GB Women beat the Dutch for Super 6 bronze

Sat 22 Sep 2018


By Bob Fromer

Hoofddorp, Netherlands: Saturday 22 September –  No one saw this coming, but the GB Women’s Team, behind the pitching of Hannah Edwards and an excellent defense, beat the European champion Netherlands 3-2 this afternoon to win the European Super 6 bronze medal.

It was only the second time the Senior GB Women have ever beaten the Dutch and the first time was back in 2003, when Italy ruled the European roost and the Dutch were not the power they are today.

Unfortunately, the Super 6 gold medal game between the Czech Republic and Italy was never played, as rain began to fall during the last inning of the GB-Netherlands game and then became a downpour, forcing the final to be abandoned.  The Czech Republic, who went undefeated during the round-robin phase of the tournament, was awarded the gold medal, with Italy winning silver and GB bronze.

GB finished the tournament with a 3-3 record and a medal they probably didn’t expect to win, given that they came here with only 12 players and only a few of the players who were regular starters at the Women’s World Championship in August in Japan.

But Hannah Edwards has emerged in this tournament as a new GB force, and several other players have helped their chances of being selected next year for the European Championship and the all-important Olympic Qualifier.

GB’s aim at the Super 6, as Head Coach Rachael Watkeys said at the start of the week, was to see how this group of players could match up against the teams we will have to beat next year to gain a place in Tokyo 2020. 

After today’s game, Rachael told the team, “Our first goal here was to beat the teams we knew we could beat, and you did that.  But now you’ve done so much more.”

Assistant Coach Liz Knight said, “That was the way to stand up and be counted in a big game.  Maybe now we can stop thinking of the Dutch or Italy or the Czechs as teams that are better than us.  Now we know they’re teams we can beat.”

“We’re building confidence and direction for next year towards Tokyo 2020,” Pitching Coach Tina Whitlock told the team, “and from our Seniors through our youth, we have so much talent in this programme!”

Unfinished business

Before the playoffs for the medals and for fifth place could begin today, the final round-robin game between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic that was suspended on Friday night had to be played to a conclusion; until that happened, the two teams to play the gold medal game and the team that would play GB in the bronze medal game remained to be determined.

On Friday night, the game had been in the top of the second inning with the score standing at 0-0, a gale force wind blowing players off their feet and the field still recovering after a bout of lashing rain.  Even after the rain had stopped, these were clearly no conditions in which to play an important softball game.

When the teams resumed this morning, the expected pitching duel between the Czech Republic’s Veronika Petkova and Eva Voortman for the Netherlands continued.  The only run of the game was scored by the Czechs in the top of the sixth inning when Lucie Halacukova singled through the left side of the infield and pinch-runner Anetta Prokopenkova scored from second base after the ball was bobbled in left field.

Veronika Petkova was in control throughout the game, scattering five hits, and the Dutch committed a highly uncharacteristic five errors. 

The result meant that the Czechs were undefeated in round-robin play, Italy had lost only once and the Dutch had lost twice – and were about to lose another.

Several teams in the Super 6 – particularly GB – can argue that they didn’t have all of their best players at this tournament.  But what the tournament has shown nonetheless is that the balance of power in Europe is changing and that four teams – the Czechs, the Italians, the Dutch and GB – all have a genuine chance of gaining that precious place in the Tokyo Olympics.  Next September’s Olympic Qualifier will be wide open.


GB 3, Netherlands 2

Hannah Edwards, who beat the Russians in an extra-inning game yesterday to get GB into the bronze medal contest, pitched the full game today as well, and got stronger as the innings wore on – not by throwing hard, but with excellent location and changes of speed, as the Dutch grew ever more tentative against her.

And when the Dutch did hit the ball hard, the GB defense was equal to it.  Laura Thompson went back to the fence in centre field to grab a long drive hit by Jessie van Aalst in the third inning that probably would have left a normal-sized ballpark, and Nerissa Myers robbed the same player two innings later with a fantastic pick on a smash to her right near second base.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, with the tension rising – could GB actually do this? – Chloe Wigington was a rock at third base, as all three Dutch outs, sandwiched around a two-out single by Jessie van Aalst, were ground balls that came Chloe’s way.

Back and forth

The Dutch had beaten GB 8-3 during the round phase of the tournament, and were still smarting from their defeat by the Czechs this morning, so perhaps they didn’t take the bronze medal game too seriously, at least to start with.  They began with their #3 pitcher, Marjolein Merkx, and rested a couple of their normal starters.

But neither Merkx or the Dutch defense began the game well, and GB took advantage – though not as much as they might have done – in the top of the first inning.

With one out, Sydney Brown drew a walk.  Lauren Evans chopped a ball to third base, and the normally solid Dutch third base player Virginie Anneveld threw the ball away trying for the force play, putting GB runners on first and third.  Marjolein Merkx then struck out Amie Hutchison on a rise ball for the second out, but Hannah Edwards lined the first pitch she saw up the middle for a single and GB had a 1-0 lead. 

Emmilee Blowers then drew another walk to load the bases, and GB could really have put the cat amongst the pigeons with a base hit – but Chloe Wigington grounded back to the pitcher.

