After a two-year Covid break, the BSF’s NSL National Championships returned to Farnham Park on the weekend of 4-5 September. Tempest won their second straight NSL2 crown, but a new NSL1 winner was declared after the Travelling Dodgers powered to their first title.
While Tempest repeated their success at the NSL2 Nationals in 2019, coming from behind to defeat the Spittin’ Camels by a score of 17-13 in the final, the NSL2 Nationals overall was a very open competition in which six of the eight teams had a shot at making the Page Playoffs going into the final round-robin games on Sunday.
The same was true for the NSL1 Nationals, where six teams had a chance to get to the Page Playoffs before the final round-robin games sorted out the logjam.
The NSL1 final was eventually contested by the Travelling Dodgers and this year’s surprise package, the KKs, and with the light fading over the last few innings, the Dodgers had too much power, belting eight over-the-fence home runs in a 15-6 win.
Their first National Championship win will qualify the Travelling Dodgers to represent Great Britain in the next edition of the European Co-ed Slowpitch Super Cup, scheduled for 2023.
End of an era
But the big story at the NSL1 Nationals this year was a dramatic changing of the guard. The top three seeds after NSL1 league play this year were Pioneers, Chromies and H2O, the teams that have dominated NSL play virtually since it began.
When the dust had cleared after round-robin play in the NSL1 Nationals, however, the Chromies (who admittedly were missing a couple of key players) were sixth, H2O were seventh and the Pioneers, who did make the Page Playoffs, suffered successive playoff defeats to the Travelling Dodgers and KKs and wound up in fourth place.
A particular tribute has to go to the KKs, a team that has only been in NSL1 for a brief and Covid-interrupted time and finished fifth in this year’s NSL1 league play. When it came to the Nationals, however, KKs were fearless, beating both the Chromies and H2O in round-robin games on Saturday, drawing with Blue Steel and beating Blitz Bombers on Sunday to make the Page Playoffs, and then defeating Blue Steel and coming from behind to take down the Pioneers to reach the final.
The Pioneers, who had beaten the KKs 24-1 in the opening game for both teams on Saturday morning, may not have taken them seriously enough on Sunday and paid the price when the KKs staged a last-inning rally in the game that determined which team would join the Travelling Dodgers in the final.
A further mention should go to the Tigers, a young up-and-coming NSL1 team from Bristol, who also defeated Chromies and H2O over the weekend and just missed out on the Page Playoffs.
For the moment, at least, the future in the NSL may belong to teams like KKs, Tigers, Tempest and Spittin’ Camels, plus 2019 NSL1 National Champions Windsor Knights if they can get their German National Team players back next year. Change can be a refreshing thing, especially since the founding principle of the National Softball League was to encourage more teams to develop to the point where they can play and succeed at the highest level.
NSL2 Nationals Final
Two years ago, before the world was turned upside down by Covid, the Spittin’ Camels from Manchester were promoted into NSL2 from the NSL3 Nationals.
Fast forward to 2021, and the Camels charged up the division during NSL2 league play, finishing second in the league standings.
Their touch wasn’t quite so assured in the round-robin phase at the NSL2 Nationals, where the Camels just made the Page Playoffs by finishing fourth.
But they then beat NSL2 league winners LNZ by 17-16, disposed of Naturals by 11-8 and, having arrived in the NSL2 final against Tempest, put up eight quick runs in the top of the first inning on hits by Nathan Barrett, Sophie Addison, Max Fagan, Gareth Evans, Sarah Cassin, Matty Green and Sophie Addison again, plus a walk and three Tempest errors.
It was a strong statement of intent – but it failed to faze the experienced Tempest, another NSL team born and bred in Manchester.
Tempest pulled back three of those runs in the bottom of the first inning, two of them on a home run by Amilcar Gomez, and by the end of the second inning, Tempest had tied the score at 8-8.
A single run in the top of the third inning, driven in on a base hit by Nathan Barrett, gave the Camels their last lead at 9-8. But four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, featuring a double by pitcher Simon Tymms and another home run by Amilcar Gomez, put Tempest in front for the first time and five more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, based on hits by Linni Mitchell, Simon Tymms, Zoe Leroux and Michelle Shaw, sealed the deal.
Camels, playing their third straight pressure game, could only add the odd run here and there over the last few innings and Tempest saw out a 17-13 win that gave them their second straight NSL2 Championship, albeit with a two-year gap in between.
The game also featured a brother and sister on opposite teams, with Emma Lott playing left field for Tempest and her brother Andy taking over in left field for the Camels in the fourth inning. Emma had a base hit in four trips to the plate, while Andy was two-for-two.
NSL2 Nationals Round-Robin standings (Won-Lost-Drawn)
1 – Naturals (5-0-2)
2 – Tempest (4-2-1)
3 – LNZ (4-3-0)
4 – Spittin’ Camels (4-3-0)
5 – Fuzzy Ducks (3-4-0)
6 – Honey Badgers (3-4-0)
7 – Warriors (2-5-0)
8 – The Mob (1-5-1)
NSL2 Nationals Page Playoff scores
1 v 2 game: Tempest 12, Naturals 8
3 v 4 game: Spittin’ Camels 17, LNZ 16
Pre-final: Spitting’ Camels 11, Naturals 8
Final: Tempest 17, Spittin’ Camels 13
Final MVPs: Amilcar Gomez and Linni Mitchell (Tempest)
NSL2 Nationals Placing Games
Fifth Place Playoff: Fuzzy Ducks 12, Honey Badgers 11
Seventh Place Playoff: The Mob 11, Warriors 7
Final NSL2 National Championship standings
1 – Tempest
2 – Spittin’ Camels
3 – Naturals
4 – LNZ
5 – Fuzzy Ducks
6 – Honey Badgers
7 – The Mob
8 – Warriors
The 2021 NSL2 league winner was LNZ, and LNZ won four of their first five games in the round-robin phase at the NSL2 Nationals. But, not surprisingly for a team whose average age is just short of 50, LNZ ran out of steam on Sunday, wound up in the 3v4 Page Playoff game, and were eliminated by Spittin’ Camels in a 17-16 thriller, settling for fourth place.
