Can the GB Women get to the Olympics?

Fri 28 Sep 2018


By Bob Fromer

What do the results achieved by the GB Women’s Fastpitch Team at the recent European Super 6 tournament tell us about our chances of gaining a place at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo?

The GB Women’s Team came into the first-ever European Super 6 tournament, played from 18-22 September at Hoofddorp in the Netherlands, ranked third in Europe based on results at the 2017 European Women’s Championship. 

To finish third again in the Super 6 with only half the team that competed this year in Japan, without two of the team’s current front-line pitchers, and with a squad of only 12 players was a highly promising achievement.

Several other teams at the Super 6 were without some of their current senior players and/or were trialling younger players, but all of the teams, with the possible exception of Greece, had a much stronger core of their top players in Hoofddorp than GB was able to manage.

So the fact that the GB Team that played at the Super 6 was still able to beat Greece and Russia, play competitive games against the Czech Republic and Italy and then beat the Netherlands in the bronze medal game suggests that a full GB Team, with a strong training and competition programme next year prior to the Olympic Qualifier, has a real chance to reach the promised land of Olympic qualification. 

For the GB Women to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics certainly won’t be easy, and it would have to be described as an “outside chance” given our lack of funding and other disadvantages compared to our main rivals.  But GB’s performance at the Super 6, and an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the other teams that were on show last week, suggests that the chance is real.

Changes

The balance of power in European softball is changing, and the days when the Dutch and Italians were simply a class above everyone else are over. 

The Dutch are not the force they were when they finished fourth in the world at the 2016 WBSC Women’s World Championship in Canada, and their panic move of standing down their coaching staff in the middle of this summer’s World Championship in Japan, where they struggled to finish eighth, speaks of underlying problems that seem to be affecting the team.

Italy are now stronger than the team that was easily beaten by the Dutch in the final of the 2017 European Championship, and the fact that Italy won both the European Under-19 and Under-22 Championships this summer suggests that they have more talent in the pipeline than the Netherlands, who finished fourth at Under-19 level and second at Under-22. 

But Italy’s long-time #1 pitcher, Greta Cecchetti, is showing signs of wear, and while Italy have other good pitchers, it’s not clear how strong they might be when it comes to the crunch in next year’s Olympic Qualifier.

When GB played Italy this summer in the World Championship in Japan, Italy won by only 1-0 in a game in which GB out-hit the Italians and were unlucky to lose.

The Czech Republic has probably the best pitcher in Europe in Veronika Petkova, and that can take a team a long way, as the Czechs showed in going undefeated in Hoofddorp and winning the Super 6.  But their offense and defense may not be as good as that of the Dutch, the Italians and GB, and they have little pitching depth behind Petkova.

When GB last played the Czechs with a full team, in the bronze medal game at the 2017 European Championship – the game that would decide which team would go to the 2018 Worlds in Japan -- GB’s Georgina Corrick out-duelled Petkova as GB won an extra-inning thriller.

With the performances this summer of young GB pitchers Beth Fleming, Amie Hutchison and Hannah Edwards across the European Under-19 and Under-22 Championships and the Super 6, the GB Women’s Team probably has more pitching depth now than at any time in the programme’s history.  This means that GB’s longer-serving pitchers – Georgina Corrick and veteran Carling Hare -- won’t have to carry the whole load next year. 

This can be a vital factor next summer when GB will have to finish in the top six at the European Championship to make the Olympic Qualifier – and then win the Qualifier to get to Tokyo in 2020.

GB’s weakness, and it goes back many years, is the ability to generate offense against the best pitchers in Europe and the world.  GB were shut out at this summer’s World Championship by Canada, Japan, China, Italy and Australia and failed to score in the Super 6 against Italy and the Czechs, and you can’t win games if you can’t score.  This is the area in which GB will need to make the biggest improvement.

But there now seems little question that next year’s Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier will be a wide-open tournament, and that the Czechs, the Dutch, the Italians and Great Britain all have the ability to win it.

Was the Super 6 worth it?

When the European Softball and Baseball Federations announced that they would hold a joint Super 6 tournament for the first time in 2018, softball’s preference was for the event to be held in July, as a warm-up for the WBSC World Championship in Japan.

