July 28-August 1, 2015 in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria.
The GB Slowpitch Team won its 10th straight European Slowpitch Championship in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria on Saturday 1 August, going unbeaten and taking the Gold with 10 straight wins.
The Six Teams
One country, Lithuania, is making its first appearance in the European Slowpitch Championships, and the host team, Bulgaria, has entered for only the second time. Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, and the Czech Republic make up the rest of the six-team field.
The GB Team
This year’s team was much changed from the group that won GB’s ninth European Championship in 2013 in Pardubice in the Czech Republic, and five members of the team who played in the final of that tournament were not in this year’s selection.
The squad contained seven players who played in the European Slowpitch Championship for the first time. Two of those players, Liz Keaveney and Aaron Thomas, entered the GB programme through the open trial process earlier in the year. The other newcomers to the European Championships were Chris Yoxall, Ed Watkinson, Brad Gilmour, Katherine Golik and Kim Hendry – though all of those players except Kim Hendry competed in the ISF Slowpitch World Cup in Florida in January 2014.
GB Slowpitch Team starts off with two solid wins
Tuesday 28 July – Teams always want to start a major tournament by making a statement, and the GB Slowpitch Team did just that as the 2015 European Slowpitch Championships began this morning in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria.
In two games against Ireland and first-time participants Lithuania, Team GB scored 44 runs on 39 hits plus seven walks and 10 opponents’ errors.
GB’s opening game against Ireland, which began at 9.00 Bulgarian time, finished 23-2, and Lithuania was pounded 21-0 a couple of hours later.
In the other games played on this opening day, Germany defeated the Czech Republic 18-7, Ireland bounced back to defeat Bulgaria 21-5, Germany made hard work of beating Lithuania 13-10 and the Czechs defeated Bulgaria 14-9.
GB v Ireland
In the opening game of the tournament, GB set Ireland down in order in the top of the first inning, then tore into them in the bottom half for 20 runs on 14 hits, a couple of walks and four Irish errors.
The ferocity of GB’s batting, which included a three-run home run by Dan Spinks, a triple and a single by Danny Gunn and two hits by Vicky Chapman, was much more than the Irish could cope with.
After that outburst, it only remained to play out the game. The Irish scored a couple of runs in the top of the second inning, GB replied with three in the bottom of the inning on singles by Dan Spinks, Kim Hendry and Chris Yoxall and a double by Ben Taylor, and neither team scored again.
After the Irish batted in the top of the fourth inning, the mercy rule came into effect and GB had a 23-2 win to get off on the right foot in search of their 10th straight European Slowpitch Championship title.
GB v Lithuania
This game also lasted only four innings, and featured six GB home runs – three two-run blasts by Steve Hazard in the first, second and third innings, two-run shots for Chris Yoxall and Aaron Thomas and a grand-slam home run by Dan Spinks in the bottom of the fourth inning that got GB over the mercy rule line (20 after 4 innings).
GB started the game relatively slowly, scoring only two runs in the first inning on the first of Steve Hazard’s round-trippers. But that was followed by an 11-run second inning that finished the game as a contest. Apart from home runs in the inning by Hazard and Chris Yoxall, there was a triple from Danny Gunn and doubles by Kim Hendry and Vicky Chapman among 10 GB hits and three Lithuanian errors.
Brad Gilmour was the winning GB pitcher, allowing only five hits – all singles – but no walks and no runs. The Lithuanians’ best scoring chance came in the top of the second inning when they loaded the bases on three singles with just one out. But GB got out of the inning with a 1-2-5 double play on a ball hit back to the pitcher.
GB Slowpitch Team picks up three more wins
Wednesday 29 July – The GB Slowpitch Team kept right on rolling on the second day of the European Slowpitch Championships in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria with three more easy wins over the Czech Republic, Germany and Bulgaria.
In the morning, GB scored in every innings against the Czech Republic with a final score of 18-4, and in the afternoon GB made short work of Germany in a four-inning mercy rule win by a score of 19-2. In the evening, GB crushed Bulgaria 23-2 in five innings.
