Thanks to the easing of lockdown rules and the observance of Return to Play safety protocols, many slowpitch softball leagues around the country were able to get their 2021 outdoor season started in May. Below are early-season reports from a number of BSF leagues.

Oxford Softball League

Following a huge recruitment drive and rookie training programme over the past two years, the Oxford Softball League has not only bolstered player numbers for existing teams but also created a new team.  The league is extremely thankful to Jen Edis, who has led these efforts on both fronts!

Despite having a large number of rookies this season, the level of play in Oxford has so far exceeded all expectations.  Not only are our seasoned veterans smashing grand slams, but our rookies have also gotten into the thick of the action.  Defensively, we've seen spectacular plays in the field worthy of the highlight reel and an increase in the number of double plays.

Leading the league at the end of May are the Oddsox, with three wins and one loss, followed by the defending champion Spirits with three wins.  Rounding out the league standings are the Mavericks, Tigers, Angels, Rebels, Beavers and Knights.

Continuing the league tradition of awarding game MVP honours to the best man and woman from each team, we've seen an astonishing 38 different players take home the accolade in May.  Leading the league with the most MVP nods is Monique Geyer-Johnson, whose outstanding performance throughout the month has led to MVP status in each of her team's four games.

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Bristol Softball League

Bristol Softball has made a welcome return to our lives in 2021.  Thanks must go to the members of the Bristol Committee, who worked hard with all the key stakeholders during a shortened pre-season to pull together 21 teams, a  working schedule across three divisions, enough umpires, eight coaching sessions, and two planned tournaments, not forgetting the roll-out of BSF Covid guidelines. 

After the first four weeks of the season it has to be said there has been a lot of rain!  But the big story on the block is the continued success of the Archway School teams.  Archway Thunder sit unbeaten at the top of Division 1 and Archway Lightning are unbeaten at the top of Division 3.  It just shows what good coaching (by Mark Saunders), coupled with youthful energy and enthusiasm, can achieve.

But will it remain that way?  In Division 1, Archway is being pursued by the usual suspects, the Sliders, Jets and Guppy Spotters.

Division 2 and Division 3 have been disrupted by rained-off games, but Division 2 is headed by Victorious Secrets, while behind Archway in Division 3 is the evergreen Friendly Fire team. 

And spare a thought for the Vandals (Division 2) who, due to the schedule and lots of rain, only managed to play their first game in Week 4!

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East Midlands Softball League

Like many other leagues, the EMSL Committee spent the spring of 2021 anxiously awaiting the government’s Covid announcements to see how they would impact our plans for a league season this summer.

Being given the green light to play again, albeit having to adopt some Covid measures to keep people as safe as possible, has been a great boost for all those in the league.

From the position we were in at the end of the 2019 season, we have lost two teams, which in a small league of just 10 teams is a considerable number, and it’s meant we’ve had to shrink the league down to two divisions again but without cross-divisional games.

However, it wasn’t all bad news as we actually had a new team enter, with the University of Nottingham putting in a second team (the Archers), such were the numbers they were getting to training.

It was also clear after a couple of early-season training sessions that the Redbacks club hadn’t lost as many players as initially thought, and would be able to re-instate their sister team (the Raptors) into the second half of the league, which is great news.

An increased social media presence during lockdown has also seen record numbers of new players joining the league this season, and they’ve been regularly attending the league’s development sessions on a Tuesday evening.  Now that existing teams have had new players allocated to them to help fill any gaps in numbers, the EMSL’s Development Officer, Kelsey Mumford, is keen to get a development team up and running to grow the number of teams in the league.  This will hopefully help to get us back on track, after last year’s hiatus, with the development programme that the BSF supported us with in 2019.

On the diamond, players have been excited to be back and playing, and the smiles on people’s faces is testament to how much enjoyment they get from the game and how much we’ve all been missing it.  While still competitive, it seems that there’s also a bit more of a relaxed atmosphere on the pitch, with people just being thankful to be back and playing.

