Germany wins ESF Slowpitch Championship

Fri 28 Jul 2017

Sofia, Bulgaria: 15 July – It had to happen sometime, but given the results over the first four days of the 2017 European Slowpitch Championship, this didn’t look like the year that GB would lose the title for the first time ever.  But they did, going down 20-9 to Germany in the final.

The European Slowpitch Championship started in 1998, and this was the 11th edition, with GB winning the previous 10.  In the early days, some of those wins were hard-fought; over the past few years, GB has cruised to the title.

And after they cruised through the first 10 games of this tournament unbeaten and largely unchallenged, it seemed that things were going to plan once again.

But the 1 v 2 Page Playoff game this morning against Slovenia was a struggle, though GB finally prevailed by 15-10.

That sent GB to the final, and they were able to watch while Germany crushed Slovenia 38-19 to book their place as GB’s opposition.

What happened then was wholly unexpected – though perhaps it shouldn’t have been, since GB’s two wins over Germany in pool play had been comfortable enough (17-11 and 13-2), but didn’t suggest dominance.  And as European teams tend to do in this competition, the Germans may have been biding their time, doing just enough to ensure a place in the Page Playoffs and then planning to turn it on when the chips were down.

Other European teams have tried that and failed; this time Germany succeeded.

Here is how it happened.

The Final: GB v Germany

By Chelsie Robison

GB fought gallantly in this seven-inning game but were not able to string enough solid hits together or to beat the tactical shifts the Germans used for some GB batters.

GB managed 13 hits in the final and scored nine runs, as opposed to Germany's 20 hits that produced 20 runs.  GB couldn't compare.

Germany were the better hitters in the final and were able to shut down GB's offense a lot more successfully than they had in previous games during the tournament.

And that’s why, for the first time in European Slowpitch Championship history, GB wasn’t able to come out on top.

Germany seemed to have the momentum from the very beginning, and began the top of the first inning with hits from their first three batters, which produced three runs.  GB's defense then collected themselves and remembered what they were here to do, and the next three batters made outs.

GB’s answer was two runs in the bottom of the first inning, one on an inside-the-park home run from Danny Gunn and the other on an error and an RBI base hit by Kimberly Hendry.

Both teams scored a run in the second inning, so going into the third GB were only 4-3 down.

But this is where the German offense took off and scored five runs for a 9-3 lead.  Plays from Dan Spinks and Danny Gunn finally got GB out of what seemed like a never-ending inning.

And GB had no response in the bottom of the third, as they struggled to get solid hits against Karim Abu-Omar’s pitching and the tactical defensive shifts that the Germans employed.  No runs were scored and Germany was at bat again.

The top of the fourth inning was better, as GB held Germany to a single run.  But hope seemed to be lacking in the GB dugout and heads were down as the team came up in the bottom of the fourth inning trailing 10-3.

Spirits were lifted, however, when Mike MacDowell got things started with a base hit, and more encouraging noises came from the dugout.  Great Britain woke up and got back to the team hitting they had been doing all week, scoring five runs to cut the German lead to just 10-8.

Unfortunately, GB was only able to score one more run over the rest of the game.  Head Coach Stephen Patterson cleared his bench of substitutes hoping for something to happen, but Germany’s defense and team batting was too much for GB to catch.

In the top of the fifth inning, Germany added another six runs, stretching their lead to 16-8.

GB couldn't manage a run in either the fifth or the sixth innings, and then Germany delivered the final blow with four more runs in the top of the seventh inning to open the gap to an impossible 20-8.

GB was only able to put one final run on the board in the bottom of the seventh inning, driven in on a triple by Mike MacDowell.  Germany had brought their A game and shut down the GB offense one last time.  The team looked physically broken at the end, and there were tears from GB players and coaches.

But Germany fought hard and were simply the better team in this game.

There will be those who say that this is a good day for the cause of slowpitch softball in Europe.  With GB’s monopoly of the European Slowpitch Championship finally broken, other countries may be encouraged to take the sport more seriously and put more effort into their national slowpitch team programmes.

But that’s a point of view that Head Coach Stephen Patterson and his players will find hard to adopt right now, because no one wanted to be the first GB Team to come back from Europe with only a silver medal.

