NSL Nationals won by Pioneers, Mavs and Misfits

Sat 8 Sep 2018


By Bob Fromer

Great softball, close games, perfect weather, exhilarating finals and a record number of “ladybombs” (over-the-fence home runs by women) were the hallmarks of the 2018 British Softball Federation NSL National Championships on the weekend of 1-2 September at Farnham Park.

Three separate competitions took place over the weekend:

  • The Premier Nationals for the top eight NSL 1 or A-grade teams from this year’s NSL 1 league competition.  The winner would be National Champion for 2018 and gain a place in the 2020 European Slowpitch Super Cup.
     
  • The NSL 2 Nationals for the top eight NSL 2 or B-grade teams from this year’s NSL 2 league competition.  The winner would be NSL 2 National Champion, while the winner from NSL 2 league play would gain promotion to NSL 1 for 2019.  As it turned out, the same team won both the Nationals and the league.
     
  • The first-ever NSL 3 Nationals, for eight teams with aspirations to join the NSL structure.  The two teams that finished at the top of the round-robin standings would both be given a place in NSL 2 league play in 2019.

Three games were webstreamed from Sunday’s playoffs: a brilliant NSL 1 Page Playoff pre-final with a twist in the tail, and then the NSL 2 and NSL 1 finals, both high-scoring back-and-forth affairs where the winner was in doubt until the end.  All three games can be viewed on BSUK’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/baseballsoftballuk.

Fields were repaired and re-lined throughout the weekend by BaseballSoftballUK’s field crew, and for the NSL 2 and NSL 1 finals, a PA announcer introduced the teams individually at the start of each game.  All this was part of the BSF’s commitment to raise the presentation of its National Championships and make them the pinnacle tournaments of the season.


Results

Let’s cut to the chase for busy readers and lay out the results.

NSL 1

In NSL 1, as expected, Pioneers and Chromies, who have dominated the Premier Nationals in recent years, finished first and second in the round-robin phase of the tournament and eventually faced off in the final, with Pioneers winning the title in a 24-20 slugfest in which the Chromies were always on their heels but fell just short in the end.  There will be more detail on this game below.

However, the expected final match-up almost didn’t occur.  The Windsor Knights, playing their best softball ever at the Premier Nationals, made it to the Page Playoff pre-final game against the Pioneers, with the winner to play Chromies in the final.  Against expectations, the Knights shut down the potent Pioneers offense, and late in the game were one out away from taking a 7-4 lead into the seventh inning. 

That’s when Vicky Chapman came to bat with two out and two on in the bottom of the sixth inning, took three straight balls from Knights pitcher Wolfgang Walther, and then sent the next pitch soaring over the fence in left-centre field to tie the game.  The Pioneers then held the Knights scoreless in the top of the seventh and squeezed out a run in the bottom of the inning to win 8-7 and crush the Knights’ hopes.

“Yes, I knew the count was 3-0,” Vicky Chapman said afterwards, “but the pitch was right in my zone!”

Lucy Binding from the Knights said, “I’m so proud of what we achieved this weekend.  We’ve never done this well or made it this far before.  I’m disappointed – but we can take what we accomplished forward to next year and the future.”

Legends, who reached the final last year before going down to the Chromies, finished fourth, but lost by only a single run to Knights in the 3 v 4 Page Playoff game, so are maintaining their challenge in the top echelons of NSL 1.  The notable absentee from the top four was H2O, who could only manage two wins in the round-robin phase.

NSL 2

Last year’s NSL 2 Nationals winners SPAM topped the group after round-robin play, but then two heart-breaking losses kept SPAM from reaching the final.

In the Page Playoff 1 v 2 game against the Bristol Bees, SPAM lost 7-6 and then met the NSL 2 league winners Manchester Mavericks in the pre-final.  Going into their last at-bat as the home team, SPAM trailed 15-8, but staged a furious rally that brought the score to 15-14 with the tying run on third base and two out.  But that’s where the rally ended.

So the Mavericks, playing their fourth straight game, met the Bees in the NSL 2 final, and the Bees came out with all guns blazing, running up a 12-5 lead after two innings.  But the Mavericks then changed pitchers, shut down the Bees and chipped away, scoring in every inning, until they finally tied the game 13-13 at the end of the sixth.

In the final inning, the Mavericks scored four and the Bees scored two and had the tying runs on base with just one out.  But that’s where the rally ended and the Mavericks, who were top of the table in NSL 2 league play, will move up to NSL 1 next season.  There will be more detail on this game below.

NSL 3

The outstanding team during the NSL 3 round-robin was undoubtedly The Mob, who went undefeated with a 7-0 record, though several of those wins came in close games.  The team that finished behind them with a 4-2-1 record was Drizzle, and both teams will be given places in NSL 2 for next season.

