GB Men end round-robin with two more wins

Wed 27 Jun 2018

Havlickuv Brod, Czech Republic: 28 June – The GB Men’s Team has ended the first round-robin at the European Men’s Fastpitch Championship with a 4-1 record after two more wins today – one tense and one straightforward.

The only blemish on GB’s record as they head for the Championship round-robin on Thursday in very good shape is that tough but invigorating late-night loss in the early hours of Wednesday morning to the defending champion Czech Republic.

Today, GB began with a 5-4 victory over Belgium in a morning game (that was the tense one), and then had a long wait before dispatching tournament newcomers Lithuania 16-0 in three innings in the evening (that was the easy bit).

Below are reports from the two games.


GB v Lithuania

James Darby, making his first appearance for GB as a pitcher in this tournament, had a perfect game plus.  In three innings of Lithuanian futility, Darby struck out 10 batters, all swinging, while allowing no hits and no walks, with no GB errors.

So why 10 strikeouts, you ask?  Because one of those batters, Deivida Vilbikas, reached first base after his strikeout on a passed ball in the bottom of the second inning, so James Darby had to face – and strike out – an extra hitter.

This is the first time Lithuania has played in a Men’s Fastpitch European Championship, and they have not surprisingly lost all of their games.  Their players will rarely have seen a pitcher with James Darby’s speed.

On the offensive side, it took GB an inning to get going, and they went down tamely in the top of the first inning, with only a single by Kevin Stockford against Lithuanian starter Pijus Jakimavicius.

But the top of the second inning was a wholly different story.

GB sent 21 batters to the plate, scored 13 runs on 11 hits, including two home runs by Josh Peat and additional round-trippers from Ryan Martin and James Darby – and they still managed to leave the bases loaded.  The Lithuanians brought Eimantas Dudulis in to pitch with one out in the inning and a bunch of runs scored, but he wasn’t able to stem the tide.

After that, it was just a question of whether GB could score the additional two runs they needed in the top of the third inning to make it a three-inning game on the mercy rule (15 after three).  In fact, they scored three, all on a three-run home run by Trent Nash, who drove in Ieuan Gale and Sam Grafton ahead of him.

James Darby then struck out three more hitters on 11 pitches to bring proceedings to a merciful end.
 

GB v Belgium

GB were fortunate that rescheduling after yesterday’s rain delays meant that a 07.00 am bus ride to get to the tournament’s second complex at Kostelec, 90 minutes away, was cancelled and GB were penciled in to play their final group games at Havlickuv Brod instead.

The team arrived for this morning’s game slightly subdued: probably a combination of the previous night’s late finish and still ruing the close defeat to the Czechs.

A handy Belgium team was waiting for them, and the last time the two teams had met, in 2016, the Belgians had come out on top.

The line-up saw Rich Haldane and Kyle Linton swap positions from last night, with Haldane given the ball and Linton at first base.  Tom Priscott came in to right field for Nopera Stockford, who moved to the DP position.
 

Early innings

GB took a scrappy 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on a walk to Nopera Stockford, a single by Rich Haldane and a Belgian error.

The Belgians replied with a run in the top of the fourth inning.  After putting runners on  the corners with  one out, the Belgians laid down a bunt and GB failed to execute a 1-3-2 double play.  The inning ending with Ryan Martin fielding a hard ground ball to second base, but the score was tied at 1-1.

Both teams were getting men on base, but runs were at a premium.

GB untied the score in the bottom of the fifth inning.  After Josh Peat and Nopera Stockford drew walks against Belgian starter Kristof van Aarsen, Ryan Martin laid down a textbook bunt.  The throw to first plugged Ryan in the back and enabled Josh Peat to score, and a wild pitch with Rich Haldane at the plate allowed Tom Priscott, running for Nopera Stockford, to cross the plate as well.

The inning came to an end with GB up 3-1 -- and in control...?
 

Late drama

Belgium began to chip away at the lead in the top of the sixth inning.  A lead-off single by Ivan de Groote was followed by a ground ball to third base.  With no chance to get the out at second, GB third baseman Neil Davies threw to first, only for Kyle Linton to put the ball down.  With no outs and Belgian runners on second and third, GB were lucky to escape with only a single run scoring, on Nick de Vriendt’s deep sacrifice fly to right field. 

Around this, Rich Haldane struck out Wout Cnops and Goran Huyghe, keeping GB in the lead at 3-2.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, GB broke the game open again.  Consecutive walks to Neil Davies and Josh Peat and a moon shot to the fence by Ryan Martin added two runs and produced a 5-2 lead.  Enough of a cushion surely?

The first two Belgian hitters in the top of the seventh inning went down quietly, but then things got very tense.  Jan Zelenka singled up the middle, and what should have been the final out on an infield grounder wasn’t made.  With Rich Haldane tiring, Ivan de Groote and Jeroen van Nuffel punched singles to right field, and suddenly the GB lead was only 5-4 and the tying run was on third base.

But Wout Cnops flew out to centre field and GB had a crucial win.

Rich Haldane struck out eight Belgians in going the distance while giving up six hits and three walks, but only one of the four runs against him was earned.

GB only had three hits, but made them count, aided by nine walks from two Belgian pitchers, and four Belgian errors.

In the end, it was close – but GB got the job done.
 

Looking ahead

The Championship round-robin will begin on Thursday morning, and will be contested by six teams.  The Czech Republic, GB and Belgium have progressed from Pool A, and Denmark, the Netherlands and Israel from Pool B.

GB’s results against the Czech Republic (a loss) and Belgium (a win) will be carried forward, and the British team will play the Netherlands at 9.00 am tomorrow local time, and then Israel at 6.15 pm.  The final round-robin game will be against Denmark at 11.15 am on Friday.

Four of the six teams will go forward to the Page Playoff that begins on Friday afternoon, and GB will want to go through as one of the top two teams, playing the 1 v 2 game.  That will mean a guaranteed medal and a place in next year’s World Championship, back in the Czech Republic, regardless of Page Playoff results.

That’s the plan – but it will take some hard work against good teams to get there.


Scores

Wednesday’s final scores from the initial round-robin at the European Men’s Fastpitch Championship are:

GROUP A
Germany 5, Italy 4
GB 5, Belgium 4
Czech Republic 19, Lithuania 0
Belgium 5, Italy 3
Czech Republic 14, Germany 1
GB 16, Lithuania 0

GROUP B
Denmark 15, Netherlands 0
Israel 15, Sweden 2
Croatia 9, Slovakia 2
Denmark 10, Israel 0
Slovakia 31, Sweden 21
Netherlands 9, Croatia 8
Denmark v Slovakia (cancelled)
Netherlands 10, Israel 0
Croatia 19, Sweden 4


Standings

Pool standings after the initial round-robin are shown below.  In Pool B, the game between Denmark and Slovakia was cancelled, but this will not affect the standings.

POOL A
Czech Republic (5-0)
GB  (4-1)
Belgium  (3-2)
Germany  (2-3)
Italy  (1-4)
Lithuania  (0-5)

POOL B
Denmark  (4-0)
Netherlands  (4-1)
Israel  (3-2)
Croatia  (2-3)
Slovakia  (1-3)
Sweden  (0-5)

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