GB will be back in two years’ time to reclaim their title.

Final standings

The final standings in the 2017 European Slowpitch Championship were:

1 -- Germany
2 -- Great Britain
3 -- Slovenia
4 -- Ireland
5 -- Czech Republic
6 -- Bulgaria

GB v Slovenia‚Äč

Here is a report on GB’s 1 v 2 Page Playoff game with Slovenia this morning that gave GB their 11th straight win in the tournament and booked their place in the final.

By Chelsie Robison

It was clear looking at the line-ups for this game that Slovenia had put up a stronger team against GB than in Friday’s final pool games.  But with GB having finished at the top of the pool standings, they had the home team advantage, so into the field they went.

The game started promisingly as Slovenia’s lead-off batter, Domen Znoj, hit a deep fly ball that was caught by Kimberly Hendry.  However, Slovenia then mounted a two-run rally to take the lead before Dan Spinks took a hard-hit ball up the middle to close out the inning.

In the bottom of the first, GB’s lead-off hitter Neil Selvester started with a hard-hit ball to the Slovenian shortstop, who bobbled it, meaning Neil was on base.  The next two batters popped up to the outfield, raising the question of whether Team GB was letting nerves get to them.  Base hits then followed from Emily Clifford and Dan Spinks, which brought Neil in to score, but Emily and Dan were left stranded on base.  GB were in for a battle.

Neither team scored in the second inning and Slovenia went down in order in the top of the third.  And then the GB offense started to click into gear.

Claudine Snape, the lead-off batter in the bottom of the third inning, reached base with a double to centre field, and Danny Gunn drove her in with a three-base hit to right field, tying the score at 2-2.  But GB weren’t done yet.

Emily Clifford then drove the ball down the left field line, beating the defense.  Tash Humphris came in to pinch run and was moved around to score by Dan Spinks and Kimberly Hendry before Mike MacDowell hit a three-run home run over the centre field fence to stretch GB’s lead to 7-1.

But unlike in some of the pool games, opponents were no longer prepared to crumble, and the Slovenians came right back in the top of the fourth inning.

Tjasa Trobec hit a high fly ball between Danny Gunn and Neil Selvester to start the rally, and the Slovenian offense started to string hits together, scoring five runs and staying hot on GB’s heels.  The score was 7-7 going into the bottom of the fourth inning, with GB once again feeling the pressure and needing to bat.

Danny Gunn and Emily Clifford got themselves on base to start the inning, and a string of hits and multiple throwing errors from Slovenia followed, and GB finished the fourth inning 13-7 up.

But Slovenia wouldn’t lie down.  A three-run home run by Andraz Skabar over the left field fence in the top of the fifth inning brought in three runs for Slovenia, and the score was now 13-10 going into the bottom of the fifth.

Danny Gunn flew out to right field to start GB’s half of the fifth inning, but Emily Clifford was the one to start the bats up with a sneaky pulled hit down the left field line for a triple.  Emily came home on Dan Spinks’s two-base line drive to right centre field, but Slovenia was able to get out of the inning without further trouble.

GB led 14-10, but that was a little too close for comfort. 

As things happened, however, Slovenia was unable to score again, as the GB defense did its work.  Two catches from right centre fielder Mike MacDowell and a pick-up by Emily Clifford at first base shut the door on Slovenia in the top of the sixth inning.

Then, after GB had added one more run in the bottom of the sixth on a triple by Claudine Snape and a single from Dan Spinks, who went 3-for-4 in the game, the top of the seventh loomed.  All GB had to do was get three outs to send them to the evening’s gold medal game.

Jakob Trobec flew out to left fielder Neil Selvester, who tracked the ball all the way to the fence with the pressure on, for the first out.

Next up was Tjasa Skabar, who reached first on a shot to third base that Nicole Ratel did well to knock down.  Tjasa Skabar was then out on the next play after Andraz Skabar hit the ball to shortstop Danny Gunn, who got the force play at two for the second out.

A simple play from Dan Spinks then closed out the game and sent the GB Team to their 11th consecutive European final.

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