By Chris Lunn

Sixteen Bristol Softball Association teams gathered on a cool Sunday morning on 24 April for the league’s First Ball tournament, though the nip in the air was soon forgotten as players eased back into the swing of competitive softball once again.

The day opened with two groups of four teams each in both Comp and Rec Divisions playing round-robins for positions in the final playoffs.

Rec Division

In one Rec group, Archway Lightning narrowly lost by 14-13 to Friendly Fire before following up with two more high-scoring game in which they beat BAM! by 16-10 and Run ‘n’ Base by 22-8.  This earned Lightning second place in the group, with Friendly Fire topping the table, leaving BAM! In third place and Run ‘n’ Base in fourth.

In the second Rec group, Vandals, winners in the Cardiff Firstball the day before, could only manage third place on runs conceded after Monkeys and Underarm Tossers joined them on two wins apiece, forcing Bulls into last place.  This set up a playoff rematch of the Cardiff semi-final between Vandals and BAM!, with the honours again going to Vandals.

Friendly Fire beat Underarm Tossers in the Rec final to remain unbeaten on the day, winning 16-6 in a fiercely fought contest.

Comp Division

In the Comp half of the tournament, Sliders probably began as favourites, but stumbled against a strong Panthers team, losing 16-13 in their second game of the day after an earlier 20-4 win over Guppy Spotters.  However, a strong recovery against Scorgs, with a 15-1 win, put Sliders top of the table and into the Comp final after another three-way tie was decided on runs conceded.

Bristol Creamers went on to top the second Comp group with two wins (9-8 against Force and 13-4 against Greasy Mitts) leaving them tied on points with Greasy Mitts but progressing to the top spot on their head-to-head result.  Force and Grandslammers, tied on one win each, filled the third and fourth places respectively.

The Comp final was a one-sided affair, with the Creamers struggling to get into gear and Sliders batting and fielding well.  A few errors left the Creamers with one run to score in the top of the fifth inning to stay in the game but Sliders proved too strong, winning 18-3 on the run ahead rule.

A new record

Another element of note at the Bristol First Ball this year was the umpiring.  After the BASU umpire course moved online this year, the tournament was a great opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of the course, with many of the candidates up for their first qualification or re-assessment.

Bristol was the first league to tackle the new training format, with 36 candidates starting the online modules back in January and attending fortnightly Zoom sessions.  Each module contained around an hour of video to be watched in the candidate’s own time, with the opportunity to discuss any questions as a group during the Zoom meetings.

The format appears to have been popular, allowing each person the flexibility to learn at their own pace as well as re-watch and review the materials several times if they wished – something not possible in a classroom.

Then a one-day practical session concentrated on physical skills training, giving everyone a chance to get over their first-umpiring-experience nerves.

A total of 25 candidates stepped up to be assessed at the Bristol First ball, and 22 passed at BASU level while the remaining three achieved BLU (Bristol League Umpire) level – a new record for a single day.  Well -deserved congratulations to all involved!

Even with 25 new umpires, Bristol still has seven more umpires to assess at league matches and a further four who have entered the mentoring process.  Feedback indicates that mentoring, which was set up a few years ago, has been very popular and has increased confidence in those new to officiating.  Two comments were:

“A big thanks … for putting the umpire mentoring scheme in place this season.  I personally have found it's given me a lot more confidence to take on the hell … I mean joy of umpiring!”

“Totally agree about the mentoring.  I can't imagine going cold into a first umpiring game – it makes a huge difference.”

A final thank you to Pete Saunders, Jason Smith and Jes Sandhu for all their work assessing on the day, and to Fliss Cargill and Caroline Meads for organising the tournament!

Roll on the summer sun and more softball!