GB U-19s start with tough win over Russia

Mon 16 Jul 2018

By Bob Fromer

Ronchi di Legionari, Italy: 16 July – “It was a grind, it was tough, and it was a real team effort,” Head Coach Robbie Robison said after the GB Under-19 Women opened their European Junior Championship account this afternoon with a 2-0 win over a strong Russian team.

It was also a great way for Team GB to start the defense of the title they won in this tournament two years ago in Spain. 

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Edwards, up from last year’s GB Under-16 Team, was the headline star, as she pitched a one-hitter, faced just one batter over the minimum, and also drove in what proved to be the winning run when GB finally broke open a scoreless game with two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Until then, Hannah and Russian starter Iuliia Grib had gone toe-to-toe, and though GB had more baserunners than the Russians, the pitchers were dominant in this game until Iuliia Grib finally tired and GB hitters made some adjustments.

In fact, had it not been for a slight mix-up in the top of the second inning between GB first base player Megan Parno and second base player Andrea Johnson about who take Yana Islamova’s ground ball and who should cover first, which resulted in an infield hit for Islamova, Hannah Edwards might have pitched a perfect game.

But the win was not just about Hannah Edwards.  Behind her, the GB defense made every routine play bar that one, and there were also two outstanding catches in left field by Sydney Robson.  Catcher Olivia Lee and Hannah Edwards stuck to the game plan set out by Pitching Coach Tina Whitlock and went after the Russian hitters.  Every sacrifice bunt called for by the coaches was flawlessly executed, and players who came in off the bench late in the game made important contributions.

And carrying on where the gold medal GB Under-19 Team of two years ago had left off, the bench provided noisy and enthusiastic support from the first pitch to the last.

The way GB handled this game left the coaches immensely proud, but it was still only the first game of the tournament.

“It will be like this all week long,” Robbie Robison told the players afterward.  “In this tournament, there will be no easy games.” 

But what the GB Team has shown in this game is that they can stand up to pressure.


Zeroes

Two years ago, in Spain, the GB Under-19s beat Russia fairly easily.  But that was a young Russian team, and the team GB faced today was older, bigger, smarter, and had a pitcher who threw hard and with command.

What the Russians still didn’t have, however, was much offense.  Hannah Edwards only struck out five Russians, but the only hard-hit ball against her in the game was a rising line drive hit by Milana Kozhina that Sydney Robson snagged in left field in the top of the third inning.  Otherwise, Hannah was inducing weak ground balls and routine flies to the outfield, and when the Russians did try the short game, the GB infield was all over it.

But when and how was GB going to score against Iuliia Grib?

In the bottom of the first inning, with two out, Megan Parno dropped a single into centre field and Andrea Johnson walked.  But Hannah Edwards struck out to end the threat.

Laura Hirai was hit by a pitch with two out in the  second inning and Morgan Salmon singled in the third and got to third with two out on a bunt and a throwing error, but each time Iuliia Grib kept her composure and got the third out.

GB’s best scoring chance came in the bottom of the fifth inning when Laura Hirai led off by slashing a single to left field, stole second and was bunted to third by Sydney Robson.  But Alana Snow hit a soft line drive back to the pitcher, and though Laura pretty clearly dived back safely to third on the throw, the umpire called her out.

So the scoreless game went on, until GB came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning, and with one out, Megan Parno flipped another single to centre field.  Katie Burge ran for Megan and Andrea Johnson’s sacrifice bunt moved Katie to second.  But now there were two outs, and it was up to Hannah Edwards to win her own game.

Hannah didn’t waste any time, driving the first pitch she saw for a single to left field on which Katie scored easily.  Hannah took second on the throw to the plate, and now Lauren King did what she had threatened in her first two at-bats – drove a line-drive double down the right field line, scoring Hannah.

The Russians, and Iuliia Grib, had cracked first.

And Hannah Edwards didn’t give them a sniff in the top of the seventh inning.  A ground ball to second base, a third strike foul tip held by Olivia Lee, and then a foul pop-up behind the plate that Olivia caught with a flourish ended proceedings and provided GB with the best possible start to this tournament: a tough win in a tough game.


Looking ahead

Tomorrow (Tuesday), GB will complete the initial round-robin with games against Denmark and Ireland.  Earlier today, the Irish beat Denmark 21-0, which suggests the size of the task GB will have in each of tomorrow's games. 

The Irish have a team consisting mainly of American-based players, and a much stronger team than the one that finished fourth out of five at the London Cup on the weekend of 7-8 July at Farnham Park.

Assuming that GB will go forward with either Ireland or Russia, a second four-team round-robin will begin on Wednesday morning, and GB will be looking for at least two wins to advance in good shape towards the Page Playoffs and the medal they need to qualify for next year’s WBSC Junior World Championship.

But all that is a long way away, at the other end of the week.

Meanwhile, tonight, the GB Team will be joined here in Italy by five GB Under-22 players and the Under-22 staff, here to support the team and also begin a bonding process, since 11 Under-19 players will be moving on to Slovakia next week for the European Under-22 Women’s Championship.


Scores

Scores so far on the first day of the European Junior Women’s Championship are:

Pool A
Spain 13, Ukraine 6
Netherlands 20, Israel 0
Italy 9, Spain 2

Pool B
Serbia 38, Bulgaria 2
Czech Republic 15, Belgium 0

Pool C
GB 2, Russia 0
Ireland 21, Denmark 0

Pool D
France 11, Croatia 4
Germany 19, Poland 0
Germany 13, France 3
Poland 19, Croatia 11

A key game will come tonight, after the Opening Ceremony, when Italy and the Netherlands, both in Pool A because the Netherlands did not participate in this tournament in 2016, will go head-to-head.

Both teams will almost certainly advance from Pool A, but both will be keen to lay down a marker for later in the week.

 

Webstreaming

All games from the tournament's main field in Ronchi di Legionari, including GB's game against Denmark at 9.30 am Tuesday (8.30 am UK time) will be webstreamed here: https://www.baseballsoftball.tv/.  

The GB Under-19s will certainly be playing more games on this fields during the week, so check out the tournament schedule on: http://competition.europeansoftball.org/2018/staranzano/schedule.php.

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