GB Slowpitch back on top of European softball

Sat 20 Jul 2019

By Bob Fromer

Budapest, Hungary: 20 July – The GB Co-ed Slowpitch Team regained their title as European Champions in style late this afternoon with a clinical and comprehensive 13-3 win over Germany in the 2019 European Slowpitch Championship final.

It was the Germans who took GB’s crown away two years ago after 10 straight European triumphs, which made it all the sweeter that Germany was the team to give it back.

“We wanted this so much,” outfielder Ruth Macintosh said, “and it felt so good to get the trophy back!  It was really emotional!”


Domination

If a scoreline of 13-3 doesn’t sound overwhelming, think again.  GB followed the team mantra to perfection on offense during the first two innings, hitting line drive after line drive to pile up nine runs to just one for Germany.

After that, though the GB offense slowed down, the pitching of Dan Spinks and a GB defense that made virtually every play completely strangled the Germans and never let them mount a rally.

Germany scored a single run in the top of the first inning, didn’t score again until another singleton in the top of the fifth, and put a final consolation run across in the top of the seventh inning after German captain Wolfgang Walther had already surrendered and flooded the game with substitutes.

Here’s how good the GB pitching and defense was.  Germany didn’t have two consecutive hits in any inning until the seventh.  Their women had just two singles in the game, and the team as a whole had only 10 hits in seven innings (GB had 19 hits in six innings). 

Those defensive stats would look pretty good in a fastpitch game; in a high-level slowpitch game, they’re verging on unbelievable.  But what they demonstrate is that this is a complete GB Team, able to dominate in every facet of the game. 

“Do you think this is the best GB Team ever?”, shortstop Steve Hazard asked while the teams were waiting for the trophies to be given out after the game.  That’s hard to say, but it’s certainly one of the best-balanced teams GB Slowpitch has had, with a high level of talent throughout the 18-player squad.

And Steve Hazard himself, maybe the best homegrown male player in GB softball history, had another brilliant tournament.  The hitting was both intelligent and ferocious, as expected, but Steve made play after play at shortstop that others in this tournament simply couldn’t make, using brilliant anticipation to make difficult plays look easy.

“We’re chuffed to bits,” Head Coach Stephen Patterson said amidst all the singing and congratulations.  “The first five innings were really clinical.  We said beforehand that we had to control the batting, and we just went out and hit those hard line drives.  I don’t think we had more than two or three fly ball outs in the game.

“When they shifted,” Steve added – and the Germans shift their defense a lot – “we put the ball in the holes they left.  Our defense was solid, and Dan hit every spot throughout the game.  I love this team!”


Pitching perfection

The value of pitching in slowpitch softball is underestimated, but not by people who understand the game, and apart from one or two innings in this tournament, Dan Spinks has controlled the offenses of the better teams here with location and variation, keeping the pressure on hitters by getting ahead in the count and forcing them to hit the pitches he wants them to.

Today, the Germans, one of the best teams in Europe, didn’t know how to cope with him.

“I really enjoyed it,” Dan said.  “We had a plan and it felt like I was executing it, keeping the ball inside to Max [Verhusen], and making other hitters reach for pitches outside.”


Keep the ball low!

On offense, GB won this game in the first two innings by hitting line drive after line drive against German pitcher Wolfgang Walther, scoring four runs in the bottom of the first inning on six hits and five runs in the second inning on five hits plus a German error.

There were no home runs in this game by either team, but while the Germans were mainly hitting the ball at GB defenders, GB hitters were finding grass in the huge outfield on the Antonia Morua Baseball Field.

Robbie Studholme led off the first inning, as he has done so often in this tournament, with a line drive single to right centre field.  The Germans recorded an out on a force play, but then the onslaught began.  Steve Hazard singled to right centre, Chiya Louie and Mike MacDowell singled to left, and Amy Rice and Claudine Snape drove hits up the middle.

At that point, with four runs already in, Stephen Patterson went for broke and brought Chris Yoxall off the bench to bat for second baseman Aaron Thomas, looking for the big blow.  But for once Steve’s magic failed, and Chris hit the ball hard but on the ground to shortstop Max Verhusen.

After the Germans failed to score in the top of the second inning, GB resumed the attack. 

Ruth Macintosh singled, Robbie Studholme doubled and Steve Hazard hit a long triple off the fence in right centre field. 

Then, after German outfielder Marlen Kestel dropped Chiya Louie’s fly ball, Mike MacDowell doubled to left centre and Amy Rice hit another single up the middle.

