GB 22, Lithuania 0
Czech Republic 15, Germany 14
Bulgaria 28, Ireland 26
 

THIRD PLACE PLAYOFF
Ireland 12, Germany 7

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Comments

03
Aug

Emily Clifford 14:00

I would like to congratulate Germany, Czech Republic, Ireland and Bulgaria for committing to send much improved teams to this year’s Europeans.  As Bob Fromer was not actually there in person to cover this tournament, stats alone do not allow him to arrive at a true conclusion for this tournament.  He did not see the power of Bulgaria’s base hitting, the slickness of Germany’s fielding and the aggression the Czech Republic showed around the bases.  Yes GB dominated, but all 4 of these teams made us play our absolute best softball to beat them, let’s not devalue the efforts of our opposition and undervalue the true class GB has to show to see them off!  The team spirit all countries showed as well as unique international friendships between the nations sets Slowpitch apart from other formats.  I would also like to say that the young Lithuanian team that came to their first Europeans showed huge potential for the future!  I think the Slowpitch Europeans could not be healthier right now and after a pledge from the president of the ESF at the closing ceremony that 10 teams will compete in 2017, maybe Slowpitch is finally getting the recognition it deserves! Let’s be proud of our dominance!

06
Aug

Peter 21:47

Fair play Emily. Points well made.
Congrats and well done.

Pete
#29

07
Aug

Michael Freer 10:26

So good to see how far the sport has progressed since the 60’s-70’s when I was trying to generate interest in the game being played here in the UK.
Pity the Union Jack is the wrong way round in the team photograph.





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