GB U-19s win two more games and top Pool C

Tue 17 Jul 2018

By Bob Fromer

Ronchi di Legionari, Italy: 17 July – The GB Under-19 Women’s Team won their final two first-round pool games today and top Pool C with an undefeated record – but their success may not have earned the reward it deserves.

We’ll come back to that subject later, but the first thing is to recount this morning’s expected win over Denmark – the final score was 17-1 with a mercy-rule ending after four innings – and then a tight 5-2 win over Ireland in a well-played game in which GB took the initiative early and never really let the Irish into the contest.

Earlier in the day, Ireland had beaten Russia 3-1, a result that will have stunned the Russian team and Federation, because it means that Russia are out of the Championship playoffs before this tournament has really gotten started, and it’s a long time since that happened.  Russia rarely threaten to win European women’s championships at Under-19 or Senior level, but they are consistently a top-five team.

They won’t be this time.


GB v Denmark

Denmark are one of the weaker teams in this Championship, without any pitchers who can throw either hard or accurately, and that’s a recipe for disaster.  Teams like Denmark are one of the reasons the ESF is thinking of moving to a new system soon where the lower-ranked teams have to pre-qualify to play in European Championships.

GB didn’t have to do much to win this game, and indeed scored their 17 runs on only eight hits, with most GB hitters failing to adjust for the much slower pitching.  But two Danish pitchers – Cecelie Kallagher, who started and later relieved, and Nikoline Pedersen, who pitched part of the second inning, did the job for them.

Between them, the Danish pitchers walked eight GB batters and hit another seven with pitches, and though the Danes committed only one error, you can’t give your opponent 16 extra baserunners and come anywhere close to winning the game.

Kyra Watson pitched the first two innings for GB and gave up one run on two hits while striking out three, and Andrea Johnson gave up just one hit in pitching two scoreless innings to close out the game, striking out four of the seven Danish hitters she faced.

Lauren King, with two doubles and a single; Andrea Johnson, with a triple, a single and three RBIs; and Sydney Robson, with a long triple to the fence in left centre field, were GB’s offensive leaders.  Further hits came from Laura Hirai and Saskia Davies.

After GB followed up a solo run in the top of the first inning by scoring 11 runs in the top of the second, it was only a question of when the mercy rule would come into play.

GB v Ireland: the Calculations

When GB and Ireland met in the final Pool C group game this afternoon, both teams had 2-0 records and both were guaranteed a place in the first Championship round-robin that begins on Wednesday morning.  So the only question was who would win the group.

And -- like the England-Belgium conundrum during the first round of the recent football World Cup -- it wasn’t clear that topping the group was necessarily the best recipe for moving forward in the tournament.

Normally, it would be, because a first round pool winner gets to play one first place team and two second-place teams in the next round; the runner-up faces two first-place teams and one second-place team.  But normality has been distorted in this tournament by the fact that the Netherlands didn’t play in the competition in 2016, consequently came in as a low seed, and wound up in the same first-round pool as Italy.

On Monday night, the Dutch and Italians engaged in an epic struggle in which the Dutch were 5-1 down after five innings and came back to win 9-7, which means that the second-place team in Pool A is not going to be your normal seventh or eighth seed, but instead will be Italy.  So the winner of the GB v Ireland clash was going to face a Championship round-robin group consisting of France, the Czech Republic and Italy; the loser would face a Championship round-robin group consisting of Germany, Belgium or Serbia and the Netherlands.

Since losses in the Championship round-robin are carried forward to subsequent rounds, it’s important to have as many winnable games in the second round as possible.  Just like the World Cup, you can see why the loser of GB v Ireland might have been in a slightly better second round position.

Both teams will have looked at these calculations.  And both then went out and did the completely honourable thing – they put out strong line-ups and tried to win the game.

Afterwards, GB Head Coach Robbie Robison said, “There’s a lot more to come from this team, and we’re not afraid of the opposition, whoever they are.  We’re going out to win it.”

