GB Men fall to Denmark at the final hurdle

Fri 29 Jun 2018

Havlickuv Brod, Czech Republic: 29 June – So near and yet so far for the GB Team at the European Men’s Fastpitch Championship.  After beating Denmark this morning, a medal was within touching distance.  But after losing to the Danes this afternoon, GB is out of the tournament.

GB will finish fourth in the final tournament standings, just one place away from World Championship qualification, after losing 7-2 to Denmark in this afternoon’s 3 v 4 Page Playoff game. 

This morning, in their last game in the Championship round-robin, GB had beaten Denmark 5-2 in dramatic fashion, and had the Czechs beaten the Dutch in their last round-robin game, as they usually do, GB would already have been qualified for next year’s Worlds. 

But the Czechs, already through to the 1 v 2 game, saved their ammunition for later, the Dutch rolled to an 11-6 win, and GB had to conquer the Danes yet again.

It proved a game too far.

Here are the details of today’s bittersweet doubleheader against the Danes.

Denmark 7, GB 2

Denmark’s ageless veteran pitcher Kim Hansen had pitched every inning this morning when GB, behind James Darby, beat the Danes.  But Hansen was back in the circle for this game, while GB countered with Kyle Linton.

Linton had been forced to pitch the seventh inning in the morning game when James Darby turned his ankle on the first pitch of the frame, but apart from that hadn’t pitched since the previous day.

Nevertheless, it was Kyle Linton who had the shakier start, walking three batters (one intentionally) in the top of the first inning.  But Linton got out of the bases-loaded one-out jam by striking out Anders Jorgensen and Anton Brown.

After that, Linton settled in, while Kim Hansen dealt comfortably with the GB line-up, and the game was scoreless after three innings, with each team recording just one hit.

In the top of the fourth inning, though, the middle of the Danish line-up began to get to Kyle Linton.

Daniel Julenon, leading off, drove the ball to the warning track in left field, where Luke Peters made the catch.  But the next batter, catcher Anders Jorgensen, hit the ball somewhat further, well over the left field fence for a solo home run and a 1-0 Danish lead.

Rich Haldane’s single was all that GB could muster in reply in the bottom of the fourth inning, and then the Danes broke the game open against Kyle Linton in the top of the fifth.

The inning began innocuously, with a strikeout of Mikkel Andersen.  But now Linton was back to the top of the Danish order, and Valdemar Terkelsen doubled to left centre field, a ball that just ticked off Luke Peters’s glove.  Anders Svane then singled to left, Frederick Terkelsen doubled to right centre, Daniel Julenon walked, and Anders Jorgensen doubled to left field.  The result of all that was four very big Danish runs.

James Darby replaced Kyle Linton and recorded the next two outs on a strikeout and a foul pop to the catcher, but the damage had been done.

GB was never going to quit, and their one chance to get to Kim Hansen came in the top of the sixth inning.

Josh Peat got things started with a triple into the right field corner, and scored on Nopera Stockford’s groundout to second base.  Ryan Martin and Rich Haldane then re-started the rally with consecutive singles, and the chance for a big inning was certainly there, since the imperturbable Kim Hansen had to be tiring.  But Kevin Stockford also grounded out to second, scoring Ryan Martin, though now there were two outs.  When James Darby struck out swinging, the game was almost up.

To rub salt in the wounds, the Danes got those two runs back in the top of the seventh inning on a walk to Frederick Terkelsen and a two-run opposite-field home run by Daniel Julenon.  GB went down in order in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The GB Men’s Team has played and pitched very well in this tournament, but their luck has not been in. 

Until this final game against Denmark, GB’s only losses were to the Czechs by 3-2 and the Dutch by 2-1, both times going down to late inning solo home runs.  And had the defending champion Czechs taken care of business against the Dutch earlier in the day, as they usually do, GB would not have been playing the Danes for the second time today and needing to beat them.

The earlier game against the Danes had been a different story.

GB 5, Denmark 2

A 5-2 win might sound fairly routine, but this game was anything but – and some weird things happened before it was over.

Two veteran pitchers – Kim Hansen for Denmark and James Darby for GB – were the opposing hurlers in this crucial game, as GB Player-Coach Kevin Stockford, with one eye on a Page Playoff game later in the day, held Kyle Linton in reserve.

Both teams put runners on base in the first inning without scoring and both teams went down fairly quickly in the second frame.  The Danish baserunners were reaching on walks, a problem that has plagued James Darby in the past, but Darby was coming up with big pitches and strikeouts when he needed them.

It was GB that got on the board first in the bottom of the third inning, with a little help from the Danes.  Ryan Martin led off the inning with a single to centre field (Martin went 3-for-3 plus a crucial hit-by-pitch in the game), and then stole second.  A Danish error on Rich Haldane’s ground ball to second base allowed Martin to come all the way around to score, and another error following Luke Peters’s single to left field sent Rich Haldane across the plate.

