GB and Germany to meet in Euro Slowpitch final

Fri 19 Jul 2019

By Bob Fromer

Budapest, Hungary: 19 July – Team GB had a great day today at the European Slowpitch Championship; Germany, all things considered, had a pretty good day as well; and Ireland had a really bad day at the office.  The upshot is that GB will play Germany in Saturday’s final.

GB had an expected win over Belgium this afternoon by 20-5, and then laid down a marker with an ultimately convincing 18-8 win over Germany this evening – though by the time the game was played, both teams knew they would be in the final and the only thing at stake was who would be the home team when they meet again tomorrow.


You never know….

However, it was a day of twists and turns in the Championship playoffs, along with a lot of emotion, that got things to that stage. 

Going into the day, GB was pretty well assured of a place in the gold medal game, and the routine win over Belgium confirmed that.  The question was who would join them, with Ireland best placed, Germany in with a chance and the Czech Republic in with the kind of chance that would require a lot of strange results and a flock of flying pigs into the bargain.

But everything changed at lunchtime when the Netherlands, hitherto winless in the playoff round, rose up from the dead, overcame an early Irish lead and hung on for a 10-9 win, with the Germans, who had beaten the Netherlands 16-9 in the morning, desperately cheering on the Dutch from the sidelines.

Despite that, the Irish still had their fate at least partially in their own hands.  If Ireland could beat the Czech Republic in the late afternoon game, and GB could beat Germany in the evening, the Irish would be in the final thanks to their win over Germany in a first-round pool game.

The Irish took an early lead against the Czechs, lost it, got it back and then fell behind again on a dramatic three-run home run by the Czechs’ Jakub Prochazka.  Going into the bottom of the fifth inning, the Irish trailed 11-9 and couldn’t mount any offense at all.  But they managed to make the third out of a scoreless frame with one minute left on the “no new innings” clock – which meant the teams would play a sixth inning.

If the Irish thought that could save them, they were completely wrong.  The Czechs scored eight runs in the top of the sixth inning, roared on again by the watching Germans, to extend their lead to a daunting 19-9.

After the first two Irish batters went down quietly in the bottom of the sixth inning, they suddenly mounted a defiant little flurry, with four straight hits bringing in three runs.  But a two-out rally for the ages was beyond them, the Czechs closed out the game as 19-12 winners, and these two teams will meet again in the bronze medal game at 2.00 pm Hungarian time on Saturday. 

It was a sudden and unexpected change of fortune for the Irish, winners of their first four games in the tournament, then losers of the next three.  The Irish are clearly a much better team than they have been for some time at European Slowpitch Championships, which is encouraging, but Senan Dormer and the rest of the staff and players will want to analyse what’s still missing.


Controversy

Both Germany and GB, but especially Germany, were waiting for the result of the Czech-Ireland game to decide on their approach when they played each other.  If the Irish had won, Germany would have had to beat GB to reach the final and would have played their strongest line-up, which was the line-up they submitted to the scorers while the Czechs and Irish were still playing.

Although line-ups are supposed to be with the scorers an hour before the game, GB had cunningly waited for the Czech-Ireland result before submitting theirs.  But now, with their place in the final assured, German captain Wolfgang Walther wanted to make changes to the line-up he had submitted, only to be told by the scorers and tournament officials that his submitted line-up was official and changes could only be made in case of injury, illness or other Acts of God.

The argument over this grew heated and went on for some time, and although the officials had the rules on their side, there was a kind of compromise in the end, with the Germans allowed to make a couple of player and positional changes.  But the result was that a game meant to start at 6.30 pm didn’t get going until after 7.00, and once the sun goes down here shortly after 8.00 pm, darkness falls quickly.

All of this gave an essentially meaningless game a strange intensity at the start.


GB v Germany

A report on GB’s afternoon game with Belgium is below, but here is what happened in the GB-Germany game, a game which both teams can take positives from for the final tomorrow.

With Dan Spinks in the circle, GB somehow held Germany scoreless in the top of the first inning, despite a lead-off hit by Max Verhusen followed by a walk.

GB then took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first with a two-out rally.  Steve Hazard and Chiya Louie singled to left field and Mike MacDowell blasted a Max Verhusen pitch over the left field fence.

We’ll come back to Mike MacDowell, who is on a once-in-a-lifetime roll.

Two uncharacteristic GB errors helped the Germans to score twice in the top of the second inning, but GB scored three more in the bottom of the inning to take a 6-2 lead.  Ruth Macintosh, Robbie Studholme, Steve Hazard and, inevitably, Mike MacDowell, had the hits.

Neither team scored in the third inning, but then both offenses got going.


Back and forth

Four German hits including a two-run home run by Marc Dutjer, plus a GB error, produced five German runs in the top of the fourth inning that gave them a 7-6 lead, and it could have been more had not Steve Hazard made a fine play at shortstop to end the inning.

But GB grabbed the lead back with another two-out rally in the bottom of the frame.  Steve Hazard singled, Chiya Louie stroked a line drive that pierced the German outfield for a triple, and Mike MacDowell roared around the bases for an inside-the-park home run on a long blast to left centre field.  Those three runs gave GB a 9-7 lead.

