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by Jenny Fromer

Dupnitsa, Bulgaria: July 21-- Day 3 at the European Slowpitch Championships started with bad news for the GB camp. Regular shortstop Steve Hazard reported an injured wrist, and while the extent of the injury is unclear, it's possible that he will not be able to take any further part in the tournament.

When Coach Jeremy Bedford passed on the news he added, “That's why we have a big squad.” But it was still a tough loss as Steve was the second middle infielder to go down this week (Robbie Robison was the other).

Slovenian comeback

Meanwhile, on the Marek Stadium pitch where a few games are having to be played, the Irish also had a tough morning.

Facing top of the pack Slovenia, Ireland were 16-4 up in the fourth inning, only to lose 21-16. Irish player Linda Horan said, “They base hit us to death.” It was a hard loss for the Irish,  who had had a bounce-back day yesterday, winning three games with sterling base hitting themselves.

A quick visit to the Marek Satdium field confirmed that the organisers are right to use it as little as possible. It is a remote grass field tucked behind the more famous Marek Football Stadium, but the grass is uncut and coarse and it looks like there will be few true bounces.

Game 1 on the main field today was between Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Both teams are full of small, quick, tenacious players, but the Bulgarians looked to have more offensive power and won the game 18-12 to pull themselves off the bottom of the table.

GB v Germany

Shortstop Ben March, who has been  consistent all week, led off GB's first game of the day with a triple to right-centre field and scored when Germany's second base player, Stefanie Weisse, bobbled the ball.

But the next three batters were retired.

The German lead-off hitter and pitcher, Dr Karim Abu-Omar, started the bottom of the inning with a hit up the middle, but didn't move past first base as GB got three quick outs of their own.

In  the second inning, GB added two more runs on hits by Martin Cartledge, Emily Clifford, Danny Gunn and Ruth Macintosh and the Germans once again left one runner stranded in reply.

By the third inning, GB looked much more relaxed at the plate as EH Kirsty Leach started the inning with a hit through the right side. This was followed by Ben March hitting a hard line drive back up the middle which the pitcher held onto out of self-preservation, though he was knocked to the ground in making the play. Then Steph Jardine threaded a ball just out of the reach of the shortstop, Dan Spinks reached on an error and Martin Cartledge drove in two more runs with a single. In the bottom of the inning, Germany kept up the pattern and again left a single base-runner at first.

GB really opened up in the fourth inning to score six runs, helped by a couple German errors and another inside-the-park home run from Danny Gunn that scored two. When the inning was over, GB led 11-0.

For the rest of the game, GB continued to hit solidly, including yet another home run in the park from Fiona Hunter, and they really piled on the runs in the sixth inning. Eleven batters came to the plate to score seven runs and run the score to 20-0. In the bottom of the inning, pitcher Roger Grooms, who had given up only four hits all game and issued no walks, saw only the first three batters in the German line-up, who were all quickly retired and the game was called on the run-ahead rule. It was a comprehensive GB victory.

GB v Slovenia

A few minutes later, GB were back on the field to face Slovenia, still unbeaten after their earlier comeback win against the Irish.

While yesterday's loss to Slovenia is unlikely to have any impact on the standings with regard to Page Playoff places, it was clear that GB was looking for revenge. Coach Bedford opted for a tighter 10-player batting order rather than the 12 of the day before. Starting former Development Squad member Lucy Binding at third, Bedford showed again that he has faith in the newer members of the team.

Slovenia put a run on the board in the top of the first inning when outfielder Masa Kusar came home to score on a fielder's choice, but they left two base runners stranded.

GB then set out their stall in no uncertain terms in the bottom of the inning. Ben March and Stephanie Jardine got things underway with singles. The next batter, Dan Spinks, showed patience at the plate to take the first walk of many from pitcher Hinko Kostanjevek and drive in the first run. GB then batted around the order, plating nine runs.

Slovenia pulled one back in the second inning when the lead-off batter, Jan Tomsic, drew the only walk pitcher Dan Spinks issued in the game and came in to score on a hit to right field by third base player Tina Kramberger.

GB added runs each of the next two innings, helped by walks and some critical errors from a rapidly imploding Slovenian side. There was a dramatic moment in the third inning when Zak Haq singled to left field and was halfway to second when the ball was quickly returned to the infield. Zak dived back safely to first under the tag by tall first baseman Igor Kep, and when the frustrated Kep threw his glove to the ground in protest, he was summarily ejected.

In the bottom of the fourth inning the score stood at 18-2 for GB when the Slovenians came to life and showed why they can always be a threat. The first four batters had hits and the fifth reached on an error, and all five scored before an out was recorded. The threat was quelled when the next batter grounded out and then second base player Barbara Killer hit into a double-play to end the inning. Slovenia added one more run in the top of the fifth to bring their total to nine.

In the bottom of the fifth, GB were focused on bringing the game to an early finish. Emily Clifford had her third hit of the game to lead off and Lillian Tanner came in to pinch run. Danny Gunn then reached on error and Lillian ran hard to third. Next up was Nicola Duerden, who had been walked in her first three at-bats. She singled to right to score Lillian. The consistent Ben March then drove in Danny Gunn with a single to centre field. Steph Jardine drew a walk, followed by a double for Dan Spinks. Next batter up was Vicky Chapman, in for Fiona Hunter, and she hit the ball hard back at the pitcher, Hinko, who hurt himself trying to field the ball and throw home to stop the game from ending. Heroically returning to the mound, he then gave up the game-ending RBI on Zak Haq's single to left.

Final score: GB 25, Slovenia 9.

Looking forward

After the game, Head Coach Jeremy Bedford declared himself very pleased with the day's performance. "It really felt like a unified effort," Jeremy said. "It was once again a day where everyone really did contribute.”

From the outside, it appeared that there was a real sense of purpose and stepping up in the wake of the news of Steve Hazard's injury.

GB will next play Bulgaria first thing on Friday morning, taking their turn on the lesser second field.

In the remaining games of today, the Czechs beat Germany 11-1 and Ireland beat Bulgaria 11-0. So the final day of round-robin play is set up for a real dog-fight at the bottom for the fourth Page Playoff place. On paper, Bulgaria have the easier schedule as they will face Germany whereas the Czechs will only see the top three teams.

Standings (21 July)

GB (6-1)
Slovenia (6-1)
Ireland (5-3)
Bulgaria (2-5)
Czech Republic (2-5)
Germany (1-7)


Coverage of previous games from the European Slowpitch Championships can be found in the News section on this website.