Fuzzy Ducks win again at BSF League Nationals

Sun 11 Aug 2019

By Bob Fromer

A windblown BSF League National Championships tournament at Farnham Park on 10-11 August produced four winners, two very different but outstanding finals in the Comp division, and what is by now becoming an old refrain: another top trophy for the GLSML’s Fuzzy Ducks.

The tournament was battered by strong winds on Saturday and by occasional strong gusts on Sunday, which created a few nightmares for pitchers and fielders, but thankfully the rain mostly stayed away.

Three games from the latter stages of the tournament on Sunday were broadcast live by the BSF on BSUK’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/baseballsoftballuk), where they can be seen on demand: a Platinum and Gold semi-final and the Platinum final – and the latter match, with seven high-quality innings completed in a brisk 70 minutes, is well worth the viewing.

Comp Division

In 2017 and 2018, the Fuzzy Ducks won the Gold trophy at the BSF’s League Nationals, which was the top trophy on offer at the time.  This year they went one better and won the Platinum Nationals – but only just, by 6-5 over the Bristol Jets, in a brilliantly well-played and well-pitched seven-inning final that ended on a wonderful game-saving defensive play.

A report on this game is below.

Meanwhile, the 2019 Gold championship went to the Pyros from Nottingham, a team that had expected to be in the Platinum playoffs but got caught up in a remarkable five-way tie for the final two Platinum spots among five teams that finished the nine-team Comp section round-robin with 4-4 records.

After a frantic maths session by Tournament Organiser Fiona Kielthy, communicating by phone with TC Dawn Robison, the Pyros found themselves cast into the Gold playoffs, where they met Mouserat from the GLSML in the final.

In a game that was in complete contrast to the low-scoring Platinum final, the Pyros raced to a 15-0 lead in the early going, only to have their bats go quiet while Mouserat roared back to tie the score at 16-16 after five innings.

With the sixth inning destined to be the last in a timed game, the Pyros re-grouped and put seven big runs on the board in the top of the sixth, capped by a grand slam home run over the left field fence by Josh Peat.  Mouserat had no answer, and the Pyros at least had the Gold winners’ trophy to take back up the M1.

Rec Division

The 12 teams that entered the Rec Division played an initial round-robin in two groups of six teams on Saturday, then separated into Silver and Bronze sections on Sunday.

Eventually, after another round-robin with results from Saturday carried forward, the Bracknell Scorchers and Thames Valley Rattlesnakes from the Windsor and Maidenhead League, the Tigers from Manchester and the Chichester Falcons from the Solent League made it to the Silver semi-finals.

At that point, the Scorchers saw off the Rattlesnakes by a score of 10-6 and the Tigers sent the Falcons home by a 13-5 margin.

In the Silver final, the Scorchers were too strong for the Tigers, winning the trophy by a score of 17-10.

The Bronze semi-finalists were the Zombies from the Solent League, the Redbacks from the East Midlands, the Mafia from the GLSML and the Fockers, who had come all the way from Glasgow.

The Zombies hung on to squeeze past the Redbacks by 12-11 in one semi-final, while The Mafia had a more comfortable win over the Fockers, 14-5, in the other.

And The Mafia stayed hot in the Bronze final with a 16-11 win over the Zombies, a second winner’s trophy on the day for the Greater London Softball Mixed League.

Log jam

Before we get to the Platinum final, a note on the wild finish to the nine-team Comp Division round-robin.

It soon became clear over the weekend that the Fuzzy Ducks and the Jets were the class of the division, as they both finished the round-robin with 7-1 records.  The Fuzzy Ducks’ only loss was to the Jets by a score of 9-8, and the Jets’ only loss came at the hands of the Pyros.

It was equally clear that the Cheekies from Leeds and the Royals from Windsor were struggling and one of them – it turned out to be the Royals – was going to finish last and miss the Platinum and Gold playoffs altogether.

But that left five teams who turned out to be amazingly evenly-matched, and as the final round-robin games were played on Sunday morning, these teams homed in inexorably on identical 4-4 records, a tournament organiser’s ultimate nightmare.

The five teams that managed this feat, in the order in which they finally finished after the maths were done, were the Oxford Angels, the Sheriffs from the East Midlands, Mouserat, the Itchen Knicks from the Solent League and the Pyros.

That meant that the Oxford Angels and Sheriffs rounded out the Platinum semi-finals, but both had a quick exit.  The Angels lost a player to injury early in their game against the Fuzzy Ducks, and without a replacement available, were obliged to forfeit.  The Sheriffs were never in the running in a 19-2 hammering by the Jets.

