The 15th Softball World Series Tournament dodged the raindrops over the weekend of 14-15 September at the British Airways Concorde Club near Heathrow Airport, and was even controversially shortened to avoid an impending storm that didn’t arrive on schedule.
In the end, the result was a second consecutive win for a strong Anzacs team, who defeated the GB Development team 12-5 in a final where the Anzacs never quite pulled away entirely but were never seriously threatened. The GB Development Team had earned a place in the final with a surprisingly dominant 22-5 second round win over the USA, which up to that point had not lost a game.
The win was the fourth overall for the Anzacs, and they have now tied Africa, who finished fifth in this year’s tournament, for the most wins in World Series history. England, the USA and the Lakenheath Eagles have each won the tournament twice. A full list of World Series winners can be found at the end of this story.
The Plate trophy was won by the Craicers from Ireland with a 12-11 win over Japan/Asia in the final, and the Cup trophy also fell into Irish hands, with the Ireland Development Team prevailing in an equally close final, this time by 8-7, over The Cage from Belgium.
The team that made the most surprising impact in the tournament, at least for a day, was probably Wales. The Welsh team returned to the World Series in 2012 after an absence of several years, and didn’t finish very high in the standings. This year, however, with several young and very promising players, the Welsh played well in Saturday’s round-robin group and just missed getting to the Trophy competition after finishing level on points with Africa. Wales then faded on Sunday, but are promising to be back with an even stronger challenge in 2014.
The 15th edition of the Softball World Series had its highest-ever number of teams from overseas, with nine teams coming from outside the UK out of 18 teams in total.
The Czech Republic made its World Series debut with two teams (one of which had a strong contingent from the German National Team), while there were also two teams from Switzerland and Ireland and one each from Belgium, Holland and Jersey.
Jersey was returning to the World Series after an absence of several years, but unfortunately finished last.
However, the dominance of British softball in Europe generally, and the fact that players in Britain have the advantage of an large number of competitive tournaments each summer to play in, was reflected in the fact that all six teams that reached the main (Trophy) competition were British-based.
The BSF, which contributes financially to the tournament (though it is run by BSUK), sees it as an important tool for promoting the development of the slowpitch format in Europe, and is keen for overseas teams to enter. This year, with 25 teams in all and 12 overseas teams chasing 18 places, hard decisions had to be made and both a British team (GB Masters) and an Irish team (Munster) that have played in the tournament for a number of years didn’t make the cut.
The weather forecast going into the weekend was dire, but although Saturday was cloudy and cold, there were only a few light showers during the day and the initial round-robin was completed on schedule.
On Sunday, all the weather forecasts called for a major storm system, with heavy rain, high winds and hail, to get to the London area around mid-afternoon, and the tournament organiser, Bob Fromer, made a decision to cut back the format, going directly to finals after a second round of group games had been completed in the morning, rather than proceeding with the scheduled Page Playoffs.
This disadvantaged teams that had come second in the morning round-robin groups, as it deprived them of a second chance to reach the final in the Trophy, Plate and Cup competitions and so the change of format was not universally popular.
But organisers at the National Baseball League and Youth Baseball Championships at nearby Farnham Park had made a similar decision to re-arrange their schedule based on the forecast, and it seemed a prudent thing to do so that the tournament could reach a conclusion. In the event, the storm didn’t arrive until early evening, and the procedures for making these kinds of changes probably need to be reviewed for the future.
The dominant teams on Saturday were the Anzacs, England and USA, none of whom lost a game in winning their round-robin groups, though the USA did have a 3-3 draw with Wayne’s World 2, one of the two Czech teams in the tournament. That was the lowest-scoring game in the entire tournament, and came about primarily through good pitching and defense.
But the game also provided a clue that Team USA’s offense could dry up on occasion, and it happened again in the only other game in which the Americans failed to score in double figures, their 22-5 thumping at the hands of the GB Development Team on Sunday morning. The GB Team scored seven runs in the top of the first inning and never looked back.
Behind those three top teams, each of the Saturday round-robin groups saw a fight for second place (and a place in the Trophy competition). In Pool A, the GB Development Team and Double-D finished level on points, but the GB Development Team went through on the basis of a tense 12-8 win in their head-to-head clash.
The same thing happened in Pool B, where Africa’s 14-7 win over Wales separated the two teams after they tied on points.
And in Pool C, Scotland, the Craicers from Ireland, Wayne’s World (one of the two Czech teams) and Geneva from Switzerland all had a shot at second place going into the final round of games, though it was Scotland who went through in the end.
On Sunday morning, the tournament separated out into Trophy, Plate and Cup competitions, with two round-robin groups in each.
In one of the Trophy round-robins, the Anzacs met England in what many people saw as the most likely final, and England got off to a flying start with nine runs in the top of the first inning. But the Anzacs kept pegging them back, took the lead by the fifth inning and eventually won 15-11. That game meant that England finished second in the group and, when the tournament format was shortened, they lost the chance to get back to the final that the Page Playoff would have given them.
In the other Trophy round-robin, GB Development beat the USA, as already described, and had a close 15-10 win over Scotland to reach the final.
