It’s been 17 years since the A-grade team H2O was founded, and there have been a lot of near misses in National Championship finals over that time. But this year was different, as H2O pulled away from Chromies in the final of the 2022 NSL1 National Championship for a coveted 17-8 win.
“For me,” H2O captain Roger Grooms said after tears had been shed and all the hugs were over, “it’s been 17 years of hurt. So there was relief, but also the amazing feeling of finally being on the winning side. The team dynamic and ethic were brilliant, and everyone on a large squad delivered, either on the field or supporting from the bench. Finally, we achieved what I’ve been dreaming about for so many years.”
The 2022 National Championship tournaments for NSL1 and NSL2 were played on the weekend of 3-4 September at Farnham Park, and both events featured some high-quality and exciting softball and twists and turns in the race to be one of the four out of eight teams in each competition to get to the Page Playoffs on Sunday afternoon.
The two teams to get to the NSL2 final -- clearly the two best teams in the tournament -- were Tempest and the Terriers, and in the final it was Tempest, who finished second in NSL2 league play this year and won promotion to NSL1, that prevailed by a score of 18-7.
Tempest also won the NSL2 Nationals in 2019 and 2021, and will hope that the team they’ve assembled can progress in NSL1 next year.
For more on the NSL2 Nationals, see below.
By Bob Fromer
This was one of the strongest NSL1 Nationals fields in years, and it became clear during the weekend that there were five teams with a real chance to win it.
But there were only four places available in the Page Playoffs, so the final stages of round-robin play on Sunday morning turned into a dogfight.
Interestingly, last year’s National Champions, the Travelling Dodgers, weren’t among the contenders. The Dodgers won two of their first three games on Saturday and their loss was only by 13-12 to H2O. But the Dodgers faded after that, and it was clear by mid-morning on Sunday that their chance to make the playoffs had gone.
Two other teams – the Bristol Tigers and the KKs – were never really in with a chance, with both securing only one win over the weekend.
That left five teams in contention for four playoff places, and when it came down to the last round of pool games on Sunday, H2O was in the lead with a 5-1 record, but four other teams – Knights, Legends, Chromies and Pioneers – were all sitting on 4-2, and were due to play each other, with Pioneers facing Chromies and Knights, pre-pandemic National Champions in 2019, facing Legends.
One team was going to lose out, and it turned out to be Legends.
Chromies, despite having a squad thinned out by absentees and injuries, summoned some of their old magic and scored four runs in the bottom of the final inning – two of them on a key single by Tom Russell – to edge out Pioneers by a score of 7-6.
Meanwhile, the Knights and Legends, both of whom were undefeated on Saturday but found things tougher on Sunday, played a game in which the Knights prevailed by 16-8. So Knights and Chromies had booked their playoff places – and the final team to squeeze in was Pioneers, who had the head-to-head advantage over Legends.
It has been a great season for Legends, who finished second to H2O in NSL1 league play and who had played some sparkling softball on Saturday at the Nationals, only to just miss the final cut.
It was also because of head-to-head advantage that Chromies finished second in the round-robin table, with Knights third and Pioneers fourth – and that table determined the line-ups for the Page Playoffs.
In the 1 v 2 Page Playoff game, H2O scored a run in the bottom of the first inning and Chromies tied the score with a run in the top of the second. In the bottom of the inning, Chromies pulled off an excellent 5-4-3 double to keep H2O off the scoreboard, then scored three runs in the top of the third inning to take a 4-1 lead.
But H2O came up in the bottom of the third and pounded out a merciless barrage of hits, compounded by errors on the part of the shell-shocked Chromies. When the inning finally ended, H2O had scored 15 runs and taken the game out of sight. Two final consolation runs by the Chromies in the top of the fourth inning made the final score 16-6. H2O had booked their place in the final.
Meanwhile, Pioneers, who had their struggles over the weekend, went behind 12-6 to the Knights in the 3 v 4 Page Playoff game, but came storming back for a 19-14 win that set up another meeting with Chromies in the semi-final to see who would join H2O in the final.