In Division One, the Pyros have already wrapped up the Spring League with a 5-0 record, and have one game to go against the Brewers on 10 June, who will be hoping to dent the Pyros’ unblemished start.  Sheriffs have claimed second place with three wins and three losses, while the Misfits (2-4) and Brewers (1-4) are both looking to avoid relegation into the second division, with the Brewers having just one last game to play.

In Division Two, it’s a lot closer, with both the Leicester Royals and University of Nottingham Arrows able to win the title.  Royals are currently three points clear of the Arrows with a 5-1 record, although they have played a game more, with Arrows posting a 4-1 result to date.  Having already played each other twice, with one win each, it’s possible for both teams to win all of their remaining games and end the season tied, at which point the Committee will be looking at runs conceded to see who takes the title.

Of the other three teams in the division, it’s the Tigers who are sitting in mid-table with a 3-3 record and a tie thrown in for good measure.  Tigers are ruing a close defeat by the Royals, who made a nine-run comeback over the last three innings and scored three runs in the final inning with two outs on the board to take the game 17-16.

Redbacks in fourth place (1-3-1) will be looking to take maximum points from their last three games with second place still a mathematical possibility, and even a late showing by the Archers (0-5) in their last three games could see them move out of the Wooden Spoon position. With youth on their side and rapidly improving in terms of game experience you wouldn’t want to bet against the Archers turning things around to close out their 2021 season.

Milton Keynes Softball League

It seems a lifetime ago since the Homerun Hornets lifted the 2019 Milton Keynes Softball League trophy.  Training has of course continued, through rain, shine and even a snow blizzard, but it has been great to be back in competitive action.

Six teams are taking part in the league this year, and with record numbers attending training, there is a large influx of rookies on everyone’s roster.

Milton Keynes Softball is, of course, 10 years old this May.  To celebrate, longstanding members Adam Bee and Robyn Hillyard, who were present at the first ever MK Softball session 10 years ago, threw ceremonial first pitches to get things started before the first match.

In the season opener, the Rhinos got off to a great start, beating the DDs 23-10.  A nine-run fourth inning did most of the damage for the Rhinos, whose MVPs for the game were first base player Leah Holmes and pitcher Stephen Vallance.  John Reynolds of the DDs led their fightback with two home runs and Rachel Hunter also impressed, taking the mound for a few innings in her first league game.  Both received MVP honours for the game.

Next up were the reigning champions, the Homerun Hornets, taking on the Willow Lakers, a re-run of both the 2019 final and the inaugural league game back in 2016.  The game started in torrential rain before a lightning strike caused a delay.  After the resumption, fine pitching by Lakers’ MVP Adam Bee restricted the dangerous Hornets line-up and Laker bats were firing, led by female MVP Lauren Shkurko and rookie Hannah Priestley.  The game ended 26-9 to the Lakers but was not as one-sided as that sounds.  The Hornets put up a good fight, with Ashley Goodfellow (right centre field) and Chris Flynn (shortstop) chosen as the Hornets’ MVPs.

Mid-way through the game, MK Softball celebrated its tenth birthday with Chairperson Leah Holmes sharing a history of the league before presenting the longstanding Chairperson from 2016-2020, Hedley Bevan, with a gift – a brand new chair of course!

In the third game of the season, the OddSox (2018 champions) debuted their new-look line-up and defeated the Towcester Tigers 22-17.  MVPs were Lizzie Cooke (first base) and rookie Sean McGinn (shortstop), who batted 1.000 in his first three at-bats and took a fine juggling catch at short.  Jonathan Mandel (pitcher) and Hannah West (first base) picked up the MVP accolades for the Tigers after the closest game of Round One.

All in all, it was a great start to the season and, alongside league matches, training has continued to take place, with coaching available for players of different intensities and abilities.  Despite the Baltic weather, we’ve seen record turnouts, with rookies improving week by week.

Bring on June!  And some sunshine please!

We are also now pleased to confirm that our Codebreakers Cup will be taking place on Saturday 25 September at the Radcliffe School, Wolverton, Milton Keynes, MK12 5BT.  For more information see the entry on the BSF website events calendar.

Manchester Softball League

Like everyone else, Manchester softballers were only too delighted to get back on the diamonds at the start of the season.  With Return to Play protocols dictating just a few changes in the way we play, everyone soon got into the swing of things. 

Due to Covid, or perhaps just natural wastage after a year off, we have unfortunately lost four teams.  One or two are promising or hoping to return when the all-clear sounds, but two or three are almost certainly gone for good.  On the plus side, the promoted Tigers split into those who wanted to play Division 1, and those who didn't, the latter joining their Division 3 clubmates to form a new team.  Meanwhile, a second team coming over weekly from Sefton meant that the net loss was just one team.

Nevertheless, the upheavals meant that our league structure was somewhat compromised, so, with five and seven teams left in Divisions 3 and 4 respectively, it was decided to merge the divisions for a first round-robin, then split into the top and bottom six after 11 weeks.

With six games played, the 2019 Division 4 champions Bandidos lead the way with the new Tigers snapping at their heels: both are 6-0 and meet each other shortly.  The 2019 rookie Stingers are 4-2, and along with three other teams also on 4-2, make up the top six.

Southport Seagulls made a good start, have since slumped to 3-3, but can still hope to break into the top half.  Making the news with their recruitment efforts are the GMP team the Enforcers, who welcomed to their roster three of four quadruplets (the fourth is in the forces and posted overseas, so cannot join her sisters!).

In Division 2, the Marauders were flying high, but surprisingly lost last week to the bottom team, the Titans.  Marauders still lead the division by a half game from the Speeders (whose game in Week 2 was tied due to fading light) and there are only two games in it down to seventh place.  Only Bats, who were granted a relegation reprieve to help with numbers, are struggling, but every team in all divisions has won at least one game.

At the top, in Division 1, it looks like being a close race again, and with nine teams, it means there is one resting team every week, which makes the standings very volatile.

The top four are the familiar three -- Mavericks, Greensox and Lions -- plus Thunder.  Each of these teams has one loss from their opening four or five games.

The two bottom teams, both Dodgers (Travelling and Jammy) have struggled, along with Meerkats, with just one win each.  If the Jammy Dodgers, who are currently bottom, go down, it will be their first season outside the top flight since they were promoted after just two seasons in 1997.

Solent Softball League

Division One

With the league's 25th Anniversary season lost to the pandemic, 2021 began with a ceremonial first pitch.  League Chair Matt Tebb from the Southampton Spitfires pitched to Welfare Officer Tracy Robinson of the Portsmouth Dodgers.  It was fitting that our two largest cities were represented in a close 16-13 win for the Dodgers. 

The Spitfires bounced back later in the month, beating the Baffins Brewers and pushing the reigning champion Knicks in a close game, ultimately losing 24-22.  The Knicks continue to be the team to beat, winning their first four fixtures of the campaign, including a 20-11 win over last year’s (we don’t count 2020) runners-up, the Chichester Falcons. 

Division Two

Another Portsmouth/Southampton fixture opened the campaign with the Redbridge Raiders overcoming the Portsmouth Pirates 23-16.  Both the Pirates and the Solent Oddballs had to wait a full year to play their first competitive games, with the Oddballs beating the University of Portsmouth 36-7 in their inaugural contest.

The Southsea Sharks head into this year as favourites to win the division after coming down at the end of 2019 and started with a 31-8 win over the Pirates, but then lost against the Oddballs by a score of 10-7 in their other game in May.  In what looks like it will be a very close race this season, the Vikings returned to beat the Oddballs 15-11, but then lost to the so far unbeaten Raiders 19-9.

Meanwhile, the Portsmouth Pirates came away with the first win of their existence, a 23-10 victory over the Oddballs.  At the time of writing, the top six teams are separated by only two points.