By Mike MacDowell and Roger Grooms

In a first for Europe, a United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Softball World Championships was held in Barcelona, Spain, for men’s and women’s teams from the 15-17th March. Competing at the tournament, held at the two venues used for the 1992 Olympics, were Bulldogs (women’s) and Pyros (men’s) from the UK containing players who regularly turn out in the NSL.

The Pyros are a longstanding Nottingham-based team, run by Matthew Tomlin in the EMSL and National Single Sex competitions, whilst Roger Grooms takes the reigns for their overseas trips. Bulldogs are the brainchild of Katherine Golik, a travel team assembled specifically to enter European competitions and constructed from players across the NSL and coached by Mike MacDowell, Jenny Ball, and Teppei Itoh. 

BUlldogs team relaxing between games
Bulldogs team relax while watching Bombshells play in Barcelona

With 12 women’s and 11 men’s teams (due to a late dropout) from various European countries, European US Military bases, and qualifying teams that flew in from the USA and Canada, the competition was varied and strong: a fact that showed in the ultimate finishing positions of both Bulldogs and Pyros who finished 5th and 9th respectively. However, the numerical ranking doesn’t tell the true story - which needs to begin with qualification for the tournament.

Background to Worlds Qualification 

This first ever USSSA World Championship has been a long time in the making - with a variety of tournaments, test events, and qualifiers being held since 2022 to make the tournament successful. The partnership with USSSA Softball is a first and a large number of the top people from USSSA Softball travelled to Europe to make the tournament a success. 

For their path to qualification, Bulldogs and Pyros competed at the 360 Softball Supercup in October 2023, an annual competition held in Regensburg, Germany. Their performance at this tournament determined their qualifying status for the World Championship and both were successful in this ultimate aim, with Bulldogs walking away from the Supercup as 2023 Champions. 

Pyros finished 7th at the Supercup, an admirable achievement in the face of an array of US Military base teams and European teams littered with Americans, including some sponsored players flown in from the US - and this qualified them as one of the highest-ranked European teams.  

Single-sex Slowpitch Softball has been quite popular in mainland Europe for some time, driven by the presence of the US Military bases and ex-pats. It is the dominant form of the sport played across borders on the continent, with the European Slowpitch Softball League/European Slowpitch Softball Championships leagues and tournaments having been run for over 10 years. With single-sex being a lesser-played form in the UK, the performance of both teams is encouraging to show British players can compete with the American teams.

Round Robin Play 

Both teams faced a similar schedule, with four round-robin games on Friday that would determine seedings for a double elimination bracket that ran Saturday and Sunday. The games on Friday were timed, but each of the double elimination games would be full 7-inning games. 

Both teams had opening games which were daunting on paper. The Pyros took on the 2022 World Champions team Proaxion and briefly, after three innings were 5-2 ahead and potentially causing a huge shock. However, the power of Proaxion came though with a 9-run inning, including a 400ft Line Drive home from their Team Canada player and eventually lost out 12-6.  

A polar opposite, the Bulldogs conceded 20 runs in the first inning to another Canadian team, True North, who took advantage of the short 220ft outfield fence distance. They did however fight back, conceding no more and scoring 3 runs for a final score of 20-3. 

Both teams won their two round-robin games against European opposition, Pyros coming out on top against Gladiators from Italy and Swiss Toros, and Bulldogs seeing off Sparks Mlade Buky and Bombshells from Belgium. Their fates differed, however, when facing off against the European-based US Military teams. Pyros lost a close game 6-4 to Monstas and Villains who are quickly becoming a regular foe, but Bulldogs beat Lady Rams who are one of the most successful women’s slow pitch softball teams around. 

This left Pyros with a 2-2 record that placed them in 6th and they would face Los Coyotes in the first round of the double elimination. Due to a surprise result of Lady Rams beating True North, Bulldogs were pushed to 5th by way of a 3-way tie in their group with a record of 3-1 and so faced off against DNT Ladies. 

Josie Cherson batting in Barcelona

Double Elimination 

Both teams won their respective first double-elimination games, and then due to their seedings faced off against higher-ranked teams. In the case of Pyros, they lost their next game to S2B, one of the American qualifying teams who had travelled over for the tournament. This left them having to face off against 2023 Supercup Champions FSU/DBO Sports in the next round, which was a high-scoring affair that ultimately ended the Pyros tournament with a loss 25-16. 

Bulldogs faced off in round two against the Lady Rams, who were out for revenge for the loss the previous day. In truth, the game could have gone either way, with the Bulldogs holding the lead for 4 innings, but ultimately losing out to the Americans 10-5. 

This meant the team played back-to-back against Bombshells, with the Bulldogs triumphing in a mostly one-sided affair. The game was made close by a big inning from the Bombshells in the bottom of the sixth, driven by a large partisan crowd of Belgian supporters. The final was 11-10 and Bulldogs moved on to Sparks again for a place in the top 6 and a game on Sunday.