In the first five games of the tournament, GB has outscored the opposition by 104 to 10, an average victory margin of almost 19 runs, and has out-hit its opponents by a total of 97-24.
With the sheer talent and depth of this GB Slowpitch Team it looked likely that the kind of results achieved so far could well continue right through to the final.
Here is a brief summary of the three games:
GB v Czech Republic
Once again, GB got out of the blocks quickly against the Czech Republic, scoring eight runs in the bottom of the first inning. The British scored in all six innings in which they batted and were up 14-3 after three innings of play but it was the first time GB had been forced to go the full seven innings. GB’s eight-run outburst to start the game came on seven singles and a walk.
Steve Hazard hit his fourth home run of the tournament to lead off the GB second inning, which produced another three runs. But the Czechs scored three of their own in the top of the third inning.
GB matched that outburst in the bottom of the third inning as the Czechs committed their only two errors of the game, and the British added two more runs in the fourth inning, keyed by Danny Gunn’s triple, and single runs in the fifth and sixth (Aaron Thomas tripled in the fifth and Danny Gunn hit another triple in the sixth).
The Czechs scored one more run in the fifth inning and stayed just on the right side of the mercy rule, but they were never in the game.
GB v Germany
In the absence of Slovenia at this competition, the country that has finished second at the last two European Slowpitch Championships, Germany was the team that many thought likely to be able to give GB a game. But there were no signs of that happening in this encounter, in which GB scored 16 runs in the first two innings and blasted five home runs during the game.
Two of the homers were by Steve Hazard, bringing his total to six in four games, while Ian Kulka also hit a pair of round-trippers and Chris Yoxall belted the other.
GB registered 19 hits in the game, while GB pitcher Brad Gilmour held the Germans to just three hits.
In a pattern that has become familiar in three of the four games GB has played so far, Germany went down in order in the top of the first inning, and then GB came out firing in the bottom half. This time, Brad Gilmour led off with a single to left, Jenny Ball singled to centre, both runners moved up when the ball was bobbled in centre field, and then Steve Hazard blasted a home run down the left field line to clear the bases. But there was no respite for the Germans, as Kim Hendry singled, Chris Yoxall also homered down the left field line, and Areej Elmaazi singled to left – six straight hits and five runs before the Germans recorded an out.
GB went on to score seven in that first inning, before the Germans scored their first run in the top of the second, then came back to bat and scored nine more runs on 10 more hits in the bottom of the second inning. Another two-run home run by Steve Hazard was the big blow, but there was a single and a double for Brad Gilmour, two singles for Jenny Ball and more singles by Kim Hendry, Areej Elmaazi, Emily Clifford, Ian Kulka and Steve Hazard.
The Germans scored one more run in the top of the third inning on a double by Mark Krewitt that drove in Karim Abu-Omar, but three more runs by GB in the bottom of the third, featuring Ian Kulka’s two-run home run, extended the score to 19-2. When Germany failed to score in the top of the fourth inning, the mercy rule brought the game to an end.
Bulgaria v GB
Against the host team Bulgaria in the featured evening game, GB’s offensive onslaught continued. Once again, they scored in all five innings of the game, and six runs in the top of the first inning set the tone.
There were three more GB home runs, by Chris Yoxall, Ian Kulka and, inevitably, Steve Hazard, giving him seven home runs and 19 RBIs in five games.
GB’s six runs in the top of the first inning included a two-run home run by Chris Yoxall, a double by Vicky Chapman and three walks from Bulgarian starting pitcher Youri Alkalay.
GB bats were relatively quiet in the second and third innings, with only three runs scored in each frame, but another six runs came in the top of the fourth inning, four of them on a bases-loaded pinch-hit home run by Steve Hazard.
In the top of the fifth inning, GB added a final five runs to activate the mercy rule, with a triple by Areej Elmaazi and a home run by Ian Kulka the key hits.
