GB Under-16s wait on their fate at the Euros

Mon 10 Jul 2017


By Bob Fromer

Ostrava, Czech Republic: 10 July – It was a busy Opening Day for the GB Under-16 Girls’ Fastpitch Team at the European Cadette Championship, and after splitting a pair of exciting games with France and Serbia, the team will have to wait until Tuesday to learn what the future holds.

This morning, GB took an early lead against France, the French came back to tie the score, but the British pulled out a walk-off 6-5 win in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Games at the European Cadette Championship are limited to six innings only, and no new inning can start after an hour-and-three-quarters have been played.

This afternoon, looking for the victory against Serbia that would send them into the Championship playoffs as Pool D winners, GB fell behind by 7-1 after just two innings, then staged a brave fightback that fell just short, and Serbia took the game by a score of 7-5.

Everything now hinges on the outcome – and possibly the score – of the game between France and Serbia at 11.15 tomorrow morning, and all things are possible.

GB could still top the group, though that would require France to win a high-scoring game.  Or GB could come second in the group and still go forward to the Championship playoff round if Serbia win by any score.  Or, if the French win and the game is relatively low-scoring, GB will finish third in the group, and will have only three or possibly four more games to play this week to determine their final placing, which will be somewhere between ninth and twelfth – not what they had in mind before the tournament began.

Both of today’s games were dramatic, tense, action-packed and exciting, but neither – even the win against France – quite went the way the GB players and coaches had expected.

Here are the stories of the two games, in the order in which they happened:

GB v France

The GB Under-16s, having had video messages of support in the morning from players and staff on the GB Senior Women’s Team, then went out and managed a heart-stopping walk-off 6-5 win over France in the bottom of the sixth inning in their opening game at the 2017 European Cadette Championship.

The winning run came on a bases-loaded walk to GB pitcher Hannah Edwards, forcing in Eliza Esiri, who had got the winning rally started with a one-out bunt single.  Diana Nisbett then drove a sharp single to left field, Rose Taylor Bhanji drew a walk to load the bases, and the French brought in their third pitcher of the day, Emma Blanc-Jouvan, to pitch to Hannah Edwards, who already had two hits and two RBIs in the game.

So Blanc-Jouvan pitched carefully, running the count to 3-2, and then delivered a high pitch that brought the game to an end, much to the excitement and relief of the GB players, the coaches and the massed ranks of parents and relatives in the stand behind Field 2 at the Arrows Ostrava Baseball and Softball Club.


Easy at the start​

The reason for the overwhelming feeling of relief at the end of the game was because the way things started out, it looked odds-on for an easy GB win – and then turned out to be anything but.

Hannah Edwards struck out seven of the first nine batters she faced (and the other two hit easy bouncers back to her), and GB put up four quick runs in the bottom of the first inning off France’s soft-throwing left-handed starter Samantha Mari.

So credit has to go to the French for fighting back, making adjustments and making GB sweat after three French runs in the top of the third inning had made the game close and two more French runs in the top of the sixth inning had tied the score at 5-5.

GB’s only other run until the game-winner had come in the bottom of the fourth inning when Diana Nisbett reached first on an error with two out, went to second on a passed ball and eventually scored on a single up the middle by the omnipresent Hannah Edwards.

After GB had scored those four runs in the bottom of the first inning, and after Esme Potter led off the second inning with a line drive single to left and been sacrificed to second by Eliza Esiri, France removed their starting pitcher and brought in Clelia Costes, who largely shut down the GB attack over the next four innings for the cost of just that one additional run.

But that didn’t seem to matter very much, until one small moment changed the game.


Margins​

Hannah Edwards, who struck out 12 consecutive French batters in a scrimmage game on Sunday, started off this game as if she meant to do the same, mixing location, speed and spins to great effect.  After the first two French hitters bounced back to her for easy outs in the top of the first inning, Hannah struck out Lena Sellam to end that inning, struck out all three French hitters in the second inning, and the first three French hitters in the third.

But….

When Maxime Marbrier swung and missed at a high rise ball for what should have been the final out of the third inning, the pitch got away and Marbrier reached first base safely.  And suddenly, inexplicably, everything changed – and specifically, the French started taking better swings at Hannah Edwards.  A single, a walk, a double steal and another single produced three French runs and brought the score to 4-3 before Hannah got Kimane Rogron on a called third strike on the outside corner to end the inning.

And after that, despite the fact that Hannah Edwards went on to strike out 15 French hitters in total in six innings of work, the game never felt the same again.

Now Hannah was having to work harder, and the French put runners on base in both the fourth and fifth innings, though they didn’t score.

But when Kimane Rogron singled to open the sixth and final inning for the French, reached third and scored on catcher Yasmine Derbal’s perfect bunt single towards the no-man’s land between the pitcher and first base, GB were in trouble.

Derbal stole second, moved to third on an error and scored to tie the game when Clelia Costes bounced out to shortstop.  But Hannah Edwards bore down and struck out two of the next three hitters, sandwiched around a walk, to get GB out of the inning and give them a chance to win the game in the bottom of the frame before things went to extra innings and the international tiebreaker -- which would have raised the heart attack quotient even further.

Fortunately, GB managed to do just that.

Head Coach Johanna Malisani said, “It was a great team effort to pull off a squeaker in the final inning.  We had great pitching by Hannah Edwards, and Caitlyn Frank caught her well.  We also had some timely hits that kept us energised throughout the game, and great leadership from Hannah and Diana Nisbett.”