Bulldogs v Sparks 

A game played under lights with a growing crowd due to the proximity of the Saturday evening entertainment, this was the Bulldogs’ most complete performance of the tournament. 

Sparks didn’t score in the first three innings, while Bulldogs piled on 4 in the 1st and 6 in the 2nd to hold a 10-0 lead after 3. Josie Cherson and Chelsie Robison continued their tournament hot streaks with hits and RBIs in both innings and Meg Beard (1) and Nicky Puckett (2) hit over the fence home runs. 

Bulldogs tacked on 6 more runs in the 4th and when Sparks failed to score in the top of the 5th, the game was over by a mercy rule with a final of 16-3. 

All 15 Bulldogs players contributed to the Bulldogs' run total in the game, and Nicky Puckett spun a gem in the circle only allowing multiple baserunners in a single inning and she and the team's defense kept the Czech team scoreless in four frames. The win put the Bulldogs into Sunday where they faced off against Superior, another of the US-based qualifying teams and unfortunately for the British team, they lived up to their name, ending the Bulldogs’ tournament with a comprehensive 19-3 victory.

Overview and Future 

Bulldogs’ final placing of 5th put them as the top-ranked European-based team out of all the teams, including those from US Military bases, as the top four teams had all travelled from the US or Canada to compete specifically at the tournament and all are seasoned women's slow pitch players. 

Pyros, due to a foible of the double elimination bracket, ended 9th, below their seeding value and having been leap-frogged by a team who benefitted from a lucky bye built into the 11-team double elimination bracket. Their seeding of 6th after day 1 is more reflective of the ability of the team amongst the strength of the competition. 

Both teams will look to be back in the competition in 2026 and will start planning now to ensure they are in with a shot for a medal.

A Few Tournament Notes: 

The tournament was played under USSSA rules which have some very subtle differences to how we play in the UK. Batters either walk on 3-balls or strike out on 2 strikes but start with a 0:0. This is in essence the same as a 1:1 count in the UK and certainly allows games to be quicker with a big focus on hitting strikes earlier in the count. Pitchers were allowed to ‘pump fake’, pitch behind the back or through the legs as long as they release the ball within 5 seconds and the pitching arc is 3-10 feet. All of the above certainly took time for the British players to get used to. 

The facilities are excellent. The women’s fields used a combination of astroturf and dirt, whilst the main men’s field was astroturf all over. (Batting boxes aside). This ensured a consistent bounce at all times, certainly something which would be great to see in the UK.  

Both teams had the opportunities to play under the floodlights on Friday evening. A really good experience and enables more games to be played throughout the day.

Results: Men's

Fri 15th

Pyros 6 - 12 Proaxion (Canada)
Pyros 5 - 4 Gladiators  (Italy)
Pyros 11 - 10 Swiss Toros
Pyros 4 - 6 Monstas & Villains (USA)

Double Elimination Stage - Saturday 16th March

Pyros finished 6th with a 3 win 1:1 loss record after the RR  and played  11th placed team. After winning that game they progressed to G7 playing 3rd placed team.

G3: Pyros 23 - 8 Los Coyotes/Tenerife
G7: Pyros 8 - 22 S2B  (USA)
G10 Pyros 16 - 25 FSU / DBO Sports / Suncoast (USA)

With 2 losses unfortunately that’s Pyros now out of the competition. They finish on a 3W:5L record. Pyros came 9th overall.

Sunday 17th March

Final was an all Canadian affair between Team AWS ( 6:1) and Proaxion (7:1)  

Team AWS won 14 - 4

Results: Women’s

Fri 15th

Bulldogs 3 - 20 True North (Can)
Bulldogs 5 - 4 Lady Rams (USA)
Bulldogs 6 - 4 Sparks (Cze)
Bulldogs 10 - 5 Bombshells (Bel)

Double Elimination Stage - Saturday 16th March

Bulldogs finished 5th with a 3 win 1:1 loss record after the RR  and played  12th placed team. After winning that game they progressed to G6 playing 4th placed team. Bulldogs reached the top 6 and the only European team left. They finish the competition on a 6W:3L record. Bulldogs came 5th overall.

G2: Bulldogs 8 - 6 DNT Ladies (Neth)
G6: Bulldogs 5 - 15 Lady Rams
G9: Bulldogs 11 - 10 Bombshells
G15: Bulldogs 16 - 3 Sparks

Sunday 17th March

G17: Bulldogs 3 - 19  Superior (USA)

Prefinal between Superior and True North went to extra innings with Superior scoring in the bottom of the 8th inning to get the win 6 – 5.

Final was between Lady AWS (Canada -7:0)  and  Superior (USA 7:2) 

Lady AWS were the winners 11-7

Streamed games can be found here: