Saturday 21 August -- The British representative at the 2021 European Women’s Cup, The Mix, have finished the tournament on a roll, winning three of their last four games – including an 11-1 mercy rule rout of Akademiks Sofia in today’s fifth-place playoff game.
This morning, in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria, The Mix were facing the same Akademiks pitcher, Ainsley Lopez, who held them to two runs and just five hits on Monday as The Mix lost their opening game of the tournament by 5-2.
But this is an utterly different Mix team that has grown in confidence and power throughout the week, and today The Mix pounded Lopez for 11 runs and 12 hits in the four innings the game lasted, including an eight-run outburst in the top of the fourth that sealed the win.
Leading the way, as she has done throughout the week on offense, was centre fielder Alana Snow, who added three more hits in three at-bats to raise her batting average for the tournament to a stunning .640.
But not far behind was Amie Hutchison, who had two hits today including a bases-loaded triple, and Amie currently leads the tournament in RBIs with nine (Alana is in a tie for third in RBIs with seven).
Meanwhile, Mix starting pitcher Anna-Be Bartels more or less cruised through the game, allowing the Bulgarians four hits and a walk in four innings. The only inning in which Akademiks mounted any kind of threat was the bottom of the third, at a point when The Mix led by only 3-0 and the game was not yet decided.
Two Bulgarian singles and a groundout in that inning produced a run, but a fly ball to Alana Snow in centre field ended the inning – and then The Mix came to bat in the top of the fourth and put those decisive eight runs on the board.
The game had a quiet opening, though the first inning ended with The Mix 1-0 up. Alana Snow opened with a single to centre field and went all the way to third on Sian Wigington’s sacrifice bunt, then scored on a groundout by Anna-Be Bartels.
A recurrent theme throughout the week has been Alana getting on base and Sian Wigington putting down successful sacrifice bunts to move her into scoring position.
There was no further scoring until the top of the third inning, when The Mix stretched their lead to 3-0.
With one out, Alana Snow slashed a triple to right centre field and, after the Bulgarians secured a second out, scored on a single up the middle by Anna-Be Bartels. Two more singles – by Amie Hutchison to left field and Katie Jessop to right field – produced the second run of the inning.
The Akademiks’s run in the bottom of the third inning cut the margin to 3-1 and gave the Bulgarians hope. But no one – and certainly not Akademiks pitcher Ainsley Lopez – foresaw what was coming in the top of the fourth.
Holly Newell began the assault with a long double to centre field and scored when the Bulgarians made a mess of Emanuela Vischetti’s sacrifice bunt. Chelsie Robison grounded back to the pitcher for the first out, but then Alana Snow singled to drive in Emanuela, and Sian Wigington and Anna-Be Bartels both singled to load the bases.
That brought Amie Hutchison to the plate, and her triple to the gap in right-centre field brought three runs home and pretty much ended the contest.
But The Mix weren’t done. Katie Jessop singled home Amie, Crista Reed-Thomas brought in Katie with a triple to left centre field and then Crista scored on a wild pitch to make the score 11-1 and bring the mercy rule – 10 after four – into play.
With two out in the bottom of the fourth inning, a walk and an error put two runners on for the Akademiks, but Ivana Hristova grounded back to Anna-Be Bartels to end the game.
The Mix, with many of the same players in their squad, finished second in the European Women’s Cup in 2019.
But 18 months of Covid, with very few playing opportunities for British-based players, who make up the majority of the team, inevitably meant that The Mix came to the tournament needing time to adjust to competitive pitching and meaningful tournament play.
Hence, the first four games of the tournament were lost – not badly, but principally because The Mix averaged less than three runs per game. And because of the unforgiving format of the tournament, where initial round-robin results were all that determined what happened on the final day, those four losses cost The Mix any chance of playing in a medal game.
But look at their last four games: three wins out of four, 42 runs scored, and a battling performance against the best team in the tournament, the Wesseling Vermins, in going down by just 11-9.
In a normal year, with normal opportunities for play and preparation, The Mix could certainly have been among the medals again.
Like almost all teams in European Cup competitions, The Mix brought in a few guest players to bolster their team. But of the 12 players in the squad in Dupnitsa, eight are British-based and eight (not quite the same eight) are British. The team includes two current GB Women’s Team players – Alana Snow and Amie Hutchison – and several players who have played for GB teams – including the GB Slowpitch Team -- at various age levels.
A great deal of credit needs to go to Sian Wigington and Chelsie Robison, who founded the team several years ago and have kept it going as a means of providing international competition for a generation of British players inside and outside national team pools.
The gold medal was won, in the end, by the Wesseling Vermins from Germany, who went undefeated over the course of the week and beat the Wroclaw Panthers by 6-1 in the gold medal game, which was called after five innings because of fading light.
The hardest game the Vermins had during the tournament came from The Mix, who led the Germans for five innings and then came close to a game-winning rally in the bottom of the seventh inning before going down 11-9.
Today's playoff results were:
Seventh Place Game
Angels Dupnitsa 3, Princ Zagreb 2
Fifth Place Game
The Mix 11, Akademiks Sofia 1 (4 inns)
Bronze Medal Game
Western Fire 14, Vienna Wanderers 12
Gold Medal Game
Wesseling Vermins 6, Wroclaw Panthers 1 (5 inns)
Final tournament standings were:
1 -- Wesseling Vermins (Germany)
2 -- Wroclaw Panthers (Poland)
3 -- Western Fire (Ukraine)
4 -- Vienna Wanderers (Austria)
5 -- The Mix (GB)
6 – Akademiks Sofia (Bulgaria)
7 -- Angels Dupnitsa (Bulgaria)
8 -- Princ Zagreb (Croatia)