Mixed fortunes for British teams in Israel

Fri 15 Mar 2019

Three British fastpitch teams – the GB Under-19 Men’s Team, the women’s club team The Mix and a men’s team called the Stags – travelled to Israel to take part in the annual Ayelet Games in Eilat from 6-9 March, with contrasting results.

The Mix took two out of three pool games to make it to the semi-final, won that easily, and then lost an 11-10 thriller in the final to bring home a well-earned silver medal.

A very young GB Under-19 Men’s Team had their tournament curtailed slightly by rain and lost all three pool games to strong opposition, as well as a scrimmage game to Denmark.  But for Head Coach Ian Tomlin, the tournament provided a great opportunity for his players to develop.

The Stags, put together by GB Men’s Team player Trent Nash as a new UK-based tournament team, also lost all three of their pool games to tough opponents.

Below are reports on the tournament from all three teams, written by co-captain Chelsie Robison for The Mix, Ian Tomlin for the GB Under-19 Men and Ieuan Gale for the Stags.


The Mix

Each year, teams travel to normally sunny Eilat in Israel for a three-day fastpitch softball tournament known as the Ayelet Games, and this year they were joined by The Mix, run by Chelsie Robison and Sian Wigington, with a team of 11 women from different softball backgrounds and countries.

The players were supported by Head Coach Robbie Robison and Assistant Coach Yorick De Bruijn.

Travelling on Tuesday 5 March was the first challenge the team had to overcome, starting with 7.00 am flights.  After arriving in Tel Aviv, a long bus journey to Eilat was delayed after heavy rain caused dangerous landslides on route.  So the team arrived late at the Club Hotel in Eilat, but thankfully wasn’t scheduled to play until 2.45 pm on Wednesday.

Game 1:  The Mix v Cechie

When the women’s portion of the tournament kicked off, The Mix were scheduled to face Cechie, a team from the Czech Republic.

After a slow start from the defense which led to The Mix going 5-0 down, strong pitching by Anna-Be Bartels kept the opposition quiet long enough for The Mix to rally and start scoring runs.

The final score was 8-6, with The Mix taking their first win of the tournament.

Game 2:  The Mix v Twisters

An early game for The Mix on Thursday 7 March pitted them against the Israeli team Twisters.

This time The Mix came out of the box quickly and got on the scoreboard first.

Ysa Urquiaga started and pitched well, holding the opposition until the third inning.  But at that point the Twisters started to hit the ball hard and score runs.

Luckily for The Mix, they had scored just enough insurance runs early in the game to hold the lead, and Anna-Be Bartels was back in the circle for the final innings to close the game.

The Mix secured yet another 8-6 win, which put them in contention to win their pool.

Game 3:  The Mix v Neptunes

This was The Mix’s second game of the day on Wednesday, and would decide the winner of the pool and determine the next games in the competition for both teams.

Unfortunately for The Mix, three crucial errors early in the game led to five Neptunes runs.

Meanwhile, the offense was up and down throughout the game, and The Mix were hitting into a strong wind where line drives held up nicely for outfielders to catch.  So the team couldn’t quite accumulate enough runs and lost by 5-3.

So The Mix finished second in the pool, which meant a semi-final on Friday morning against the Tigers.

Semi Final: The Mix v Tigers

There was a warm start to the day in Eilat on Friday and a change of field meant The Mix would hit with the wind.

The team hadn’t really seen much of their opposition, but Tigers’ guest pitcher Makinna Akers was no stranger to The Mix, as they had faced her at the European Women’s Cup last year in Italy.

The Mix got off to a strong start, batting around the order and scoring a bunch of early runs before heading out to the field.

With strong pitching once again from Anna-Be Bartels and excellent work by Anna Prins behind the plate, the defense was on point and set the Tigers down in order in the bottom of the first inning.

It’s safe to say that The Mix dominated this game, with strong offense right through the order but particularly from Laura Thompson, Sian Wigington and Megan Beard, who led the team in RBIs.

The final score was 19-3 and this sent The Mix straight to the final, where – no surprise -- they would face Neptunes once again.

The Final:  The Mix v Neptunes

The game was an epic battle from start to finish.

The Mix got off to a slow start and Neptunes took full advantage, putting up five runs in the first inning.

But The Mix then jumped on the Neptunes pitcher and brought the score back to 5-4.

Both teams continued to score runs but with five over-the-fence home runs in two innings – two from Megan Beard and solo bombs from Sian Wigington, Anna Prins and Silvia Garzon -- it began to look like The Mix had control of the game.