As he did at the 2013 European Championships in the Czech Republic and the 2014 Slowpitch World Cup in Florida, GB Head Coach Steve Patterson rotated his players and getting contributions from all of them. And as usual when GB plays in Europe, the batting of GB women players compared to the women on opposing teams gives the British much more chance of sustaining rallies and scoring runs in bunches rather than one or two at a time.
GB Slowpitch rolls over Czechs and Germans
Thursday 30 July – The GB Slowpitch Team continued to roll over all opposition on the third day of competition, registering a 26-5 win over the Czech Republic and a 26-6 win over Germany.
Great Britain’s final game of the day, against Bulgaria, was postponed due to rain and lightning and was scheduled to resume at 8.00am on the Friday.
The GB team has now put up seven straight blowout wins in the tournament in difficult conditions, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees and very few opportunities for shade.
A summary of the days games is below:
Czech Republic v GB
Unlike the first two days of the tournament, when GB specialised in scoring a demoralising number of runs at the beginning of games, it took them a little longer to get started against the Czechs in the second meeting of these two teams. GB only held a 6-1 lead after four innings in what was quite a close game. But six runs in the top of the fifth inning, three in the sixth, and then an 11-run outburst in the top of the seventh put pay to any lingering Czech hopes of pulling off an upset.
The Czechs managed 13 hits of their own in this game, making them the first team in the tournament to get to double figures against GB pitching. But GB has now scored 156 runs in seven games and conceded only 21, making 22-3 the average result across all their games. In slowpitch softball, if you are holding opponents to three runs a game while averaging over 22 runs yourself, the only word that fits is “dominance”.
GB Slowpitch teams have often dominated in European Slowpitch Championships, particularly over the past 8-10 years, but this year, at least so far, may be the most extreme.
Germany v GB
GB shortstop Steve Hazard went 5-for-5 with three more home runs and 11 RBIs, pitcher Dan Spinks went 4-for-4 with three homers and seven RBIs, Chris Yoxall chipped in with a home run and Ed Watkinson had four RBIs as the GB Slowpitch Team crushed Germany 26-6 for a five-inning mercy rule win on Thursday afternoon, their seventh straight victory in the tournament.
The British scored in all five innings, and capped the game off with a 14-run explosion in the top of the fifth. GB actually fell behind in this game for the first time in the tournament. Steve Hazard’s home run to left field was the only British run in the top of the first inning, and Germany scored three in their half on a single, an error, a double by Bob Degener and a triple by Vanessa Hahn.
But Team GB came back with six runs in the top of the second inning, including a three-run home run by Dan Spinks and a two-run double by Steve Hazard, and after that it was a matter of adding on, mostly via the long ball.
Chris Yoxall and Dan Spinks hit solo home runs in the top of the third inning, and Steve Hazard hit a three-run shot in the top of the fourth, and GB took a 12-5 lead into the fifth inning.
That’s when GB put up yet another double-digit inning, their fourth of the tournament, scoring 14 runs. There were three-run home runs by both Steve Hazard and Dan Spinks, a triple by Kim Hendry and a double by Dan Spinks as well as singles from Vicky Chapman, Ian Kulka, Jenny Ball, Emily Clifford, Katherine Golik and Steve Hazard.
Germany’s only reply was a single run in the bottom of the fifth, keyed by a triple from Alina Kahlo, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the mercy rule coming into effect with the final score at 26-6.
GB Slowpitch picks up eighth win at Euros
Friday 31 July – The final day of round-robin play began with Team GB picking up their eighth straight win in a 24-9 five-inning victory over Bulgaria.
The game was originally started on the Thursday evening, but suspended due to rain and lightning, and resumed on the Friday morning.
Two more games were played after that (see results below), but then the rain set in and cancelled play for the rest of the day with five round-robin games still to be completed.
Due to the thunder storms and postponed games, the organisers made the decision to play out the round-robin games on Saturday (weather permitting) and cancel all but one of the playoff games. A single playoff game between the third and fourth-placed teams in the round-robin was to be held to determine who wins the bronze medal; but all other places will decided based mainly on the round-robin results.