This second meeting between Chromies and Pioneers in the space of a couple of hours was tight and low-scoring for three-and-a-half innings, at which point Chromies were ahead by just 3-2.
But the bottom of the fourth inning featured one of those patented Chromies explosions, with nine runs crossing the plate. The key hits were a two-run single by Chiya Louie and a two-run triple by Michaela Sulcova.
Pioneers went down tamely in the top of the fifth inning and Chromies, winners of 10 previous National Championships, had rather improbably made it to the final.
“We’re right where we want to be,” said Chromies Manager Doug Clouston before the final began, “and if we can match them in hits, who knows? They’ve never won this title – and I’ll be reminding them of that!”
Roger Grooms said, “Just one game to go….”
Chromies began the final with a statement of intent: three runs in the top of the first inning.
Singles by Tom Russell and Eric Kelly, a double by Manny Estevez and a couple of H2O errors gave the Chromies a flying start.
But it took H2O exactly three batters and seven pitches to tie the score in the bottom of the first inning.
Robbie Studhome singled to right field, Megan Beard singled to right centre – the first of her four singles in five trips to the plate – and then Mike McDowell hit a long, towering three-run blast over the left field fence.
That wasn’t the end of the scoring for H2O. With two out, Danielle Atkinson hit a ground ball to short and reached first when the throw pulled Chromies first base player Christina Witphuhn off the base. But Danielle was somehow clipped in the process and went down hard, and after a long delay had to leave the field with a shoulder injury, replaced by Kat Golik.
It was H2O that had lost a key player, but the delay seemed to affect the Chromies more. When play finally resumed, Chromies pitcher George Bartlett walked both Matt Tomlin and Roger Grooms, and because two were out, automatic walks were also taken by Kirstie Leach and Chelsie Robison, and the result was two more runs and a 5-3 H2O lead after an eventful opening inning.
Both teams left two runners on base without scoring in the second inning, and in the top of the third inning the Chromies scored another three runs to re-take the lead – though it turned out to be for the last time.
Chiya Louie and Eric Kelly opened the inning with singles and both scored on a double to left centre field by Manny Estevez. Manny later scored on an error, and the Chromies were ahead 6-5.
But H2O came up with another five-run burst in the bottom of the third inning and began to take control of the game.
At first, there didn’t seem to be a particularly serious threat. Although Matt Tomlin and Kirstie Leach led off the inning with singles, pinch-hitter Nathan Copier flew out to right centre field and so did Chelsie Robison, though her out was a sacrifice fly that allowed Matt to score just ahead of a tremendous throw to the plate by Eric Kelly. But then Robbie Studholme and Megan Beard singled to load the bases and Mike McDowell unloaded them with another towering blast over the fence in left field, and suddenly H2O had a 10-6 lead.
After that, H2O just continued to hit and continued to score – two more runs in the fourth inning, four more in the fifth including Mike MacDowell’s third home run of the game, and a final run in the sixth.
Chromies had run out of steam and could only manage solo runs in the top of the fifth and seventh innings.
The final out in the top of the seventh inning – a force out at second on a ground ball hit by Kaja Wollf – triggered an outpouring of joy and emotion on the part of not just H2O but many in the large crowd watching. Everyone knew about the long wait and the near misses, and now the moment of redemption had arrived.
There was an H2O group hug, and then all the player hugged Roger Grooms and each other, and then all the Chromies players gave the H2O players hugs as well.
“The bonus to all this,” Roger Grooms said later, after the awards had been handed out, “is that we get to go back to the European Slowpitch Super Cup next year. We love that tournament – it’s a great holiday for our families as well as a great competition to play in – and going back there was one of our main goals.”
Not surprisingly, MVP awards for the NSL1 final went to two H2O players: Megan Beard for her four hits and Mike MacDowell for his three home runs and nine RBIs.
H2O’s triumph may have been long awaited, but the fact that it happened this year was the result of careful planning.