Going into the bottom half of the last inning, Neptunes were down 10-9 and just three outs stood between The Mix and a gold medal.  But sadly, it was not to be.

With a strong section of their line-up, Neptunes put runners on base and after some crucial errors in the field, a double scored two runs for Neptunes and brought them a walk-off 11-10 win, leaving The Mix with a silver medal.

Mix co-captain Sian Wigington said, “To say the girls left it all on the field was an understatement.  Both Chelsie and I are very proud of the team’s performance during the tournament.”

Head Coach Robbie Robison said, “This was a fantastic event and the quality of play was higher than I expected.  The Mix’s players hadn't played outdoors since September last year but rose to the occasion.  The defense needs some work but this was the cleanest and hardest hitting I have seen from a British team in a while.  I look forward to working with the team again this year.”

The players who attended the Ayelet Games with The Mix were:

Anna Be Bartels
Megan Beard
Silvia Garzon
Holly Newell
Hannah Pitman
Anna Prins
Chelsie Robison
Louisa Scott
Laura Thompson
Ysa Urquiaga 
Sian Wigington


GB Under-19 Men

Heavy rain leading up to the tournament washed out two of the six diamonds, which caused the organisers a bit of a scheduling headache.

The result was that the four planned 90-minute games that were on the schedule for the GB Under-19 Men became three 70-minute games, and the reshuffle meant that GB was to face Joudrs Under-18, The Warriors (the Israeli Men’s National Team) and DVH from Holland.

These were all competent teams, two of them were adult sides, and the GB squad, probably the youngest GB Under-19 Team to travel abroad, consisted of five players who had never played a competitive fastpitch game before.

Game 1: GB v Joudrs Under-18s

The first game against Joudrs started encouragingly, as a lead-off walk to Tom Russell and a successful bunt base hit by Ben Tomlin put runners on first and second.  A wild pitch advanced the runners, a further walk to Matt Green loaded the bases and with one out, Tom Russell scored on a second wild pitch.  Unfortunately, the team couldn’t muster any further runs and the inning ended with the bases loaded. 

Joudrs responded with two runs of their own, but good work by the GB infield kept the score down and GB set the Czechs down in order in the second inning.

Going into the third inning, with the score 2-1 to Joudrs, the game was finally balanced.  But in the final two innings the GB Under-19s could only manage to put one more run on the board while strong batting by Joudrs led to five more runs and a final score of 7-2.

Game 2:  GB v The Warriors

In Game Two, GB faced the eventual tournament winners, The Warriors, and with such an inexperienced side the outcome was easily foreseen. 

The game ended 15-0, but there were encouraging signs within the game that some of the GB players were getting bat-on-ball.  Hits from Tom Russell and Ben Tomlin and walks to Tom Lang and Bryn Davies were combined with some good at-bats from Max Fagan and Dan Downes, showing that lessons were being learned and confidence was growing.

However, during the game, GB’s #1 pitcher, Oliver Howley, was hit by a batted ball and this was to have an impact on the team’s third game.

But despite having lost the opening games, the mood in the camp was good, with spirits high.

Game 3:  GB v DVH

GB’s final round-robin game was against a Dutch side with a superb Mexican pitcher and some strong hitters -- another tough task.

The game started badly, with the Under-19s conceding 11 runs thanks to some great hitting from the Dutch side.  GB responded with a triple from Max Fagan, who scored on a hit by Tom Russell, but unfortunately GB couldn’t add to the score.

Amazingly, the team was still buoyant and with two out in the second inning, things started to turn.  A hit by Josh Stanley, a walk to Joe Wright and a single from Sam Whatmore brought one run home and left runners on first and second – and then Dan Downes hit a huge line drive through centre field for a three-run inside-the-park home run.

When Max Fagan scored again, it looked as though a comeback might be on.  But time was against the battling GB Team and the tournament ended with three losses.

Nevertheless, there were plenty of positives from the performances by a very young squad and they were itching to play more ball.  So when the opportunity arose for a scrimmage game against Denmark, the challenge was gladly accepted.

Scrimmage Game:  GB v Denmark

The Danish pitcher started in great form, setting the first six GB batters down with four strikeouts.  Meanwhile, Denmark scored three runs in each of the first two innings and took a 6-0 lead.

But GB responded brilliantly by scoring three runs in the top of the third inning with a three-base hit from Jack Scholes, two walks and a double by Matt Green that ensured the game was still within GB’s reach.

And after holding the Danes scoreless in the bottom of the third inning, GB then scored four more runs to take a 7-6 lead thanks to hits from Josh Stanley, Tom Russell, Joe Wright, Ben Tomlin and Oliver Howley.