Back and forth

The Dutch came out of the blocks quickly against Hannah Edwards in the bottom of the first inning.  Chantal Versluis lined the first pitch off Hannah’s glove for a base hit, stole second base and went to third as Jessie van Aalst grounded out.  Eva Voortman walked and also stole second, Virginie Anneveld’s sacrifice fly to right field scored Versluis and allowed Voortman to go to third, and Brenda Beers drove a sharp single past second base to score Voortman.  The Dutch were ahead 2-1 and attacking the young GB pitcher, and it looked like business as usual.

But GB were right back at Marjolein Merkx in the top of the second inning.  Her clubmate at the Dutch champions Olympia Haarlem, Steph Pearce, led off with a line drive single to right centre field and Aubrey Peterson sacrificed Steph to second.  Amazingly for so early in the game, Nerissa Myers was walked intentionally, but the tactic seemed to have worked when the Dutch got the lead runner at third on Sydney  Brown’s ground ball for the second out.

But then Marjolein Merkx got wild, hitting Lauren Evans with a pitch to load the bases, and hitting Amie Hutchison with another to drive in Nerissa Myers and tie the score. 

That was the end for Merkx, with Lisa Hop coming to the circle.  But with Hannah Edwards at the plate, Hop uncorked a wild pitch.  It looked like suicide as Sydney Brown broke for the plate, as the ball rebounded from the netting straight back to Dutch catcher Laura Wissink.  But Sydney slid in, the two collided and the ball came loose, as the photos below show.  Hannah Edwards then popped out to end the inning.

Stasis

GB were now ahead 3-2, but very few people in the ballpark would have given odds on that being the final score.  They would all have been wrong – but there was still an action-packed five-and-a-half innings to play.

Weis Ligtvoet put down a perfect bunt for a single to open the bottom of the second inning for the Dutch, and they eventually had two on and two out with the dangerous Chantal Versluis at the plate.  If the game had a turning point, this was it.  Chantal ran the count to three-and-two, and then fouled off pitch after pitch, seemingly right on everything Hannah Edwards was throwing.  But finally, Versluis popped up a low outside pitch to shortstop, and Hannah and GB had escaped – for now.

GB’s last scoring threat came in the top of the third inning, and it only took a lead-off single to left field by Emmilee Blowers to bring out Dutch coach Connie Clark to remove Lisa Hop and bring the Dutch ace, Eva Voortman, in to pitch. 

Voortman got two quick outs, but then walked Aubrey Peterson and Nerissa Myers to load the bases and ran the count to 3-and-2 on Sydney Brown.  But Sydney was called out looking on a marginal pitch at the knees that could have gone either way.

After that, Eva Voortman contained the GB offense, giving up only an infield single to Amie Hutchison over the final four innings and striking out six. 

All the Dutch had to do was overcome that slender one-run lead, and they had five innings left to do it.

But it never happened. 

Gaining control

The Dutch threatened again in the bottom of the third inning, putting two runners on base on a walk and an infield single.  But Nerissa Myers made a nice backhand play to her right on a ground ball by Weis Ligtvoet to end the threat, and after that the innings got easier.

Hannah Edwards was growing in confidence, and the Dutch were losing some of theirs.  Hannah’s only strikeout of the game had come in the second inning, but from the fourth inning onward the Dutch were hitting ground balls and fly balls to the GB defense, with only three scattered singles sprinkled in between.

As the innings went by, the possibility of a GB win moved from remote to improbable to possible, especially after the Dutch went down in order in the bottom of the fifth inning, helped by that terrific play by Nerissa Myers on Jessie van Aalst – and the tension rose accordingly.

But Hannah just kept throwing curveballs and change-ups and screwballs and the occasional rise ball, keeping the ball mostly on the corners, and the Dutch kept getting themselves out.

As the Dutch came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, the rain turned from sprinkles to steady and in the GB dugout, some people could hardly watch.  But Onaisha Franka hit a ground ball to third base and Chloe Wigington threw her out.  Chantal Versluis hit a harder ground ball to third base, and Chloe Wigington knocked it down, picked it up and threw her out.

Then Jessie van Aalst drove a 3-1 pitch up the middle for a single and stole second base, as the Dutch had done at will all game, to put herself in scoring position.  Was all the hard work going to be undone?

No, it wasn’t.  Eva Voortman poked a 1-2 pitch down to third base and Chloe Wigington joyously threw her out.

A GB Team – and a somewhat makeshift GB Team at that – had beaten the European champions.

Scores and standings

Today’s playoff scores were:

Fifth-place game
Greece 5, Russia 4

Greece came from behind with a four-run rally in the top of the seventh inning, and then held off the Russians in the bottom half to record their first win at the tournament.

Bronze medal game
GB 3, Netherlands 2

Gold medal game
Czech Republic v Italy – cancelled due to heavy rain

Final standings at the first-ever European Softball Super 6 were:

1 – Czech Republic
2 – Italy
3 – Great Britain
4 – Netherlands
5 -- Greece
6 – Russia

Photos by Paul Stodart

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