It was 9-1 to GB after two innings, and for a lot of the boisterous crowd in the main stand, the game was effectively over, which was why they concentrated a lot of energy thereafter on Mexican waves.

The GB offense did tail off after that: two runs in the third inning, one in the fourth, one in the fifth and none in the sixth.

But it hardly mattered because the Germans could never get going.  Dan Spinks was just too good.

And what of Mike MacDowell and his amazing hitting streak (see: http://www.britishsoftball.org/news/view/gb-and-germany-to-meet-in-euro-slowpitch-final)?

Mike went 4-for-4 again today, with two doubles and two singles, every one a hard-hit line drive.  Mike ended the European Slowpitch Championship with 12 consecutive hits and 22 hits plus a walk in 24 at-bats for a batting average of .958.  It’s just amazing!


Bronze medal game

The bronze medal game, between Ireland and the Czech Republic, was a bittersweet 17-13 win for the Irish, who took an early lead with six runs in the second inning and four more in the fourth, and then matched runs with the Czechs the rest of the way.

If only the Irish could have done this yesterday, they would have been GB’s opponents in the final instead of the Germans, but the Irish were still happy with a medal and feel their team is on the up.

Going into the bottom of the seventh inning just four runs down, Czech lead-off hitter Jan Hanak lined a single to right centre field and was then thrown out at second trying to stretch it to a double.  If his teammates never let him hear the last of this, it will be too soon.

The results of the other placing games played today, for ninth, seventh and fifth place are given at the end of this article.


Looking to the future

Despite the vagaries of the two fields here in Budapest (one huge and one tiny), this 12th edition of the European Slowpitch Championship was an enjoyable tournament, with many close games as well as the inevitable blowouts, and even those teams that finished near the bottom of the standings had their moments.

However, the GB staff and players are not alone among the teams here in believing that the European Softball Federation needs to cater more specifically for the needs of slowpitch when organising these events.

Twice in the last three years, if you include the Slowpitch Super Cup as well as the European Championship, one of two competition fields has been far too small, contorting the way games can be approached and played.  While it was interesting here watching teams adapt strategically to a field with 220-foot fences and a three-home run limit -- and GB did it better than most -- it shouldn’t need to happen.

As was demonstrated at this tournament. baseball fields make a better compromise venue than fastpitch fields, and there are plenty of clubs in Europe with those.

But the more important issue for GB and many other countries was the number of games, which is partly a question of the nature of slowpitch versus fastpitch and partly an issue of value for money.

Teams played two games a day during this tournament until we got to finals on Saturday, when they played once, and this is pretty much what fastpitch teams do at most of their European competitions.  However, slowpitch is a different animal, and in particular there is no issue with strain on pitchers and catchers compared to the physical demands of fastpitch.

There is a strong belief among teams here that schedules for European slowpitch tournaments should be based on a minimum of three games per day, with variations up or down when necessary.

It is of course true, especially if the tournament maintains its current numbers, that this will require the ESF to find hosts that can provide multiple fields, and the ESF is dependent on countries making bids and then on the facilities they can offer if the tournament is to happen at all.

A tournament based on the kind of schedule we’re talking about could obviously be run easily at Farnham Park – but the two problems here are that it costs £20,000+ to host an ESF tournament, and a number of Central European teams, apart from the Czechs, may not be willing or able to travel to a tournament in the UK because of costs.

Sponsorship from local authorities or businesses to host European Championships or Cups seems to be something that can be found far more easily in Europe than in the UK.

Hopefully, the ESF Tournaments Commission can consider these issues at the next ESF Congress in February 2020.

Scores and standings

Below are the scores of the placing and medal games played today and the final tournament standings.

The 11 countries that took part in the 2019 European Slowpitch Championship is the largest entry ever, and hopefully the tournament can maintain and extend these numbers in future.

Ninth Place Game
Italy 17, Serbia 10

Seventh Place Game
Austria 20, Bulgaria 18

Fifth Place Game
Netherlands 15, Belgium 6

Bronze Medal Game
Ireland 17, Czech Republic 13

Gold Medal Game
GB 13, Germany 3

Final standings were:

1 – Great Britain
2 – Germany
3 – Ireland
4 – Czech Republic
5 – Netherlands
6 – Belgium
7 – Austria
8 – Bulgaria
9 – Italy
10 – Serbia
11 -- Hungary

An unknown number of these teams -- certainly three, maybe more -- will have qualified through this tournament for the Softball World Cup for national teams that the WBSC is promising to run in 2020, probably in Clearwater, Florida.  More information from the WBSC is awaited.


Photos by Pete Saunders

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