Trojans, A’s and Nighthawks crowned Kings in the Northern Baseball League

Mon 16 Sep 2019

By Ian Blease, with editorial assistance from Gabriel Fidler

The past two weekends have seen the culmination of the Northern Baseball League’s (NBL) third season. On the weekend of Sept. 7, Liverpool’s Norman Wells Ballpark played host to both the Double-A and Triple-A Finals, with the Single-A playoffs taking place in Manchester on Sunday 15th September. The winners crowned included a club that celebrated a three-peat, another looking for promotion, and a first-time entrant.

Triple-A Playoffs

There were new formats all-round for the 2019 season. In AAA, the second and third place teams would face off in a winner-takes-all wildcard game before the winner of that game advances to play the first-place team in a best-of-three final.

This saw the Nottingham Rebels (No. 3 seed) play Sheffield Bruins (No. 2) in the wild card game. The form guide suggested that the Rebels might struggle, especially as their primary pitcher, Jamie Ratcliff, had been unable to travel with the squad. This proved to be the case as the Bruins, behind the dominant pitching of British Baseball journeyman Mario Escobedo, romped to an emphatic victory to secure their place in the final.

Triple-A Championship

In the Triple-A final, the Bruins took on the reigning Northern Baseball Champions, the Liverpool Trojans, who only just edged them out in regular-season play, winning 5-of-8 games the two teams played. In Game One, the Bruins’ Josh Taylor (3-0 vs the Trojans in the regular season) would face off against the Trojans’ Great Britain pitching starlet, Matty Waddington.

Waddington (pictured above) shone from the hill with, by far, his best pitching performance of the season—and what a time to have it! The Bruins were still scoreless after four innings, while the Trojans posted seven in that time. The Bruins did threaten a comeback late, but the Trojans would take game one by a score of 7-3.

Game Two went to the Bruins as Escobedo, later named Tournament MVP for his contribution, returned to the mound, limiting the previously potent Trojans offense to just one run. The Bruins brought out their bats to win convincingly, 11-1.

This brought about the excitement of an all-important Game Three, and it would be all about which team could hold their nerve when it mattered most. The Trojans introduced their third different starting pitcher of the weekend as former GB international Rob Vondy was handed the ball.

The Bruins would, once again, turn to Escobedo. This would prove one step too far for the Venezuelan though as he found himself behind early and was eventually replaced in the fourth inning. The Bruins could not mount a comeback despite new pitcher, Luis Frometa, doing a great job of slowing down the Trojans’ offense. At just the two-hour mark, a Rob Vondy strikeout would end the game and crown the Trojans as the Northern Baseball League Champions for the third consecutive year.

Double-A Championship

In the second tier of the NBL, there was no wild card game – the top two teams went straight into a best-of-three final. This meant that the division winners, the Manchester A’s, would face the runners-up, the Liverpool Twojans.

In the three-game series, the Liverpool Twojans would push the Manchester A’s all the way to a decider. The A’s would come out on top despite the heroic efforts of Twojans’ pitcher Chris Pittard, who must have thrown over 200 pitches on the Sunday as the lack of pitching options available proved costly for the Merseysiders.

Double-A MVP Lewis Vargas (pictured below) would get the win in Games One and Three for the A’s, while Pittard took game two for the Twojans. The A’s now plan to make the step up to Triple-A for 2019 and many baseball fans will be excited to see how they fair at that level.

Single-A Playoffs and Championship

One weekend later, the Single-A playoffs featured all four teams in that division. The clubs played a single-game elimination competition hosted by Manchester Baseball Club. The first-place Sheffield Bladerunners 1 played the fourth placed Manchester Bees, while the Newcastle Nighthawks (No. 2) took on Bladerunners 2, with the winners of each game advancing to a single-game final.

The top Bladerunners side had pipped the next two clubs by only three games in the regular season and featured three players with GB Fastpitch connections: Neil Davies, Stephanie Osman and Paul Cassidy. Davis suited up for the senior national team at the last European Championship in 2018, while Osman and Cassidy both played from age 13-19, with the former playing for the GB Women at the senior and junior category and the latter for three senior national teasms.

With such a talented roster, the first semi-final was closely contested. Nestor Martínez’ pitching proved to be the difference as the Bees were swatted away by Bladerunners 1, who won by a score 7-2.

The start of the second semi-final was delayed due to a dog refusing to leave the field, in a scene that Blease could only describe as “the most British Baseball thing ever”. The game would eventually start around ten minutes late – and what a game it was!

Bladerunners 2 stormed to a 7-0 lead in the top of the first, only to be pegged back in the bottom half of the inning and find themselves behind 10-7. The Sheffield club kept chipping away though and found themselves defending a lead of 11-10 as they went into the bottom-of-the-last. A couple of errors in that inning proving to be incredibly costly for the Yorkshire side and the Nighthawks would rally and walk it off on a passed ball to claim their place in the final.

The final brought about the most one-sided contest of the weekend as the Nighthawks relentlessly trampled Bladerunners 1. The final score was 30-2, and the Nighthawks were clear and deserved winners. A championship in the first year – an incredible result!

Final Thoughts

“We've seen the Nighthawks, a new club, have great success in their first year in the competition and we are already aware of several other clubs that are looking to join us next year,” concluded Ian Blease, Liverpool Trojans’ General Manager. “Hopefully the success that Newcastle have had will serve as encouragement to those waiting to join.”

“It's been another fantastic season in the British Baseball League, one that has further showcased the development of the sport in the North. We look forward to that continuing in 2020.”

Get in touch with the league on Twitter @britbaseball and Facebook

Trojans photo courtesy of Danny Phillips. Nighthawks photo courtesy of the team. All other photos courtesy of the Northern Baseball League.

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