The Platinum final

You only had to look at the line-ups of these two teams, full of NSL and GB players past and present, to know that this was going to be a high-quality game, and that is exactly what the teams delivered, with the accent on pitching and defense.

For the Jets, shown below, the veteran David Lee pitched a fine game in difficult windy conditions, bending at times but never breaking, and keeping the powerful Ducks from scoring more than twice in any one inning. 

And over the final three innings of the game, when the Jets needed to keep the Ducks from stretching a narrow lead, David and the Jets’ defense kept the London team entirely off the scoreboard.

But Nick Collins for the Fuzzy Ducks pitched an even better game, pushing 12 feet with many of his deliveries to keep the Jets off balance and landing any number of outside corner strikes.

At times, it was the Ducks’ defense that kept the Jets at bay – particularly an outstanding catch in deep left field by Tash Humphris in the fifth inning and a 4-6-3 double play turned by Brian Medeiros, Adam Hayward and Nathalie Woolley in the sixth.

The only one of the first six innings in which the Jets managed to trouble the scoreboard operator was the third, when the top of their order – George Bartlett, Kat Golik, Joe Golightly and Kim Yeates -- pounded out four straight hits to open the frame and they eventually scored four runs. 

After that, Nick Collins resumed control and that was it for the Jets’ offense, who were trailing 6-4 when they came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning.  And yet, the Jets came within inches of winning the game.

The Ducks had built up that 6-4 lead by scoring little but often through the first four innings.

In the top of the first inning, Tash Humphris – who was to win the female MVP award for the final – singled and rode home on a two-run blast over the left field fence by Adam Hayward.

In the second inning, doubles by Brian Medeiros, Ben Grosdidier and Nick Collins produced two more runs.

David Peters had an RBI double in the top of the third inning, while Donna Gregory dropped a soft single into left field to drive in the Ducks’ final run in the top of the fourth.

All of which takes us to the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Ducks holding that slender 6-4 lead.

The Jets had the top of their order scheduled to bat in that final inning, but initially it didn’t seem to do them much good as George Bartlett flew out Ben Grosdidier in right centre field and Kat Golik hit a routine fly ball to Tash Humphris in left.

But with just one out left, Joe Golightly reached on only the second error of the game by the Ducks and Kim Yeates drove a single up the middle, sending Joe to third. 

That brought up David Lee, who had gone a frustrating 0-for-3 in the game, but every Jet and most of the watching crowd had visions of a game-winning three-run home run dancing in their heads.

Instead, David chopped a hard ground ball down the third base line, just fair, and when the plate umpire finally called time, Joe Golightly had scored to cut the Ducks’ margin to 6-5, and the Jets had Kim Yeates on third and David Lee – the potential winning run – on second.

The batter was Jets’ right fielder Steph Gillard, who had been hitting hard line drives all day.  And with the count at 1-1, Steph hit another, a sinking liner into centre field. 

It looked like the game-winner until Palmer Hestley made the diving, sprawling catch – probably the defensive play of the tournament – that gave the Fuzzy Ducks their third straight League Nationals title.

Full results

Semi-final 1
:  Jets (Bristol) 19, Sheriffs (East Midlands) 2
Semi-final 2:  Fuzzy Ducks (GLSML) 7, Oxford Angels 0 (forfeit)
Final:  Fuzzy Ducks 6, Jets 5
Final MVPs:  Tash Humphris and Palmer Hestley (Fuzzy Ducks)

Semi-final 1:  Mouserat (GLSML) 15, Cheekies (Leeds) 0
Semi-final 2:  Pyros (East Midlands) 18, Itchen Knicks (Solent) 12
Final:  Pyros 23, Mouserat 16
Final MVPs:  Lucy Groves (Mouserat) and Josh Peat (Pyros)

Semi-final 1: 
Bracknell Scorchers (Windsor) 10, Thames Valley Rattlesnakes (Windsor) 6
Semi-final 2:  Tigers (Manchester) 13, Chichester Falcons (Solent) 5
Final:  Bracknell Scorchers 17, Tigers 10
Final MVPs:  Emily Newall and Dave Hendy (Bracknell Scorchers)

Semi-final 1:
  Zombies (Solent) 12, Redbacks (East Midlands) 11
Semi-final 2:  The Mafia (GLSML) 14, Fockers (Glasgow) 5
Final:  The Mafia 16, Zombies 11
Final MVPs:  Holly Penwarden (The Mafia) and Scott Amaros (Zombies)

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