However, baseball’s preference was for the event to be staged in September, and these days, baseball seems to rule.

Once that timing was confirmed, the GB Women’s Team staff and the GB Management Committee faced a decision about whether, as the team ranked third in European softball, we would be able to take up our place. 

On the one hand, the chance to play more games against most or all of the European teams that we will face in next year’s Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier was attractive: more game time together is what GB National Teams always need.

On the other hand, how many players from the Senior Women’s Team would be able to come to the tournament – and how meaningful would it be if many of them couldn’t?  How would the cost of attending the Super 6 be met?  How many players could sustain the additional expense after the costly trip to Japan in August?  Was it a good idea to use up more of the private donations the Women’s Team has recently received on another competition in 2018 as opposed to playing more tournaments in 2019 in the lead-up to the Qualifier?

Initially, the feeling was that GB wouldn’t be able to put together enough of a core of Senior National Team players from the squad that competed in Japan, or find the money, to compete in the Super 6.  But the coaches were enthusiastic about the tournament and eventually the BSF told the ESF that a Great Britain team would be there.

Opportunities

Of the 17 players who competed for the GB Women at the World Championship in Japan in August, only eight were able to play in the Super 6 because of school, work or other commitments, and only three of those had been regular starters in Japan.  The two pitchers who had pitched the most innings in Japan – Georgina Corrick and Beth Fleming -- were unavailable, as were other players in the GB Women’s pool, which is one reason why GB had the smallest squad at the Super 6, with only 12 players. 

On the other hand, these circumstances allowed the five players who had not seen much playing time in Japan to get plenty of it during the Super 6 and to make a case for re-selection to the team next year -- and it allowed players who had not been in Japan but were regarded as being on the cusp of selection to the Women’s Team to state their case as well.

The four players added to the squad for the Super 6 who had not been in Japan were Laura Thompson, Amy Wells and Amie Hutchison, plus 17-year-old pitcher Hannah Edwards, who had stood out when playing for the GB Under-16s last year and moved up to play for both the GB Under-19 and Under-22 Women’s Teams this summer.

One of the most promising aspects of the Super 6 was the fact that all three of the pitchers there – Amie Hutchison, Hannah Edwards and Carling Hare – held their own to a greater or lesser degree against the three teams that GB will have to overcome next year, the Netherlands, Italy and the Czech Republic.

Amie Hutchison pitched a gem against the Czech Republic, giving up only one earned run, and was an unlucky 2-0 loser to the outstanding Veronika Petkova.  Carling Hare threw a strong four innings against Italy.  Hannah Edwards did the same in GB’s round-robin game against the Dutch, and followed that up by throwing all eight innings of GB’s extra-inning win against Russia, then pitching another complete game the next day to beat the Netherlands by 3-2 as GB won the bronze medal.

In addition, both Amie and Hannah made contributions during the week with the bat.

So the Super 6 served to make it clear that GB will go into next year’s European Women’s Championship, and then the Olympic Qualifier, with substantial pitching depth.

Meanwhile, Emmilee Blowers, who was on the squad in Japan this summer but had very little playing time, proved at the Super 6 that she can be a very useful utility player, with the ability to catch and play in the infield or outfield as well as contributing on offense.

GB veteran Steph Pearce, who also had less playing time in Japan that she might have hoped for, caught well in four games at the Super 6 and had some valuable base hits.

Chloe Wigington and Laura Thompson both played very well defensively at the Super 6, and Amy Wells hit .400, though with limited at-bats. 

Outfielder Aubrey Peterson, who would have had more playing time in Japan if she hadn’t suffered a concussion early in the tournament, made solid contributions at the Super 6, while the three players who were regular starters in Japan – Nerissa Myers, Lauren Evans and Sydney Brown – confirmed their worth.

After the tournament, there was no doubt in the mind of GB Head Coach Rachael Watkeys that the Super 6 had been a valuable exercise in terms of evaluating players for next year and allowing at least some of the players in the Senior Women’s Team pool to play more games together.

And of course there was that huge bonus at the end of the tournament – the confidence-boosting win over the Netherlands that will send both players and coaches into 2019 in an optimistic frame of mind.

Photos by Paul Stodart and Simon Mortimer

Back to news listing


Comments

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.