GB v Ireland: the Game

GB threw Beth Fleming in this game for her first appearance in the tournament, and Beth went six innings.  There were Irish baserunners in every inning, but Beth worked her way out of almost every jam, giving up just two runs, only one of them earned.

“Beth pitched a really mature game,” Robbie Robison said.  “She attacked the hitters, she and [catcher] Olivia Lee worked really well together, and she never wavered when things were tough.”

The rise ball was Beth’s principal weapon, and she used it to induce eight fly ball outs (one a great diving catch in short centre field by Morgan Salmon), plus three strikeouts.

Meanwhile, GB were on the front foot early, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning against Irish starter Alexis Clancy and another pair in the second inning off the first Irish reliever, Makenzie McGrath.

Alexis Clancy brought those two runs on herself by walking three batters during the course of the GB first inning.  A groundout by Diana Nisbett and a clutch two-out single to left field by Hannah Edwards provided the RBIs.

In the bottom of the second inning, Laura Hirai reached on an Irish error with one out, and later in the inning, consecutive singles by Andrea Johnson and Lauren King produced the runs.

The GB offense went quiet for a while after that, and Ireland pulled a run back in the top of the fourth inning to make the score 4-1 on a two-out single by Hannah Monteleone, followed by the only two errors that GB has committed so far in the tournament.

But GB restored the four-run margin in the bottom of the fifth inning when Olivia Lee drove a double to the fence in left centre field with two out and Laura Hirai delivered what is becoming her speciality: a single sliced down the left field line.

Ireland scored a second run in the top of the sixth inning on a lead-off double by Lily Wilmot and two ground ball outs, and GB called on Hannah Edwards, who had pitched a complete game to defeat Russia on Monday, to close out the game in the seventh inning.

Two fine plays by Diana Nisbett at shortstop during the inning ensured that a walk to Alexis Clancy never turned into a threat.

“We came out hard, we scored quick, and we put good hits together,” Robbie Robison said.  “The Irish pitchers pitched well, but we just got on top of them from the beginning.


Scores and standings

A few games are still to be played in the first-round groups as this is written, but here are the scores and pool standings with the first round drawing to a close:
 

Pool A
Spain 13, Ukraine 6
Netherlands 20, Israel 0
Italy 9, Spain 2
Ukraine 10, Israel 0
Netherlands 9, Italy 7
Italy 32, Israel 0
Netherlands 8, Spain 0
Spain 15, Israel 0
Netherlands 14, Ukraine 1
Ukraine v Italy

Pool B
Serbia 38, Bulgaria 2
Czech Republic 15, Belgium 0
Czech Republic 17, Serbia 1
Belgium 22, Bulgaria 0
Czech Republic v Bulgaria
Belgium v Serbia

Pool C
GB 2, Russia 0
Ireland 21, Denmark 0
GB 17, Denmark 1
Ireland 3, Russia 1
Russia 16, Denmark 1
GB 5, Ireland 2

Pool D
France 11, Croatia 4
Germany 19, Poland 0
Germany 13, France 3
Poland 19, Croatia 11
Germany 22, Croatia 1
Poland v France
 

Even with a few results to come, it’s possible to see most of the teams that will go through to the Championship playoff round that begins on Wednesday morning.  They are:
 

Pool A
Netherlands
Italy

Pool B
Czech Republic
Belgium or Serbia

Pool C
GB
Ireland

Pool D
Germany
France or Poland


Webstreaming

All games from the tournament's main field in Ronchi di Legionari are being webstreamed here: https://www.baseballsoftball.tv/

Unfortunately, GB will play both their games on Wednesday on the tournament’s second field at Staranzano, but GB’s game against Italy at 2.00 pm local time on Thursday (1.00 pm in the UK) can be watched live or later on demand.

You can check out the full tournament schedule on: http://competition.europeansoftball.org/2018/staranzano/schedule.php.

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