GB added another run in the bottom of the fourth inning after Kim Hansen had struck out Nopera Stockford and Josh Peat to start the inning.  Ryan Martin slapped a double to the alley in left centre field, and Rich Haldane did exactly the same on the first pitch he saw, driving in Martin with the run that made it GB 3, Denmark 0.  That was the margin GB needed to give themselves a chance of finishing in second place in the Championship round-robin table.

And that’s how things stayed until the top of the sixth inning, though James Darby had to reach back to strike out Anders Svarne to end the Danish fourth inning with two runners on base.

However, Anton Brown led off the sixth for Denmark with a home run over the centre field fence and Jacob Mortensen walked.  James Darby struck out Jacob Berger and Mikkel Anderson, but in between, Mortensen went to second on a wild pitch and to third on a throwing error by catcher Kevin Stockford.  This led to a conference in the circle, after which the decision was made to walk the dangerous Danish lead-off hitter, Valdemar Terkelsen.

Now the Danes were looking for the double steal, with Terkelsen trotting towards second, trying to draw a throw.  Kevin Stockford threw down to second, and it looked like the best play might have been to tag Terkelsen, or at least get him in a rundown.  A quick tag, and the third out might have come before Jacob Mortensen could score from third.  A rundown, and GB might concede the run but would get the third out.  But the throw went back to home, Mortensen slid in hard on Kevin Stockford and was called safe, and GB came up empty.  The score was now 3-2, the inning was still alive, Kevin Stockford appeared to be injured, and the Danes had the tying run on second base.

But James Darby struck out Anders Svarne to end the inning and keep GB ahead.

The two crucial runs that GB needed for a three-run margin came in the bottom of the sixth inning, and they were largely a gift from the Danes.  With one out, Ryan Martin was hit by a pitch.  Rich Haldane hit a bouncer to second baseman Jacob Berger, but his throw to second for the force play skipped past the shortstop into left field, with Martin ending up at third and Haldane on second.

A hobbling Kevin Stockford chopped a ground ball down the third base line, and the Danes’ only play was to first, with Martin scoring and Haldane reaching third.  And then, with James Darby at the plate, Kim Hansen uncorked a wild pitch and Rich Haldane scored what might have been a decisive run.

But the Danes had one more at-bat, and the drama was far from over.

James Darby threw the first pitch in the top of the seventh inning to Frederick Terkelsen – and then slowly sank to the ground.  His ankle had turned, and after treatment and a trial pitch, it was clear that he would be unable to continue – at least in the circle.  But it seemed he had enough mobility to go to the outfield, and so Kyle Linton came in to pitch, James Darby went to centre field, Ryan Martin moved from centre field to second and Rich Haldane from second to first.

And of course Frederick Terkelsen then hit the ball straight to James Darby in centre field – but he barely had to move to take the catch.

However, the next batter, Daniel Julenon, singled to centre field, and Lukas Lohman was sent in as a pinch runner.  Anders Jorgensen then hit a hard ground ball to Ryan Martin at second base.  Martin went to tag Lohman and throw to first for what would have been a game-ending double play – but the tag dislodged the ball, which rolled away as Lohman scampered all the way to third.

GB protested that the ball had been dislodged deliberately, and were prepared to lodge an official protest if necessary, though the grounds for this might have been shaky.

But meanwhile, the game resumed, with runners on first and third and only one out, and GB decided to walk Anton Brown intentionally, putting the winning run on base.

But now Kyle Linton was looking at the less dangerous part of the Danish order, and the strategy proved correct.  Linton struck out Jacob Mortensen on a vicious rise ball and then struck out pinch-hitter Mark Nihoj on an off-speed inside pitch to end the game.

Scores and standings

Scores from the final games in the Championship round-robin on Friday morning were:

Belgium 10, Israel 3
GB 5, Denmark 2
Netherlands 11, Czech Republic 6

Final standings in the Championship round-robin were:

Netherlands  (4-1)
Czech Republic  (4-1)
GB  (3-2)
Denmark  (3-2)
Belgium  (1-4)
Israel  (0-5)

Belgium and Israel will play off for fifth place on Saturday.

The result of the 3 v 4 Page Playoff game – Denmark 7, GB 2 – means GB are out and finish fourth.  Denmark is guaranteed at least third place and a World Championship place next year, and advances to Saturday’s pre-final.

In the 1 v 2 Page Playoff game between the Dutch and the Czechs, normal service resumed as the Czechs beat the Dutch 8-1 in five innings.  The Czechs go directly to the final, while the Dutch and the Danes will play the pre-final at 2.30 pm British time to see who will join them.

Scores from the final games in the consolation playoffs were:

Sweden 16, Lithuania 6
Italy 10, Slovakia 2
Croatia 14, Germany 5

Consolation round-robin standings finished this way:

Croatia  (5-0)
Germany  (4-1)
Italy  (3-2)
Slovakia  (2-4)
Sweden  (1-4)
Lithuania  (0-5)

Croatia and Germany will play off for seventh place on Saturday.   The other four teams will finish 9-12 in the tournament in the order shown.

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