Tough battles looming at the NSL Nationals

Thu 31 Aug 2017

This weekend – 2-3 September – the best A-grade and B-grade co-ed slowpitch teams in Britain will make the journey to Farnham Park to contest the BSF’s National Softball League 1 and National Softball League 2 National Championships, and some great battles are in store before the titles are decided.

While the NSL 1 Nationals, also known as the Premier Nationals, have been going for the better part of the last decade, this will be the first year for a fully-fledged NSL 2 Nationals, following the first full year of league play in NSL 2.

NSL 1 (Premier) Nationals

The top eight teams from this year’s 12-team NSL 1 league competition will contest the Premier Nationals, but the real question will be whether anyone can break the stranglehold that the Chromies and Pioneers have had on this event.

Since 2002, the Chromies or Pioneers have won the National Championship title on all but three occasions, with the Chromies winning eight times during this period and the Pioneers winning four titles, including last year, when they came from behind to defeat H2O in a thrilling final.

For those wondering about the three occasions on which someone else won the title over those 15 years, it was the short-lived Stingrays who won in 2003, the Slammers in 2005 and the Dragons in 2008.  None of those teams were part of the NSL in 2017.

H2O are probably the best team never to have won the national title, having lost in several finals, including last year.  But the team finished sixth in this year’s NSL 1 league play, their lowest position since the team began, and their chances of grabbing that elusive crown may be fading.

Doug Clouston’s Chromies will go into the weekend as favourites, having won the NSL 1 title by 3.5 games this summer over the Pioneers, losing just three out of 22 games in the process.  Doug has grown slightly more philosophical over the years about the team’s occasional failures to win the Nationals, which they see as their biggest goal of the season.  But he and the team remain fiercely competitive, and only once over the years since they won their first modern-day title in 2004 have they missed out two years in a row.

Another note for nerds: the Chromies, then known as Superchrome, won their first-ever title in 1997, at a time when British softball had a different configuration and digital photography was clearly still a thing of the future.  They didn’t win again, as Chromies, until 2004 – but have seldom lost since.

The teams looking likeliest to challenge the Chromies and Pioneers are Legends and Blue Steel, who finished just behind Pioneers in third and fourth place respectively, and it may be wise to give a thought to the ever-improving Knights, who had the same number of NSL losses (seven) as the Pioneers, Legends and Blue Steel, but more draws.

The Greensox and Travelling Dodgers, both of whom managed just one more win than loss in NSL 1 this season, will certainly not be there just to make up the numbers, but they may be looking more for upsets than for medals.

The eight teams will play a full round-robin over Saturday and Sunday morning, with games scheduled for hour-long time slots.

Then the top four teams from the round-robin standings will advance to a Page Playoff with 90-minute game slots, while the remaining four teams will play off (5v6 and 7v8) to settle places 5-8.

The final is scheduled for 4.15 pm.

The competing teams, in order of seeding are:

Blue Steel

NSL 2 Nationals​

The first full season of NSL2 has been a huge success. Going into the final weekend of league play, nearly every team still had something to play for, whether this was qualification for Nationals, taking the league title or avoiding relegation.  Games on all three NSL weekends were competitive and hard-fought, and even as the standings were looking fairly set, any team was capable of an upset.  New teams are lining up to participate, giving the BSF a problem -- but a good problem -- to solve.

League winners KKs have to be the favourites to take the national title, not just because they won the league, narrowly beating out the Naturals, but because they have been one of the most consistent teams of the last few years.  The KKs are a strong unit who have done well in every tournament they have entered.  They have strong female hitters, a line-up that can hit top to bottom, and solid defense. Shortstop Eric Lukasewski has been a standout performer, but it remains to be seen whether the celebratory shaving of his beard after Diamond 3 may have any Samson-like effects!

The three teams that took the next three spots --Naturals, Misfits and Blitz -- are all teams to watch out for this weekend as possible challengers. 

The Naturals have a lot of power from the likes of Che Porteous, Ross Smart and Aaron Lapworth, and great athletic ability from women such as Rolien van Heerden, Steph Kovatch and Amy Nelsen.  They are a team that can get on a roll and beat anyone on their day.

The Misfits from the East Midlands league, led by experienced Head Coach Nigel Peters, are more than capable of an upset.  There is a lot of youth, speed and talent on this team, and it’s a team that takes coaching seriously, which can be a difference maker. 

Blitz are a team marked by an excessive amount of 'coolness' and are a force to be reckoned with.  Dan Ferguson, a player who came up through the Meteors youth development system, provides good power and strong defensive skills.  James Wilkins's long ball power and short shorts are something to be witnessed.  Steven Lovell also brings good power and a solid glove and Chris Carr has great wheels and an ability to hit the ball the other way, making him dangerous in any situation.  Canny pitcher Jen Cruikshank is an added weapon.

This is not to suggest that the four other qualifiers are there to make up numbers. The Manchester Mavericks are a perennially strong outfit, marked by a solid line-up that hits with power throughout the order and had a third place finish at Diamond 3.

The Warriors have great experience behind them.  Led by former GB Slowpitch Team Head Coach Jeremy Bedford and GB coaches Gordy Morris and Julie Spittle, as well as PH O'Hare, this is a team that knows how to win.

Possibly the oldest team in the mix, SPAM are a team known more for defense than power, and can upset anyone when on form.

Bristol Bees B may have been the last team to qualify via the NSL 2 league standings, but they also can't be counted out.  As is the case with their NSL 1 counterpart, they are another well-coached team, and having finished in the fourth spot at Diamond 3, they may have found their form at the right time.

What makes the inaugural NSL 2 National Championships so exciting is that it features eight teams who are all capable of beating each other when on form, which is exactly what was hoped for when the NSL model was extended down to B-grade teams.

The schedule for the NSL 2 Nationals will mirror that of NSL 1.  The eight teams will play a full round-robin over Saturday and Sunday morning, with games scheduled for hour-long time slots.

Then the top four teams from the round-robin standings will advance to a Page Playoff with 90-minute game slots, while the remaining four teams will play off (5v6 and 7v8) to settle places 5-8.

The final is scheduled for 4.15 pm.

The competing teams, in order of seeding are:

Bees B

Come on down​

Needless to say, spectators are welcome at the NSL Nationals, where the softball on display will be the best this country has to offer, with all games played on the purpose-built diamonds at the Farnham Park Baseball and Softball Complex.

In addition, the Home Plate Bar and Kitchen will be open throughout both days, offering great food from breakfast onwards, and a great place to take a break from the action.

Admission to the games is free.

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