GB fought hard to protect their lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, with Dan Downes getting one out with a great pick-up and throw to first.  But the Danes were able to get two runners on and a home run by their centre fielder gave them a 9-7 win.

All of the teams thoroughly enjoyed the event, and as far as the GB Under-19s are concerned, they can’t wait to return to a tournament that provided a great challenge and a platform for them to develop.

The players who made the trip under Ian Tomlin and Team Manager Jill Russell were:

Bruce Candlish
Bryn Davies
Dan Downes
Max Fagan
Sam Gardiner
Mathew Green
Oliver Howley
Tom Lang
Tom Russell (Captain)
Jack Scholes
Josh Stanley
Ben Tomlin
Sam Whatmore
Joe Wright


The Stags

Initially set up by Trent Nash to provide more high-level men’s fastpitch experience for player who want to develop further or who are no longer involved in GB programmes, the Stags is a new team intent on becoming regular participants in tournaments across Europe.

The Stags are also keen to foster strong relationships abroad, and have invited players from outside the UK to join them.  So with a team made up of players from the UK, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Israel and Canada, the Stags were ready to take part in their first-ever tournament in Israel.

Game 1:  Stags v Prague United

This would prove to be a tough opener for the Stags against a team made up of an assortment of players from the top Czech league, and Prague United started an experienced pitcher who did enough to keep most of the Stags off balance the first time through the order.

Meanwhile, apart from a walk that ended up scoring in the first inning thanks to an error and a passed ball, Stags’ guest pitcher Oscar Andersen, throwing for the first time this year, pitched a stellar game.

In the fourth inning Prague United brought on an ex-Czech Men’s National Team ace who threw hard, hit his spots and shut down the Stags offense at the end of the game, just when they had started to get going.

Meanwhile, errors in the fifth inning led to three more unearned runs scoring for Prague United and the game ended in a 4-0 loss for the Stags.

However, the scoreline does not reflect the game, as Oscar Andersen actually threw a no-hitter, racking up 13 strikeouts in a six-inning timed game, including eight in a row in the middle innings.  All the Czech runs were unearned.

Some strong hitting from BJ Oralek led a Stags’ offense that started slowly but improved dramatically the second time through the line-up.

Game 2:  Stags v Joudrs Men’s Team

On Day 2, the Stags played two night games, the first of which was against the Joudrs Men, an experienced team led by a crafty pitcher.  The Czechs also had some strong hitters and capitalised on six errors made by the Stags’ defense.

The Stags’ second guest pitcher, Adam Smith, pitched well but once again the offense took time to get going, with the exceptions of Oscar Andersen hitting a double to the fence in the first inning and Damon Brown smoking a triple into the left field corner in the second inning.

However, both hits came with two outs in the inning and the runs were unable to score.

As mentioned, the Stags’ defense let them down early in the game and Joudrs scored seven runs as a result.

As in the first game, the Stags’ offense started to come to life the second time through the order, and in the fifth inning the Stags loaded the bases with no outs and Damon Brown at bat.  However, the strictly timed nature of the matches due to the rain-induced reshuffled schedule meant that the game finished before Damon could start his at-bat and ended 7-0 to the Czechs -- but with everyone wondering what could have been if the inning had played out.

Game 3:  Stags v Twisters

The Stags were now 0-2, and the compressed schedule meant that they would be unable to advance any further in the tournament.

So with nothing to lose and a good crowd in attendance for the last game of the day under the floodlights, the Stags played their final game against the Israeli team Twisters.

The Israelis had a strong pick-up pitcher, and with the Stags starting Oscar Andersen in the circle once again, the game quickly developed into a pitchers’ duel.  The Stags’ offense finally started to click early and produced plenty of baserunners but could never quite muster that RBI hit.  On three separate occasions Stags’ runners were stranded on third base.

Meanwhile, in their third time through the order, the Twisters finally got on the board and with the Stags unable to convert any of their chances, the game ended in a 4-0 loss.

Summing up

Although the results were not what the Stags had hoped for going into the tournament, it was an excellent way to kickstart the new season for players who were mostly seeing their first live pitching of the year.

The Stags would like to thank all the foreign-based players who joined them in the first of what will be many tournaments abroad.

The players who competed for the Stags are the Ayelet Games were:

Oscar Andersen (Denmark)
Amit Aswani
Damon Brown
Neil Davies
Ieuan Gale (Assistant Manager)
Ben Laks (Israel)
Anton Larsen (Denmark)
Trent Nash (Manager/Coach)
BJ Oralek (Czech)
Paz Sherff (Israel)
Adam Smith (Canada)
George Young

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