Knights dethrone Pioneers in great NSL1 final

Sun 1 Sep 2019

By Bob Fromer

It had been 10 years since anyone other than Pioneers or Chromies had won the BSF's A-grade NSL National Championship, but over the weekend of 31 August-1 September at Farnham Park, the Windsor Knights broke the duopoly in thrilling fashion.

In a brilliant NSL1 final on Sunday evening that was close all the way through and played before a large and fully engaged crowd, the Knights staged a three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning against Dan Spinks and the Pioneers to capture the 2019 National Championship by a score of 13-12.

When Aaron Thomas smashed a double to the fence in left centre field and Kim Miller, running for Lucy Binding, who had hit a similar double minutes earlier, crossed the plate with the winning run, the Knights’ celebration was ecstatic – and well-earned, because though the margins are narrow, they had been the best team all weekend.

In the round-robin phase of the tournament, the Knights had finished top with just one loss and one draw, and registered notable wins over the NSL1 league-winning Travelling Dodgers, Chromies and H2O while drawing with Pioneers.

In the 1 v 2 Page Playoff game, the Knights utterly routed Chromies by a score of 20-5 with a great display of power and defense.

And in the final against the defending champion Pioneers, the Knights out-homered the Pioneers, matched them in the circle and on defense, and executed the game-winning rally with a nerveless display of line drive hitting.

After the game, the greatest emotion came from those who had been part of the Windsor Knights the longest.

“After years of working and building for this,” Lucy Binding said, “this weekend we proved absolutely that we’re a good team and that we deserve to be here -- and to represent GB Softball in Europe.”

Colin Stone said, “It’s a proper team!  Everybody plays for everybody else, everyone supports everyone else.  It’s fantastic!”

The results this weekend also determined the teams that will represent Great Britain at next summer’s European Co-ed Slowpitch Super Cup.  Pioneers had already qualified as 2018 Super Cup winners, leaving two more places available, and these will now be filled by the 2019 National Champion Windsor Knights and by the 2018 National Championship runner-up Chromies.

Four games were live-streamed from Farnham Park on Sunday afternoon and came be seen on BSUK’s YouTube channel on https://www.youtube.com/user/baseballsoftballuk:

  • The NSL1 1 v 2 Page Playoff game between the Windsor Knights and Chromies.
  • The NSL1 Page Playoff pre-final between the Pioneers and Chromies.
  • The NSL2 final between the Honey Badgers from Glasgow and Tempest from Manchester.
  • The wonderful NSL1 final between the Windsor Knights and the Pioneers.

More details on the classic NSL1 final are are below, but first, a summary of other results from the weekend.

NSL2 Nationals

The NSL2 Nationals were played alongside the NSL1 competition at Farnham Park, and also provided a feast of good softball in pleasant early autumn conditions, marred only by an hours’ worth of cloud and drizzle in the middle of Saturday afternoon and some cold gusts of wind on Sunday that at times had pitchers struggling to cope.

The top four teams to emerge from the NSL2 round-robin to contest the playoffs were, in order of finish, the NSL2 league winners Blitz Bombers from London, Tempest from Manchester, the Honey Badgers from Glasgow and the Naturals from London.

While NSL1 teams had opted for a Page Playoff format to settle their tournament, with no placing games, NSL2 teams had opted for semi-finals and a final to settle things at the top and placing games to settle places 5-8.

In the placing games, SPAM, who just missed out on a playoff place, defeated Bristol Bees 14-4 to claim fifth place and the Terriers beat Ninos Privados 13-4 to claim seventh.  Full standings are below.

 Meanwhile, in one semi-final, the Honey Badgers edged out the Naturals 7-5 and in the other, Tempest defeated the Blitz Bombers 7-3.
 

NSL2 final

The NSL2 final was something of an anti-climax, but only because Tempest, who had just managed to edge past the Honey Badgers by 9-8 in the round-robin on Saturday, put on an awesome display of consistent power hitting that produced a 22-2 four-inning mercy rule win on Sunday.

Tempest scored seven runs in the top of the first inning, four in the second, three in the third and then eight more in the top of the fourth, racking up 21 hits including two home runs, five triples and four doubles.  The Honey Badgers committed only three errors but were overwhelmed by line drive after line drive to all parts of the field.