Over the off-season, and after finishing seventh at the NSL1 Nationals in 2021 and failing to make the playoffs, H2O augmented their squad by recruiting Mike MacDowell, Kat Golik, Danielle Atkinson, Joe Grantham and Matt Tomlin, most of them current GB players.
“Although a number of our original players are still here and playing,” Roger Grooms said, “the players we brought in were mostly younger and more athletic -- really good, solid softball players that added massively to the team’s ability.”
And -- they helped deliver that long-awaited National Championship title.
Click the link below to watch a highlight from the weekend!
By David Grice
Tempest recorded a hat-trick of NSL2 National Championship wins on either side of the Covid pandemic with a near-perfect weekend, ending with a strong and solid 18-7 win over Terriers in the final.
A grand-slam home run by Tempest outfielder Oki Te'o in the third inning and further homers in the fifth by pitcher Shane Sharp and team captain Simon Tymms were the scoring highlights.
However, strong performances with the glove and arm by outfielder Nathan Barrett and first base player Zoe Le Roux secured them deserved MVP awards.
The Manchester-based team have been the team to beat in the NSL2 Nationals for the last few years, and with promotion to NSL1 now secured with their second-place finish in the NSL2 league, life at the top is already in their thoughts.
Despite their Nationals beginning on Saturday morning with an 11-8 defeat to the Terriers, that result – their only loss of the weekend as things turned out -- did not affect the Tempest players’ state of mind. With the entire roster contributing both with the bat and the glove, everyone else looked to be playing catch-up.
Many expected NSL2 league champions Spittin' Camels to be a contender. But multiple absentees and sub-par performances with the bat saw the Manchester side fade away early on.
Taking their contender’s spot were Terriers. Their route to the final was almost identical to that of Tempest, and with only one loss on their record at the hands of London side LNZ after the group stage, silverware for the Terriers was looking likely.
After the first stage of the tournament – a full round-robin – had finished, the standings looked like this, with the top four teams going on to the Page Playoffs. For the teams finishing fifth to eighth, with nom placing games played this year, their tournament was over.
Tempest exacted revenge for their Saturday loss to the Terriers with a 15-9 win in the 1 v 2 Page Playoff game to confirm a place in the final.
Though the Page Playoff format gave the Terriers a second chance of getting to the final, standing in their way was London's The Mob, who had collected a walk-off 9-8 win over Scottish side Honey Badgers in the Page Playoff 3 v 4 game.
That win inspired The Mob to a strong start against the Terriers in the semi-final, but Terriers fought back well and produced a strong finish to come out 9-7 winners.
So the final was the third Tempest-Terriers match-up of the weekend, with each team having won once.
The final began with both sides showing off their defensive skills to shut down opposition threats. Most notable was Tempest's right centre fielder Nathan Barrett, who produced a spectacular catch on a hit that looked certain to put Terriers outfielder Alex Akers on base.
The third inning saw the scoring floodgates open. Two runs by the Terriers gave them a slender 3-2 lead, but Tempest responded with eight runs of their own, capped by Oki Te'o's grand slam, which ended up being the crucial moment of the game.
After that, the Terriers struggled to find a way to match that amount of scoring. Substitutions were made by captain George Stamets to see if that could switch the momentum, but unfortunately for the Terriers, Tempest’s hitting continued.
Tempest put their scoring boots on once again in the bottom of the fifth inning, and home runs by Shane Sharp and Simon Tymms extended their lead to 10 runs, at 17-7.
Tempest’s eventual 18-7 victory capped off what was a highly successful period in NSL2. The promised land of NSL1 will be an adventure the entire team will be chomping at the bit to experience.
Below are the National Championship and NSL winners over time.
NSL1 or A-GRADE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
2022 – H2O
2021 – Travelling Dodgers
2020 – Cancelled due to Covid
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
NSL2 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
2022 -- Tempest
2021 – Tempest
2020 – Cancelled due to Covid
2019 – Tempest
2018 – Manchester Mavericks
2017 – SPAM
NSL3 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
2022 – Blitz Havoc
2020-2021 – Cancelled due to Covid
2019 – Spittin’ Camels
2018 – Misfits