But playoffs can be cruel to round-robin winners, and the NSL 3 playoffs consisted of semi-finals and a final rather than a Page Playoff, which would have given The Mob a second chance.  In the event, The Mob went down 8-4 to Misfits in the 1 v 4 semi-final, while Raiders Gold prevailed over Drizzle in the 2 v 3 semi-final, and it was Misfits and Raiders who met in the NSL 3 Cup Final, with the Misfits winning 11-7.

Impressions

The outstanding impression from the weekend was how closely matched almost all the teams were at all three NSL levels, with just one or two exceptions.

There were 32 games over the weekend decided by three runs or fewer, and the league tables kept fluctuating throughout the round-robin phase of the tournament, which took up all of Saturday and the first half of Sunday.

The conclusion has to be that the NSL structure is working, providing good competition with incentives and opportunities for teams to improve and advance, and that’s why so many teams are now looking for the chance to join in.  The BSF hopes to have an NSL 3 league structure in place by 2020, playing in tandem with NSL 1 and NSL 2, and will look at additional possibilities for mobility within the system.

Below are reports on the NSL 1 and NSL 2 finals.


NSL 1 Final:
Pioneers 24, Chromies 20

This game was a breathtaking display of high-level co-ed slowpitch softball, with 44 runs scored on 52 hits, but only three errors in the whole of the contest.

Each team had four home runs, with Mike MacDowell hitting two for Chromies and Steve Hazard two for Pioneers – but Chiya Louie for Chromies and Vicky Chapman for Pioneers also hit the ball out of the park, and both women had multiple over-the-fence home runs over the weekend.  Chiya went 5-for-5 in the final with five RBIs; Vicky was 4-for-5 with four RBIs, and every one of their hits were smashed.  It was an awesome display.

The game began with little sign of the offensive hurricane to come.  In the top of the first inning, Pioneers failed to score for the only time in the game and Chromies took a 3-0 lead in the bottom half when Matt Tomlin doubled, Chiya Louie singled to drive in Matt and Mike MacDowell belted the first of his two home runs over the left field fence.  So far, so normal.

In the top of the second inning, however, the Pioneers mounted a relentless onslaught against the Chromies and pitcher David Lee.  The inning began inauspiciously for Pioneers when Dan Spinks was out on a third strike foul, but then 10 of the next 11 batters had hits, including Steve Hazard’s first home run of the game and capped by the home run from Vicky Chapman.  Virtually every ball was hard-hit, and there was nothing the Chromies could do.  By the time the inning finally came to an end, Pioneers had sent 16 batters to the plate, scored 11 runs and taken an 11-3 lead.

This was the point when the game could have got away from Chromies if they hadn’t been able to respond.  But typically, they responded in style, with seven runs on seven hits in the bottom of the second inning, including a three-run home run from Mike MacDowell and a solo shot from David Lee.  The game was back on, with the Pioneers’ lead cut to 11-10.

In the third inning, the Pioneers scored twice, but the Chromies came back with three runs on hits by Moe Flett, Misha Sulcova, Danny Gunn and Paul Gough and a sacrifice fly from David Lee, and that tied the score at 13-13.  It was to be the last time the Chromies had a share of the lead, but the Pioneers were never able to pull away until late in the contest.

Pioneers re-took the lead with three runs in the top of the fourth inning when Dan Bello belted a three-run line drive home run with Ruth Macintosh and Steve Rice on base, and in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Pioneers replaced Dan Spinks in the circle with Kasey Pettit-Castor, who had previously been playing third.

It was a bold move, and it worked, with the Chromies only managing three runs in the fourth and fifth innings.  But Pioneers were also having a fallow patch, and at the end of the fifth inning, the Pioneers held a slim 17-16 lead and the large crowd watching the final was waiting to see what would happen next.

What happened next was a decisive five-run rally by the Pioneers in the top of the sixth inning to finally create some separation between the teams. 

The rally began, untypically, with Ruth Macintosh reaching on an error, and three straight singles followed, by Steve Rice, Liz Keaveney and Dan Bello.  That brought two runs home, and Steve Hazard’s second home run of the game, a three-run blast to left centre field, took the score to 22-16.

With Dan Spinks back in the pitcher’s circle, the Chromies could only score one in reply in the bottom of the sixth inning and Pioneers tacked on another two runs in the top of the seventh.  Vicky Chapman led off with a single, Ruth Macintosh drove a long triple to right centre field and a single by Steve Rice brought Ruth home.

So the Chromies came up in the bottom of the seventh inning trailing by seven runs.  But this is a team that never gives up, and a one-out triple to right field by Kat Golik got things started.  Kat scored on Matt Tomlin’s single, and Matt was able to trot around the bases when Chiya Louie did what she loves to do best and put yet another ball out of the park.

But that was as far as Chromies could go.  Mike MacDowell bounced out to second base and Moe Flett hit a ground ball to Steve Hazard at shortstop, and the Pioneers’ celebrations began.

MVPs for the final were Steve Hazard and, inevitably and hugely deserved, Vicky Chapman from the Pioneers.