In one Plate round-robin, the Craicers had knife-edge wins over Double-D (14-11) and Wayne’s World 2 (15-14) to reach the Plate final. In the other round-robin, the always-popular Japan/Asia team, who had celebrated a 10-8 upset win over the GB Development Team on Saturday, defeated Wales 9-6 and Geneva 9-5 to join the Craicers in the final, where they battled all the way before losing 12-11.
In one Cup round-robin, Ireland defeated the Orcas from Switzerland 6-1 but were then pushed all the way before beating Wayne’s World 7-6 to reach the Cup final. They were joined by The Cage from Belgium, who only managed four losses and one tie on Saturday but now won two nail-biters, 18-16 over Canada and 18-17 over Jersey, to book their own final place – where they lost another thriller, 8-7, to Ireland.
The Trophy final pitted a very confident Anzacs team against a GB Development Team that had plenty of determination but perhaps a few small doubts about whether they could actually win the game.
In the end, the Anzacs certainly didn’t dominate the GB Team, and they never had one of those big innings that can turn a contest into a blow-out.
But the Anzacs scored at least a run in every inning and kept the GB Development Team very quiet on offense by playing errorless softball apart from one inning — the sixth – when two errors contributed to two unearned GB runs.
GB Development also had only two errors in the game, but the Anzacs pounded out 17 hits over seven innings to only seven hits for GB, and two of the Anzac hits were home runs over the left field fence by Ryan Martin, who was the Male MVP in the final when the Anzacs won the tournament last year and was the MVP again in 2013. Ryan earned the award with his two home runs, a triple and a single in four at-bats, good for three RBIs and four runs scored, and he was also excellent at second base, turning everything that came his way into outs.
In the first inning, Ryan’s triple drove in Matt Slorach and Ryan scored on a sacrifice fly by Moe Flett, the final’s Female MVP, giving the Anzacs an early 2-0 lead.
This became 5-0 in the top of the second inning, with Steve Rice driving in two runs with a double and Matt Slorach driving in Steve with a single.
Another run in the top of the third inning on Ryan Martin’s first home run stretched the lead to 6-0 before GB Development finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third. Michael Williams and Ben Taylor both drew walks off Anzac starter Dan Armstrong before Claudine Snape hit a line drive double into the alley in left centre field, taking the score to 6-2.
Hopes of a GB comeback were stifled by the fact that the Anzacs just kept on scoring off GB Development pitcher Brad Gilmour. They added one run in the fourth inning on another double by Steve Rice and a third straight single to right field by Matt Slorach; a run in the fifth on hits by Ryan Martin and Moe Flett; and a run in the sixth on a two-base error and a single to centre by Steve Rice.
Meanwhile, GB Development countered with one run in the fourth inning, driven in by Michael Williams, and two in the sixth inning off relief pitcher Ross Smith on two Anzac errors and a double by Stewart Butcher.
But though the game was always just about within reach, the target kept receding, and three final Anzac runs in the top of the seventh inning on Ryan Martin’s second over-the-fence home run and a two-run inside-the-park home run by Kenny Pregnell put the icing on the cake.
A deflated GB Development Team went down in order in the bottom of the seventh.
However, reaching the World Series final was no small feat, and except for their shock loss to Japan/Asia on Saturday, the GB Team played well. Some players from the GB Development Squad made the travelling team this summer and contributed strongly to GB’s ninth straight European Championship, and more Development Squad players may be joining them soon.
As for the Anzacs, who in the words of Moe Flett “just want to win”, they’ll be back next year to try to pass Africa as the team with the highest number of World Series gold medals.
Three fundraising efforts were carried out during the World Series and one was spectacularly successful.
The GB Management Committee, a group that oversees and supports all GB national teams, sold World Series tournament T-shirts and a new range of GB Softball merchandise over the weekend, and took well over £2000 in sales. This was designed as a trial run for this type of merchandising, and the success of the venture means it will probably be extended next year.
Meanwhile, a bat raffle next around £100 for the development of Welsh softball and representatives from the national champion Chromies collected donations for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.
Final Trophy Standings
1 — Anzacs
2 – GB Development
3 — USA
4 — England
5 — Africa
6 — Scotland
Trophy Final MVPs: Ryan Martin and Moe Flett (Anzacs).
Final Plate Standings
7 – Leinster Craicers (Ireland)
8 – Japan/Asia
9 – Double-D (Holland)
10 – Geneva (Switzerland)
11 – Wayne’s World 2 (Czech Republic)
12 – Wales
Final Cup Standings
13 – Ireland
14 – The Cage (Belgium)
16 – Orcas (Switzerland)
17 – Wayne’s World (Czech Republic)
18 – Jersey
World Series winners
1999 – England
2000 – Africa
2001 – Africa
2002 – USA
2003 – Africa
2004 – Africa
2005 – USA
2006 – Rest of the World
2007 – Anzacs
2008 – Anzacs
2009 – England
2010 – Lakenheath Eagles
2011 – Lakenheath Eagles
2012 – Anzacs
2013 – Anzacs