Another fine play by Steve Hazard and a great pick-up by Aaron Thomas on a force play at second held the Germans to a single run in the top of the fifth inning, cutting the GB lead to 9-8 with darkness beginning to set in.


The final outburst

But the darkness didn’t bother the GB hitters, who suddenly took the game completely away from Germany in the bottom of the fifth inning with nine straight hits off Max Verhusen to open the frame, including a massive home run by Steve Hazard.  By the time this barrage had finished, GB had scored nine runs, time had run out, and the game was over, with the score standing at 18-9.

“I’m really proud of all of you,” Head Coach Stephen Patterson told the team in the dugout after the game.  The intensity was there from the beginning, and we kept hitting those line drives that we need to win.  It’s nice to have balls go over the fence occasionally, but it was line drive hitting that won us the game tonight and will win us the Championship tomorrow.”

Stephen Patterson has always been a master at using his whole squad with purpose, and his philosophy has always been that GB doesn’t have 10 starters, but rather a team of 18 players.  His record at bringing in players from the bench in a position to succeed had been phenomenal, and in this game Claudine Snape, Megan Beard, Duncan Waugh and Kelvin Harrison all produced key base hits as substitutes.

“As for the Germans,” Stephen said, “they’ll be telling themselves that this was a close game until that last inning.  That’s what I’d be saying to my players if things had gone the other way.  I don’t think this game will have any effect on the one tomorrow.”

And what of Mike MacDowell?

Well, the stats at the end of Thursday had Mike hitting an eye-watering .833 for the tournament.

All Mike did today, in the games against Belgium and Germany, was go 8-for-8 with two home runs, five doubles, a single and 11 RBIs.  Someone will need to wake Mike up sometime – but not until the final is over!
 

GB v Belgium

GB warmed up for tonight’s clash with Germany with a low-key and fairly routine 20-5 five-inning mercy rule win against Belgium this afternoon to run their record in Pool C to 4-0 and guarantee a place in tomorrow’s gold medal game.

For the first time in the tournament, there was some sloppy GB defense, with five infield errors, but Matt Tomlin still held the Belgians to just one unearned run in four innings in the circle, and the GB offense kept rolling, scoring in every inning.

Right centre fielder Mike MacDowell had four doubles in four trips to the plate against Belgium, good for five RBIs.

Matt Tomlin had three hits to go with his excellent pitching, and Steve Hazard and Aaron Thomas had two hits each.

The game was pretty much over after GB held Belgium scoreless in the top of the first inning with the help of a 4-6-3 double play and then put up eight runs in the bottom of the frame.  Three walks issued by Belgian starter Geoffrey Andries and two Belgian errors made life easier for GB, while Amy Rice had the key hit, a two-RBI single that set the inning on its way.

In the top of the fifth inning, with the score 20-1, Dan Spinks replaced Matt Tomlin in the circle to turn his arm over before the Germany game.  But Belgium attacked him with four straight hits following an infield error, and suddenly, Belgium had put four runs on the board.

But a fine play by Matt Tomlin to get a force out at second ended the inning, and with the score 20-5, Belgium had just failed to avoid the mercy rule.

Belgium has had a good tournament on their return to the European Slowpitch Championship after a nine-year absence, making the playoff round, notching up a convincing win over the Netherlands and giving the Czechs a game this morning.

Hopefully, the next time this tournament is run, the Belgians will be back.


Playoff scores and standings

Below are the results of the games played today that completed the Championship group (Pool C) and the Consolation group (Pool D), along with final pool standings and a list of who will be playing in five different placing finals on Saturday, including the medal games.

The gold medal game between GB and Germany will be a full seven innings and is scheduled to start at 5.00 pm local time.  The game will also be a repeat of the final two years ago, when Germany got off to a fast start, GB never got going, and the Germans ended GB's run of 10 straight European Championships.  GB's mission here has been to regain the title; tomorrow is their chance to do it.  But it may not be easy.

POOL C PLAYOFF GAMES: FRIDAY
Germany 16, Netherlands 9
Czech Republic 14, Belgium 9
Netherlands 10, Ireland 9
GB 20, Belgium 5
Czech Republic 19, Ireland 12
GB 18, Germany 8

POOL C FINAL STANDINGS
GB (5-0)
Germany (3-2)
Czech Republic (3-2)
Ireland (2-3)
Belgium (1-4)
The Netherlands (1-4)

CONSOLATION PLAYOFF GAMES: FRIDAY
Austria 12, Italy 10
Bulgaria 18, Hungary 7
Bulgaria 18, Austria 9
Italy 21, Serbia 4

POOL D FINAL STANDINGS
Austria (3-1)
Bulgaria (3-1)
Italy (2-2)
Serbia (2-2)
Hungary (0-4)


Finals

On Saturday, 10 of the 11 teams that started the tournament will play off for final places.  The Hungarian hosts, who will not have a game tomorrow, will finish in 11th place.  Saturday’s games are:

Ninth Place Game
Italy v Serbia

Seventh Place Game
Austria v Bulgaria

Fifth Place Game
Belgium v Netherlands

Bronze Medal Game
Czech Republic v Ireland

Gold Medal Game
GB v Germany


Photos by Pete Saunders

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