Pioneers have now won the National Championship twice in the past three years, and you have to go back to 2008 to find the last time someone other than Pioneers and Chromies won the title (it was the Dragons, who no longer exist).  Since that time, Chromies have five national titles and Pioneers four, and right now it’s hard to say who might break up that duopoly.

Chromies remain by far the most successful team in British softball history, however, with 10 Co-ed Slowpitch National Championship wins since the first one was held in 1987.  Their closest challengers are Pioneers, with five titles, and the now-defunct Baker Tomkins with four.


NSL 2 Final:
Manchester Mavericks 17, Bristol Bees 15

This was another great game of softball, and it ended up even more closely contested at the end than the NSL 1 final.  But it took a different route to get there.

The Bristol Bees had ensured their place in the final early in the afternoon when they defeated SPAM in the 1 v 2 Page Playoff game.  So they had a chance to rest while the Manchester Mavericks came through their epic pre-final with SPAM, then came straight to the final to play their fourth game without a break.

That may have had something to do with the fact that the Bees put up 12 runs in the first two innings on the back of 11 hits but also five Mavericks’ errors, while the Manchester team could muster only five runs in reply.  Charlotte Sykes had a single and a triple for the Bees in those first two innings, George Stamets had a double and a single and Trevor Sykes had a pair of singles.

In the third inning, however, the Mavericks made the move that changed the course of the game, replacing starting pitcher Adam Cole with the veteran Pete Nightingale.  Abruptly, the Bees stopped buzzing, and they had no runs, one hit and just two baserunners over the next three innings.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks, who scored in all seven innings, just kept tacking on – nothing dramatic, but the scoreboard kept ticking over.

The Mavs picked up three runs in the third inning, with doubles by Laurence Pearmain and Ian Yates the key hits.

They scored one more in the fourth, on a line drive home run by shortstop Anthony Garcia Reyes drilled over the fence in centre field.

Two more runs followed in the fifth inning on three singles and an error.

At the end of the fifth inning, the Bees were still ahead, 12-11, but they could feel heavy footsteps coming up behind them, and the Mavericks finally took the lead, 13-12, with two more runs in the top of the sixth.  Pete Nightingale’s double got things started and some singles and errors followed.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Bees finally emerged from their torpor and tied the game on a triple by George Stamets and a single by Trevor Sykes.  So the score was now 13-13 as the game approached the final frame.

And that’s when the Mavericks chose to have their highest-scoring inning of the game, posting four very big runs.

Laurence Pearmain led off with a double and scored on a single by Anthony Garcia Reyes.  Tanya Basu then singled to centre field, and Pete Nightingale took his moment in the spotlight, as he has so often before, blasting a three-run home run that put his team into a 17-13 lead.

In slowpitch softball, though, no lead is safe, and the Bees went on the attack with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning.  Chris Ingle and Ceri McGuiness lined singles to left field, Callum Joynes drove in one run with a single, and a line drive single to right centre field by Charlotte Sykes, her fourth hit of the game, made the score 17-15.

George Stamets took two strikes, then made his bid for glory, with a deep drive to centre field that was caught not far from the fence.  But both runners moved up after the catch, so the tying runs were in scoring position with two out and Jill Brown at the plate. 

Jill hit a fly ball towards short left field, but Anthony Garcia Reyes glided back to take the catch, and the Mavericks had their NSL National Championship trophy to go with their NSL 2 league title.

And they will try their luck in NSL 1 next season.

MVPs for the final were Pete Nightingale and Emma Carruthers from the Mavericks.

Final standings

Here are the final standings from all three NSL National Championships.  For NSL 1 and NSL 2, this includes playoff games, but the NSL 3 standings are based on round-robin results only.
 

NSL 1
1 -- Pioneers
2 -- Chromies
3 -- Knights
4 -- Legends
5 -- H2O
6 -- Bristol
7 -- Dodgers
8 -- LNZ
 

NSL 2
1 -- Mavericks
2 -- Bees
3 -- SPAM
4 -- Bombers
5 -- Honey Badgers
6 -- Havoc
7 -- Ninos Privados
8 -- Warriors
 

NSL 3
1 -- The Mob
2 -- Drizzle
3 -- Raiders Gold
4 -- Misfits
5 -- Spittin' Camels
6 -- Fuzzy Ducks
7 -- Tomahawks
8 -- RG Blue Sox

History

Here are the National Championship and NSL winners over time:

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
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
2018 – Manchester Mavericks
2017 – SPAM
 

NSL 3 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
2018 – Misfits

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Comments

03
Sep

Dan Bello 17:07

Thank you, BSF, for another great tournament. And thanks, very much, for live-streaming the games.

We’re in the US, and it was great to able to watch our son and his team. Smoky around the US also watched.

Lastly, CONGRATULATIONS to the Pioneers!! What a great season!!

03
Sep

Joanna Griffin 17:50

Thank you for the plaudits but it was Tanya Basu who batted ahead of Pete Nightingale and scored the single to centre field in Mavericks final innings. She absolutely deserves the mention over me! Thank you, Jo (Mavs).

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