So the GB Under-16s had gotten their tournament off to a great if nail-biting start, and retired for lunch before attempting to win their first round group by beating Serbia in the afternoon.


GB v Serbia​

Serbian softball is a relatively recent programme, and the Serbians have gradually been making strides at all age levels, though they finished 10th when they last sent a team to this tournament in 2013. 

But rankings don’t mean too much in age groups where players turn over quickly (none of the players in the 2017 GB Cadette Team played in this tournament two years ago), and this Serbian team had a decent pitcher in Nevena Aleksic, who pitched the full six innings, and some quick players who were ready to take their chances on the basepaths.

Nevertheless, it was the GB Team that kept the momentum going from the morning by taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, with some help from the Serbian defense.  Lead-off hitter Diana Nisbett reached second on an infield error, moved to third on a groundout by Eliza Esiri and scored when Hannah Edwards’s sharp ground ball to second base went through the legs of Anatasija Miljus.

But Serbia immediately began to apply pressure to the GB defense in the bottom of the first inning. 

Serbian lead-off hitter Marija Jovanovich drew a full-count walk from GB starter Elise Coulthard and moved up on a passed ball.  Elise struck out Milica Mrso, but consecutive singles by Nevana Aleksic and Doroteja Spasojevic brought two runs home and gave Serbia a narrow lead.


Struggles​

Rose Taylor Bhanji reached first on a two-out bunt single for GB in the top of the second inning to no avail, but it was the bottom of the second inning where the game was decided. 

Again, the inning started for Serbia with a lead-off walk, and they eventually batted around the order, scoring five runs on two hits, three walks and two GB errors.  It was one of those innings when nothing goes right, the game seems to speed up and panic starts to set in.

Finally, with five runs in, two outs, a Serbian runner on third and a 3-0 count on Anatasija Miljus, GB Head Coach Johanna Malisani brought Hannah Edwards in to pitch to try to stem the tide.

Hannah recovered from the 3-0 count to strike out Miljus, and then proceeded to strike out the next nine Serbian hitters she faced in the third, fourth and fifth innings.

Over the course of the two games against France and Serbia, Hannah Edwards struck out 25 batters in 9+ innings of pitching.

So there was no more offense from Serbia. But the question was: could GB come back?


Fightback​

The answer was yes, but only up to a point.

The fightback began in the top of the fourth inning when the Serbians committed three errors (defense was not their strongest point), and there were singles from Glynis McGuire and Esme Potter, plus a walk.  All that produced two runs and cut the margin to 7-3.  But GB had the bases loaded and were hoping for more when Hannah Edwards grounded into a force out to end the inning.

GB failed to score in the top of the fifth inning despite a single to centre field by Ivy Clark and a sacrifice bunt from Glynis McGuire, so GB had it all to do in their final at-bat in the top of the sixth inning. 

And before things were over they gave the Serbians an almighty scare.

Rose Taylor Bhanji led off for GB against a tiring Nevana Aleksic with a line drive single to right field, and Esme Potter reached on an error at first base.  Now the top of the line-up was coming up, and Diana Nisbett sliced a double down the right field line, scoring Rose and pushing Esme around to third.  The score was 7-4, there were still no outs, and momentum looked like it was swinging to GB.

A strikeout temporarily halted that momentum, but then Hannah Edwards reached base when Doroteja Spasojevic pulled her foot off first in taking the throw on the grounder, with Esme scoring the fifth GB run.  Now the tying runs were at first and third and there was still only one out.

The batter was clean-up hitter Elise Coulthard, and she took a mighty swing and hit a little pop fly in front of home plate.  Hannah Edwards, on first, was convinced it was going to drop and took off for second, while Diana Nisbett held third to see what would happen.

What happened was that Serbian catcher Natasa Senderak lunged and caught the ball for the second out – and entirely unaware that Hannah Edwards was now near second base, threw the ball back to her pitcher.  But by this time the Serbian infielders had raised the alarm, Aleksic tossed the ball to first, and the throw was well ahead of Hannah desperately trying to get back.

Double play, game over, and a brave comeback stymied on a very unusual play.

Afterwards, GB Head Coach Johanna Malisani said, “The game against Serbia was a tough game.  The athletes and coaches are disappointed in the end result.  We struggled through the first two innings, but there were many positives and we fought until the very last out, showing grit and character!

“Tomorrow we get back at it,” Jo added, “on a new day, taking the lessons learned from today to be better tomorrow.”

But first, after France and Serbia have played their game, GB will learn what the rest of this tournament might hold in store for them.

State of the tournament

The European Cadette Championship, where the Opening Ceremony was held this evening, has 12 teams entered, and the initial round-robins are taking place in four pools of three teams each.

About two-thirds of the opening-round pool games were completed today, and the rest will be finished by lunchtime on Tuesday.  Only at that point will the standings be clear, and the eight teams that will contest the first Championship playoff round be separated from the four teams that won’t.

So full results and tables from the opening round will be given in tomorrow’s story, when GB is likely – but not guaranteed -- to be playing just one game at 4.15 pm.  And that game could either be a Championship playoff game or a placing game.

It’s not clear how well the GB players and coaches will be sleeping tonight as they wait for France and Serbia to decide their fate.

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Comments

11
Jul

Lorraine 01:26

Great hearing the details of the game.

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