David Howes, Luis Arrevillagas, Linni Mitchell and Amilcar Gomez had three hits each for Tempest, and Jordan Colton, Becci Wadeson and Emma Agostini each chipped in with two.

In response, the shell-shocked Honey Badgers could muster only two runs in the bottom of the third inning on four straights singles – their only hits of the game – plus a sacrifice fly, with the RBIs going to Paul Sweeney and Kyle Wilson.

MVPs for the final, both understandably from Tempest, were Luis Arrevillagas, who had a home run, a triple and a double, and Linni Mitchell, who added two singles and a triple to the attack and drove in four runs.

NSL2 standings

Final standings in the 2019 NSL2 Nationals were:

1 – Tempest
2 – Honey Badgers
3 – Blitz Bombers
4 – Naturals
5 – SPAM
6 – Bristol Bees
7 – Terriers
8 – Ninos Privados

The 2019 NSL2 league winner was the Blitz Bombers, who will be promoted to NSL1 for the 2020 season.


NSL3 Nationals

At the same time as the NSL1 and NSL2 Nationals were being played at Farnham Park, eight teams were contesting the NSL3 Nationals Tournament at Parrs Wood School in Didsbury, Manchester, with two places in NSL2 for the 2020 season at stake.

The promoted teams, based on round-robin standings, were the Spittin' Camels from Manchester (shown above) and the Fuzzy Ducks from London (shown below), and the Camels also won the tournament and the title of 2019 NSL3 Champion.

A full report on the NSL3 Nationals is on the BSF website here.  


NSL1 final: the details

The NSL1 final was a game rich in incident, full of key hits and good defensive plays, contested by two talented and confident teams that refused to give an inch. 

Pioneers scored in five of the seven innings and the Knights scored in six, but crucially, the runs were scored in ones, two, threes and a couple of fours.  The pitching and defense was too good on both sides to allow the big inning that might have turned the game.

Pioneers’ second baseman Dan Bello, who the Knights could not get out – he had three triples and a double in four at-bats -- led off in the top of the first inning with a triple and soon rode home on the first of two home runs by Steve Hazard, who had hit three in the previous game, a 13-7 win over Chromies that put the Pioneers into the final. 

But those two runs were all that Pioneers scored in the top of the first inning, thanks in part to a great force play started by Knights’ shortstop Max Zerhusen.

In the bottom of the first inning, the Knights countered with four runs.  Max Verhusen went Dan Bello one better by leading off with a solo home run, and then a double by Kelvin Harrison and a single by Natalie Woolley set up Knights’ pitcher Wolfgang Walther, who drove a three-run home run over the fence in left field.

Earlier in the afternoon, Wolfgang had hit three home runs, good for nine RBIs, when the Knights crushed the Chromies in the 1 v 2 Page Playoff game.

So the Knights ended the first inning of the final with a 4-2 lead. 

When Pioneers failed to score in the top of the second inning and the Knights tacked on two in the bottom half on solo home runs by Neil Selvester and Max Zerhusen, the lead became 6-2, the largest margin that the Knights were to enjoy.

Over the next four innings, however, the Pioneers gradually chased the Knights down, “winning” the third inning by 2-1, the fourth inning by 3-2 (despite a long home run by the Knights’ Barbara Herzgen over the fence in left centre field) and drawing the fifth inning 1-1.  A number of fine plays by shortstop Steve Hazard and third base player Kasey Pettit-Castor were features of these middle innings for the Pioneers, while the Knights had excellent and important catches in the outfield by Kelvin Harrison, Anna Wareham and Neil Selvester,

All of that left the Knights still 10-8 ahead, but in the top of the sixth inning the Pioneers pounced and took the lead for the first time since the middle of the first inning.

Dan Bello (who else?) led off the top of the sixth for the Pioneers with a triple, though this one was a little fly ball down the right field line that bounced away from the defenders.  The next batter, Kasey Pettit-Castor, drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch.  It was only the second walk that Wolfgang Walther had allowed in the game, but it felt like it might be important – and that was confirmed when Steve Hazard followed with a three-run smash over the left field fence.  

One out later, Dan Spinks parked a solo home over the fence in left centre, and the Knights only averted further scoring by executing a beautiful 4-6-3 double play.

