H2O has been the most consistent A-grade team in the country this season, and victory at the Bristol Main Tournament on the weekend of July 2-3 has virtually guaranteed them the top spot in the National Softball League table for 2011.
With four NSL tournaments played and just one to go, at Diamond 3 on July 30-31, H2O have 110 points by virtue of two second-place and two first-place finishes. Their nearest rivals, Chromies, are on 86 points and still lamenting their inexplicable collapse at Diamond 2, where they gathered only six points after winning the tournament at Diamond 1.
For anything to change at the top of the standings, Chromies would have to win Diamond 3 while H2O finish in the bottom three, and that seems unlikely to happen unless H2O gets hit by the proverbial bus.
So the current NSL table will have H2O dreaming yet again about that elusive first-ever National Championship when the Premier Nationals come round on the weekend of September 3-4 at Farnham Park.
But there will still be plenty of opposition -- from second-placed Chromies, third-placed Dragons, and the surprising Mariners, who have emerged as a force this season after several years where they could seldom challenge the top teams. Mariners came third at Bristol to maintain fourth place in the NSL standings, while defending National Champion Pioneers have moved up to fifth.
New team Blue Steel, who started strongly and were in the top four after the first two Diamond tournaments, had their second straight bottom-half finish in Bristol and are now clinging to the eighth and final qualification place for the Premier Nationals. But Blue Steel seem likely to hold on to that place, since the teams behind them in joint ninth place, BT and the Maniacs, are 16 points behind Blue Steel and would have to put up their best result of the season by far to have any chance of catching them.
Slammers and Marvels are the other two teams that look almost certain to qualify for the Premier Nationals, while perennial qualifiers BT and Niners look likely to miss out. View the current NSL standings in full...
The NSL started the season as a 15-team competition. But Munster withdrew (although they played in the first two NSL events), and this was followed by the withdrawal of SPAM after Diamond 2.
SPAM captain Jenny Fromer said: "We want to thank NSL teams for being welcoming and for encouraging our participation in the NSL. While we were unable to offer much competition, we appreciate that we were treated with respect. We certainly aspire to continue to improve and aim to be able to return to that level when we are better equipped.
"It has been a challenging season for SPAM trying to make the jump from B-grade to A-level play," Jenny added. "Right now the gap between the two levels is too great for successful B-grade teams to move up and be able to compete without augmenting their squad. For us it has reinforced the need to establish a bridge with NSL2 so that teams can develop and be promoted to the NSL when ready."
Although the BSF announced in May that an NSL2 would be established next season, the Executive is still considering the terms under which this would be implemented.
Diamond A-grade standings
With some non-NSL teams participating at A-grade in the Diamond Series, the Diamond standings look a little bit different to those in the NSL, with just Diamond 3 to come on July 30-31.
H2O are still the leaders, as in the NSL, and BT and Niners are in the bottom half of the table, along with Slammers. But some of the teams immediately behind H2O are different.
Here are the current Diamond places and points with two tournaments down and one to play:
Blue Steel (34)
Manchester Marvels (26)
London Legends (20)
Baker Tomkins (18)
Windsor Knights (17)
Irish National Team (10)