GB Women start the Qualifier with win over Spain

Tue 23 Jul 2019

By Bob Fromer

Utrecht, Netherlands: 23 July – The GB Women’s Team got rid of early nerves and got the Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier off to a good start on a hot morning with a relatively efficient 9-2 walk-off mercy rule win over Spain.

But this morning’s temperature of 30 degrees is nothing to what’s coming, with 39 degrees forecast for Thursday!

The walk-off hit came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Amie Hutchison, who was GB’s starting pitcher and later moved to left field, bounced a single up the middle to drive in two runs and turn a 7-2 lead into a 9-2 margin.  Earlier in the inning, second base player Nerissa Myers had blasted her second home run of the game to extend what had been a 6-2 lead when the inning started.

Slow start

However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for GB, and it in fact it was Spain that took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning after GB had left two runners on base in each of the first two frames without scoring. 

Two defensive GB mistakes got the inning started for Spain.  No one covered first base on Candela Garcia’s little dribbler to the middle of the infield, and then shortstop Sydney Brown made a great diving stop on Carla Segura’s ground ball in the hole, but her throw to second base pulled Nerissa Myers off the bag, to Sydney’s obvious distress.

Spain eventually scored a run on a single by Uxua Modrego, but they might have taken an even bigger lead had Aubrey Peterson not cut down Spanish lead-off hitter Candela Garcia trying to score from second with a strong throw on Meritxell Blesa’s single to centre field.

In fact, Aubrey’s throw beat Garcia by such a huge margin that she turned around and tried to get back to third base, but catcher Amy Moore gunned her down.

If this induced a bit of anxiety in the GB camp, because things weren’t going quite like they had when the teams had met in the recent European Championship in Ostrava and GB had taken an immediate 5-0 lead, the anxiety was quickly dispelled.

Aubrey Peterson led off the bottom of the third inning by bouncing a single that flicked off the glove of Meritxell Blesa at second base, and then Nerissa Myers lofted a 1-0 pitch over the fence in right centre field and was mobbed by her teammates.

Drawing ahead

That gave GB a 2-1 lead, and it was a lead they would build on thereafter, scoring four more runs in the fourth inning and the final three runs in the sixth.

In the end, GB had 12 hits to just six for Spain, there were hard-hit balls from virtually everyone in the line-up, and patience at the plate allowed GB to coax seven walks from three Spanish pitchers. 

Production was particularly strong at the bottom of the line-up, where #8 hitter Chloe Wigington had a walk, a triple lashed past third base into the left field corner and a line drive single to right centre field, while #9 hitter Amie Hutchison, who had the honour of opening the Olympic Qualifier as GB’s starting pitcher, had a double, a walk, a single and three RBIs.

The bottom of the fourth inning was when GB made the game safe with four important runs.

Chloe Wigington led off with the aforementioned triple and Amie Hutchison scored Chloe with a fly ball into short right centre field that Amie alertly turned into a double when Spanish right field Maria Caicoya just missed a diving catch.

Sydney Brown followed with a walk, Aubrey Peterson hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Amie, and later in the inning Alicja Wolny hit a ground ball single up the middle to drive in Sydney and Amy Moore’s long double that hit the base of the fence in centre field allowed Alicja to score all the way from first.

Spanish starter Beatriz Parejo exited during this inning, to be replaced by Beatriz Alonso, and she was replaced in turn in the fifth inning by Ane Barandiaran when GB was mounting another threat. 

Barandiaran, who had given up the five first-inning runs to GB in Ostrava, got out of that inning by striking out Sydney Brown and Aubrey Peterson, but gave up the decisive three runs in the bottom of the sixth.

Nerissa Myers led off the inning with a solo home run, Alicja Wolny and Lauren Evans singled, Georgina Corrick walked and then Amie Hutchison’s single on a 2-2 count produced the winning runs.

Pitching and defense

On the other side of the ball, Amie Hutchison pitched an effective first two innings, with just one baserunner in each frame, before giving up three singles in the third inning and the lone Spanish run.

Hannah Edwards took over in the fourth inning and allowed just one Spanish baserunner in the fourth and fifth before giving up a single run in the top of the sixth inning when Uxua Modrego struck out but reached first on a passed ball and later scored on a double to left field by Raquel Moncho. 

Hannah, who was one of the GB Women players who had flown to Vancouver after the Europeans to compete for the GB U-22s and U-18s in the Canada Cup, looked more crisp and confident than she had in Ostrava.

And apart from the two mistakes that helped the Spanish score their first run in the third inning, the GB defense played solidly, dealing well with bunts and making all the routine plays, with Sydney Brown excellent at shortstop.

“I was really pleased with them,” Head Coach Rachael Watkeys said afterwards.  “It was the first game and they got rid of the nerves early on.  After that, we hit the ball hard and we had good patient at-bats.

“Hannah [Edwards] threw really well,” Rachael added, “Chloe [Wigington] hit the ball very hard and Nerissa [Myers] was a game changer.  I think they all did really well!  You need to win a game as efficiently as possible in these hot conditions, and they did that.”

Honeymoon

The Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier is a short, sharp tournament with no room for error.  The format, which the WBSC clearly likes but none of the teams are happy with, means that losing a single game pretty much eliminates the chance of winning the tournament – and only the winning team here will get the place in Tokyo next summer.

These first two days are effectively a honeymoon period for the GB Team.  They were expected to beat Spain today, and did, and they will be expected to beat South Africa tomorrow, with long-time GB Women’s Team Head Coach Hayley Scott as part of their staff.

But then things will get serious, as GB will play the Netherlands on Thursday night in the final first-round pool game and then, assuming things go to plan, will play Italy on Friday afternoon and the Czech Republic at noon on Saturday in the so-called Super Round.

And essentially, they have to win all those games.

There is a scenario where three teams could win up with 4-1 records, bringing WBSC tie-breaker rules into play, but it’s far more likely that the team that can keep on winning from today through Saturday will be in Tokyo next summer.

Other results

In this tournament, all teams play one game a day throughout the week, with just one showcase field being utilised at the massive Sportpark Paperclip in the suburbs of Utrecht.

Scores on Tuesday were:

GB 9, Spain 2 (6 inns)
Italy 7, Botswana 0 (5 inns)
Czech Republic 6, France 1
Netherlands 11, South Africa 1 (4 inns)

Pool standings after Day 1 are:

POOL A
GB (1-0)
Netherlands (1-0)
South Africa (0-1)
Spain (0-1)

POOL B
Italy (1-0)
Czech Republic (1-0)
France (0-1)
Botswana (0-1)

Two teams from each pool will go through to the Super Round.

All games from the tournament are being web-streamed with a multi-camera set-up, and full details of how to access the broadcasts can be found here.

Photos by Paul Stodart and Jason Lee

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