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by Jenny Fromer

Dupnitsa, Bulgaria: July 20 -- At the end of yesterday's first day of play at the 2011 European Slowpitch Championships, new schedules were issued to move as many games as possible from the unsuitable second field. That will make for an early start each day, with games beginning at 8.00 am. Generously, the hosts, Bulgaria, will play the first and last game each day going forward.

So today started with Bulgaria and Slovenia facing off and Slovenia won easily, 25-2. That meant that Slovenia, like GB, had a 3-0 record. As GB and Slovenia were due to meet in the afternoon, that made their game very interesting.

Meanwhile Germany lost to both the Czech Republic and Ireland this morning, although they had a 5-1 lead against the Irish going into the fifth inning. But since yesterday's poor start, the Irish bats have been on song and they stepped up a gear to beat Germany 20-7.

GB v Slovenia

There was a real buzz about this game. Word had gone round that Slovenia were looking really handy and everyone was keen to see the match-up that would put one team on top of the leader board, albeit temporarily.

The first two innings were quick, with both sides only allowing two base runners and preventing them from scoring.

In the top of the third, Zak Haq led off the inning for GB with a line-drive single and after Kirsty Leach flew out to right field, Dan Spinks came up to bat as the EH. With a two-strike count, Dan smashed the ball over the fence and across the street, where it hit a corrugated fence with a clang and GB were up 2-0. This was Britain's first over-the-fence home run of the tournament.

GB added a third run in the top of the fourth inning when Ben March, who reached on a  ground-rule double, went on to score on Roger Groom’s fielder's choice.

It was in the bottom of the fourth that the game completely turned. With one out and one runner on base, the next five Slovenian batters hit solid doubles, punctuated by a sacrifice fly, and when the inning ended Slovenia were leading 5-3.

As the game progressed, the weather started to change dramatically, with strong winds whipping up the dirt from the infield. Ales Mravlje, the Slovenian pitcher, coped admirably with the conditions and continued to pitch with heavy spin, which GB batters struggled to deal with. From the fifth inning on, only four GB batters safely reached and an uncharacteristic number popped out or flied out.

Meanwhile,. Slovenia continued to add runs, with two in the fifth inning and one in the sixth that looked like it was going to be a lot more until a base-running mistake led to a tag-out at the plate by catcher Lillian Tanner that stopped the Slovenian momentum.

But Slovenia held on in the top of the seventh and kept two GB base runners  from scoring to win the game 8-3. There followed much celebration by the Slovenians, as they were well aware that they had pulled off a massive upset. And there  was some relief from the watching teams that GB had proven fallible.

Slovenia first played in the European Slowpitch Championships in 2006, when they hosted the tournament to give their fledgling slowpitch development programme a boost. In 2008,. they came to Euros that the BSF hosted in Southampton and didn't win a game.

In early 2010, GB Slowpitch coaches Sara Vertigan and Lukas Kelly, along with Mike Jennings, delivered a weekend clinic to eager Bulgarian slowpitch players. That summer, at the European Slowpitch Championships in Prague, the Slovenians finished sixth out of eight, but were no one's pushover.

And now...!

In the scheme of things this result shouldn't cause too much concern for GB, but it has, at least for now, made the tournament a bit more interesting.

Sitting and watching

Both GB and Slovenia had a game to play later in the day: Slovenia against the Czechs and GB against Bulgaria in the final game of the day.

That mean the GB team had the rest of the afternoon to sit and watch games before taking on Bulgaria. The first game they saw on the main pitch was Ireland v the Czech Republic, which proved to be a fascinating back-and-forth battle. Twice Ireland took the lead, only to have the tenacious Czechs come back. By the middle of the seventh inning, the Irish had a comfortable five-run lead, but again the Czechs mounted a valiant comeback, only to fall short and lose 14-12.

Fifteen minutes later the Czech Republic were back on the field to face Slovenia. Through two and half innings it was honours even, with the score at 3-3. Then the Czech pitcher fell apart and walked five batters and allowed five runs to score before being replaced. The Czechs never recovered, and the game ended 13-5, ensuring that Slovenia closed out Day 2 with an untouchable 5-0 record.

GB v Bulgaria

The preceding Czech-Slovenia game over-ran by some distance, which meant that GB and Bulgaria did not take the field until after 7.15 pm, causing some speculation as to when the game could be finished if it had to stop in progress. But it would be fair to say that that issue was pretty comprehensively put to rest. Prior to the start of the game, GB Manager Sara Vertigan indicated that she expected GB to take out their frustrations for their earlier loss on Bulgaria. She could not have been more right.

As has become something of a pattern, GB started slowly and Bulgaria came quickly out of the gates, scoring  two runs in the opening half-inning. GB put a run on the board in the bottom of the inning when Ben March opened with a double and then scored on Steph Jardine's neatly threaded shot through the right side of the infield. But the next three batters were out on catches, one an impressive running catch on Steve Hazard's fly ball by Sara Markova in left centre field.

Neither side scored in the second inning and Bulgaria was retired quickly in the top of the third. But GB bats woke up in the bottom of the third. A walk to Ben March started the inning, followed by hits for Steph Jardine, Fiona Hunter, Dan Spinks and Danny Gunn that scored four more runs.

Then came the bottom of the fourth. Nicola Duerden led off with a walk from the one female pitcher in the tournament, Gerry Handjiyska (possibly a shoe-in for the Best Female Pitcher award!). And after Nicola, 20 more GB batters came to the plate and put on a base-hitting clinic, helped a little by some Bulgarian errors. With the score at 21-2, two runners on, two outs and GB needing one more run to end the game, Coach Jeremy Bedford brough in Ruth Macintosh to hit for Nicola Duerden. As has consistently been the case in this tournament, the move proved to be a good one as Ruth smashed the ball into centre field to end the game with an inside-the-park home run.

It was a crushing victory that came from repeated base-hitting. The key to the win was the excellent batting by the GB women. Steph Jardine went 4-for-4 (and 6-for-6 for the day), Emily Clifford went 3-for-3 with a walk, Lucy Binding was 2-for-3 with a walk and of course Ruth Macintosh had the game-ending RBI with her home run. For Team GB, it must have felt as if order had been restored.


Halfway through the round-robin stage, and the standings are starting to take shape. Slovenia and GB are leading the pack, and after an impressive Day 2 with three wins, Ireland are close behind. But with three teams on 1-4 at the bottom of the table (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Germany), an interesting battle is developing for the vital fourth and final spot in the Page Playoff.

Standings (after 20 July)

Slovenia (5-0)
GB (4-1)
Ireland (3-2)
Bulgaria (1-4)
Czech Republic (1-4)
Germany (1-4)