NSL1 Nationals Final
The Travelling Dodgers lost only a single game during the round-robin phase of the NSL1 Nationals, a 14-13 loss to Chromies, and a 9-7 win over Pioneers in a 1v2 Page Playoff game that wasn’t quite as close as the score suggests put the Dodgers straight through to the final.
By the time the KKs worked their way through the Page Playoff to join them, there was a feeling that the powerful Dodgers and their many US base players would be too strong for what had until recently been a B-grade team.
That’s the way things worked out in the end, but the KKs fired an initial shot across the Dodgers’ bows when leadoff hitter Aaron Ridenour came up in the top of the first inning and blasted a home run over the left field fence.
That was, however, the only run the KKs could post in the inning.
Then the Dodgers came to bat in the bottom of the first and their first three male batters – Ernesto Parra, Tyler McGoveran and Andrew Lopez – all put the ball far over the fence in left field, right field and centre field respectively for a 3-1 lead.
If that was meant to awe the KKs into submission, it didn’t immediately have that effect.
Although the Dodgers powered two more solo home runs in the bottom of the second inning by pitcher AJ Royce and Aaron Allen to stretch their lead to 5-1, KKs scored a run in the top of the third inning and two more in the top of the fourth on a two-RBI single by Heather Williams, and suddenly it was a 5-4 contest.
But KKs, in their third straight game, were clearly tiring, and the Dodgers’ offense turned relentless, with three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and a decisive six runs in the bottom of the fifth, with more home runs from Andrew Lopez and AJ Royce, who hit three of them in his three trips to the plate.
The Dodgers stepped it up on defense as well: there was a fantastic diving catch by Sherry Kenyon in left centre field and a series of fine plays at shortstop by Ernesto Parra.
The game might well have been stopped after five innings due to bad light with the time nearing 7.30 pm, but the umpires decided to play on and there was a spirited last rally from the KKs in the top of the seventh inning.
A single by Eric Lukazewski and doubles by pitcher Joe Golightly and Sahan Jinadasa produced a final two runs before the Dodgers closed out the game and “We are the Champions” was loudly played in their dugout.
NSL1 Nationals Round-Robin standings (Won-Lost-Drawn)
1 –Travelling Dodgers (6-1-0)
2 – Pioneers (4-2-1)
3 – Blue Steel (3-2-2)
4 – KKs (3-3-1)
5 – Tigers (3-4-0)
6 – Chromies (3-4-0)
7 – H2O (3-4-0)
8 – Blitz Bombers (1-6-0)
NSL1 Nationals Page Playoff scores
1 v 2 game: Travelling Dodgers 9, Pioneers 7
3 v 4 game: KKs 9, Blue Steel 4
Pre-final: KKs 12, Pioneers 10
Final: Travelling Dodgers 15, KKs 6
Final MVPs: Ernesto Parra and Sherry Kenyon (Travelling Dodgers)
NSL1 Nationals Placing Games
Fifth Place Playoff: Chromies 9, Tigers 7
Seventh Place Playoff: H2O and Blitz Bombers did not play this game and shared seventh place.
Final NSL1 National Championship standings
1 – Travelling Dodgers
2 – KKs
3 – Pioneers
4 – Blue Steel
5 – Chromies
6 – Tigers
7 – H2O
7 – Blitz Bombers
The 2021 NSL1 league winner was the Pioneers.
Below are the National Championship and NSL1 winners over time, and the list shows what a rare feat the Travelling Dodgers pulled off this year and the Windsor Knights accomplished in 2019 in NSL1.
Before that, no one but Pioneers and Chromies had won the A-grade/NSL1 National Championship since 2008, and since 2002, when Pioneers won their first title, the two teams had won 14 out of 18 championships.
This year’s results, however, suggest that the era of domination by the Pioneers, Chromies and H2O may be coming to an end and that the NSL1 Nationals, like NSL2, is becoming a more open competition.
2021 – Travelling Dodgers
2020 – Cancelled due to Covid
2019 – Windsor Knights
2018 – Pioneers
2017 -- Chromies
2016 -- Pioneers
2015 -- Chromies
2014 – Chromies
2013 – Chromies
2012 – Chromies
2011 – Pioneers
2010 – Pioneers
2009 – Chromies
2008 – Dragons
2007 – Chromies
2006 – Chromies
2005 – Slammers
2004 – Chromies
2003 – Stingrays
2002 – Pioneers
2001 – Baker Tomkins
2000 – Baker Tomkins
1999 – Baker Tomkins
1998 – Baker Tomkins
1997 – Chromies (then known as Superchrome)
1996 – Windsor Dodgers
1995 – Genies
1994 – Slammers
1993 – Isherwood
1992 – Slammers
1991 – Meteors
1990 – Sliders
1989 – Pirates
1988 – London New Zealand
1987 – Pirates
NSL2 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
2021 – Tempest
2020 – Cancelled due to Covid
2019 – Tempest
2018 – Manchester Mavericks
2017 – SPAM
NSL3 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
2020-2021 – Cancelled due to Covid
2019 – Spittin’ Camels
2018 – Misfits