But now Pioneers had a 12-10 lead, and when the Knights tried to respond in the bottom of the sixth inning, there was nothing there: they went down without scoring for the only time in the game, thanks in part to a brilliant force play created by Kasey Pettit-Castor from a bouncing ball that pulled her far behind third base.

This was the only time on the weekend that the Knights looked rattled.  But having failed to score in the bottom of the sixth inning, they then performed the crucial feat of setting the Pioneers down in order in the top of the seventh inning so that the deficit remained at two.  A great catch at the fence in left centre field by Kim Hendry on a drive by Amy Rice was the key play of the inning.

So the Knights came up in the bottom of the seventh inning with just a two-run gap to overcome, and it was an uncharacteristic error by Dan Spinks, the best-fielding pitcher in the game, that opened the door.

Natalie Woolley led off and smashed a ball up the middle that caromed off Dan Spinks’s leg towards third base.  Dan sprinted after it and fired off-balance to first, but the throw pulled first base player Jane Pettit-Castor into the baseline, and Natalie, Jane and the ball all arrived at the same place at the same time.

There was a terrible full-on collision, and while Natalie Woolley got up relatively quickly, Jane Pettit-Castor stayed down for a long time as the first-aiders attended to her.  Eventually, Jane was able to get up and leave the field, and the Pioneers shuffled their defense, with Amy Rice moving to first base.

It was close to 15 minutes before play resumed, with Natalie Woolley on first and no one out.  But the end came quickly.

Wolfgang Walther drove a sharp single to left field, and when the ball skipped past the fielders to the fence, Natalie scored and Wolfgang wound up on third. 

Next up was Lucy Binding, who had entered the game in the fifth inning, and who later admitted her heart was pounding.  But it didn’t stop her smashing a line drive double to left centre field that scored Wolfgang and tied the score at 12-12.

Kim Miller re-entered the game to pinch-run for Lucy with Aaron Thomas at the plate, and with no one out, the Pioneers were going to need a miracle to stop the Knights from completing the comeback.  They didn’t get it.

The count went to 3-1 on Aaron as Dan Spinks tried to keep the ball away from him, but on the next pitch Aaron drove a long fly ball to left centre field that landed at the base of the fence.  Kim Miller, who had waited to see if the ball might be caught, now only had to round third and into the joyful embrace of her teammates as soon as she crossed home plate.

The age of the Pioneers and Chromies had ended, at least temporarily, at the hands of a team that had worked very hard to achieve exactly this result, and who did it with style.

But make no mistake: the Pioneers and Chromies will  be back next year.


NSL1 Page Playoff scores

1 v 2 game:  Windsor Knights 20, Chromies 5
3 v 4 game:  Pioneers 13, Legends 9
Pre-final:  Pioneers 13, Chromies 7
Final:  Windsor Knights 13, Pioneers 12


Final NSL1 standings

1 – Windsor Knights
2 – Pioneers
3 – Chromies
4 – Legends
5 – H2O
6 – Travelling Dodgers
7 – Blue Steel
8 – Greensox

The 2019 NSL1 league winner was the Travelling Dodgers.

History

Below are the National Championship and NSL winners over time, and the list shows what a rare feat the Windsor Knights pulled off this year.  No one but Pioneers and Chromies had won the A-grade National Championship since 2008, and since 2002, when Pioneers won their first title, the two teams had won 14 out of 18 championships. 

2019 – Windsor Knights
2018 – Pioneers
2017 -- Chromies
2016 -- Pioneers
2015 -- Chromies
2014 – Chromies
2013 – Chromies
2012 – Chromies
2011 – Pioneers
2010 – Pioneers
2009 – Chromies
2008 – Dragons
2007 – Chromies
2006 – Chromies
2005 – Slammers
2004 – Chromies
2003 – Stingrays
2002 – Pioneers
2001 – Baker Tomkins
2000 – Baker Tomkins
1999 – Baker Tomkins
1998 – Baker Tomkins
1997 – Chromies (then known as Superchrome)
1996 – Windsor Dodgers
1995 – Genies
1994 – Slammers
1993 – Isherwood
1992 – Slammers
1991 – Meteors
1990 – Sliders
1989 – Pirates
1988 – London New Zealand
1987 – Pirates

NSL 2 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
2019 – Tempest
2018 – Manchester Mavericks
2017 – SPAM

NSL 3 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
2019 – Spittin’ Camels
2018 – Misfits

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