UCL claims university baseball title; Loughborough wins again in softball
Wed 29 Mar 2017
University College London claimed its first-ever university baseball title with a 1-0 win over Loughborough in the final of BSUK’s Spring National University Baseball Championship on 19 March at Farnham Park. A week later, Loughborough University stormed back to win their fifth straight National University Softball Championship (NUSC) with a walk-off 9-8 win over Midlands rivals Nottingham.
The Spring 2017 editions of both the Baseball and Softball Championships had a record number of entries, with 15 and 16 respectively, further emphasising the prestige and significance of both events on the tournament calendar.
The 2017 Spring NUBC was the opening outdoor event on the 2017 baseball and softball calendar, starting off the fourth year of play at the Farnham Park Baseball and Softball Complex. However, the early date for the tournament brought bitterly cold conditions and the tail-end of Storm Stella that had wreaked havoc in the US, with winds of up to 50 mph causing issues for pitchers and fielders alike.
Nevertheless, the tournament was played in a great spirit, with a number of new teams adding extra colour and atmosphere to the event.
University College London (UCL) and Loughborough had been the standout performers in the opening group phase, and were the only teams to progress with a perfect 4-0 record. However, the defending champions from Durham were not going to give up their crown lightly and only a 5-5 tie with the University of East Anglia (UEA) marred their record. All four of these teams progressed to the semi-finals.
A special mention goes to the debutants from Queen Mary College, who narrowly missed out on a semi-final spot at their first attempt, finishing the group phase with a 3-1 record. Their only defeat came against the vastly more experienced Loughborough side.
In the semi-finals, UCL took on defending champions Durham. If you have to beat the best to be the best, then this was the baton-passing moment, as the side from the capital ended Durham’s reign with a convincing 7-4 victory.
The second semi-final, between Loughborough and UEA, was the most dramatic game of the day. Loughborough came from behind to tie the score at 5-5 late in the game, which went to extra innings before Loughborough walked-off with a 6-5 win to edge into the final.
It was tough to know whether the extended semi-final would help or hinder either side – Loughborough having to go straight to the final game but warm, against UCL who had had time to recover from their semi-final but then had to wait in the cold.
Nevertheless, the final was crisply-played, with defenses leading the way and little in the way of scoring opportunities. A solitary run would prove to be enough as UCL scored in the top of the last inning before shutting down Loughborough in the bottom of the inning to seal their first-ever title.
1 - University College London
2 - Loughborough 1
3 - Durham 1
4 - University of East Anglia
5 - Nottingham
6 - Queen Mary
7 - Sheffield
8 - Essex
9 - Southampton
10 - Loughborough 2
11 - Oxford
12 - Goldsmiths College
13 - Imperial College
14 - Coventry
15 - Durham 2
The Spring National University Softball Championship took place just one week later but in vastly improved conditions, with Farnham Park bathed in early spring sunshine to welcome play to the new fourth field next to the recently-opened clubhouse and its new Home Plate Bar and Kitchen.
The 16 entries was a record for either a baseball or softball University Championship and included four new teams.
In the first round on Saturday, the teams were split into four groups, with the top two teams from each group progressing to Championship groups while the bottom two teams moved on to Classification groups.
Southampton, Nottingham Arrows A and UEA all progressed from the first round with 3-0 records, with Nottingham ‘A’ opening with a 10-2 victory over four-time defending champions Loughborough Thunder. But easy wins for Loughborough over Reading, making their debut in the NUSC, and Kent, who were returning for only their second appearance, kept their hopes of defending their title alive.
Tie-breakers would prove crucial over the weekend, and stingy defence from Essex saw them qualify for the Championship phase at their first NUSC courtesy of their low number of runs conceded.
Loughborough Thunder looked to have steadied any early nerves from their first round loss with a convincing 16-2 victory over Essex as the Championship groups began play, and they were looking to ease into the semi-finals. But the group was then blown wide open when UEA recorded their first victory in five attempts over Loughborough by a score of 12-10, sparking wild celebrations in the Blue Sox dugout.
Portsmouth had edged UEA 8-7 in their opening Championship Group game and with Loughborough and UEA then winning over Portsmouth and Essex respectively, the group was left with three teams tied on 2-1. Despite their efforts in overcoming Loughborough, it was to be UEA who missed out on a semi-final spot on the runs-conceded tie-breaker.
Nottingham (3-0) and York (2-1) had far less tense routes to the semi-finals from the other Championship group, finishing above Manchester and Southampton.
The final then became an all-Midlands affair after Loughborough and Nottingham both made light work of their semi-finals, with Loughborough defeating York 8-2 and Nottingham seeing off Portsmouth 7-2.
The final itself would prove to be a fitting christening for the new show field at Farnham Park.
Nottingham made the early running, edging out to a 5-2 lead which they extended to 8-4 after four innings. But Loughborough gradually clawed their way back and tied the game at 8-8 heading to the last inning.
Nottingham was unable to bring runners home in the top of the seventh inning, and this enabled Loughborough to break their rivals’ hearts when a single down the right field line brought home the winning run in the bottom of the seventh and a fifth straight NUSC title.
1 - Loughborough Thunder
2 - Nottingham Arrows A
3 - Portsmouth
4 - York
5 - University of East Anglia
6 - Manchester
7 - Southampton
8 - Essex
9 - University College London
10 - Loughborough Sharks
11 - Loughborough Swans
12 - Nottingham Arrows B
13 - Kent
14 - Reading
15 - Oxford
16 - Cardiff