GB v Bulgaria
Bulgaria started this game well and held a 6-4 lead after the top of the second inning, two of those runs coming on a home run by Vladimir Markov. But the GB offense, as it has done throughout the tournament, soon swung into action, scoring six runs in the bottom of the second inning and nine more in the bottom of the third to bury Bulgarian hopes.
Steve Hazard, who had been leading the GB offense to this point, was rested for this game, but this is a GB Team where every one of the 18 players contributes. Against Bulgaria, Aaron Thomas blasted two home runs, good for four RBIs, while Danny Gunn went 4-for-4 with a home run and six RBIs, Areej Elmaazi was 3-for-3 with an inside-the-park home run, a triple and four RBIs, and Dan Spinks, as an extra hitter, was 3-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs.
GB had a tournament-high 27 hits (an average of more than five hits an inning), but the Bulgarians, with 15 hits and nine runs scored against pitcher Brad Gilmour, at least had the satisfaction of posting the best offensive performance against GB to date.
The GB Slowpitch Team has now put up eight straight blowout wins in the tournament in difficult conditions, with temperatures sometimes exceeding 40 degrees, with few opportunities for shade.
GB Head Coach Steve Patterson said, “We have been playing a high level of softball for much of the tournament, and Team GB has gelled well, both on and off the field of play. But a key component of our success has been the depth of the squad. One of the biggest assets this team has is the quality and versatility of all 18 players. This has allowed me to manage both the game and the health of my players without any concerns about making outs or producing runs.”
Team Captain Dan Spinks said, “Coach Patterson has continued to make intelligent substitutions at key points in the games, and those players chosen have consistently delivered.”
Newly-appointed Vice Captain Emily Clifford added, “Excellent team spirit has meant that everyone has had the confidence and support to produce quality plays and at-bats in tough conditions.”
Some of the statistics posted by the GB Team through the first three days and eight games are astonishing, even by slowpitch standards.
Through those first seven games, GB was batting .579 as a team and GB pitchers Dan Spinks and Brad Gilmour had combined for an ERA of under two runs a game.
Steve Hazard, Dan Spinks, Brad Gilmour and Chris Yoxall were all hitting .800 or better, while Ian Kulka and Aaron Thomas were hitting over .700. Among GB’s women, Areej Elmaazi, Emily Clifford, Vicky Chapman and Ruth Macintosh were all hitting .500 or better.
However, the outstanding offensive performer in the tournament so far has clearly been Steve Hazard, with 11 home runs, 35 RBIs, 16 runs scored and 55 total bases.
Last two games
Saturday 1 August – GB’s final two round-robin games on Saturday, against Ireland and Lithuania, continued a theme that had run through the whole of the week in Dupnitsa: GB dominance.
But it took a while for GB to put their foot down against Ireland on Saturday morning.
In their opening game of the tournament on Tuesday, GB had scored 20 runs in the first inning against the Irish. In this game it was “only” eight GB runs in the first inning, built around a three-run home run by Chris Yoxall.
This time, however, the Irish came right back and scored six runs in the bottom of the first inning off GB pitcher Dan Spinks, on six hits including a two-run triple by Norma McIntyre. After two innings, thanks to a three-run home run for the Irish by Barry Casey in the bottom of the second inning, the game was tied at 9-9.
After that, however, GB simply kept on scoring while the Irish didn’t. The British scored three runs in the top of the third, five runs in the fourth, five more in the fifth and three in the sixth, to which the only Irish reply was a single run in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Danny Gunn hit a pair of two-run homers, one to right field and one to left, Steve Hazard added a solo shot for his 12th home run of the tournament, Dan Spinks continued his torrid batting with a 3-for-4 game, Ruth Macintosh and Emily Clifford had two hits each and Aaron Thomas, rapidly becoming a new GB star, went 4-for-5 with seven RBIs.
Initially, GB scored at a more sedate pace against Lithuania in their final game of the tournament, putting up just a pair of runs in each of the first two innings. But after that, the runs kept on coming for GB, and a 10-run top of the fifth inning brought the mercy rule into effect with the score at 22-0.
Lithuania left the bases loaded in the bottom of the first inning, but had only one baserunner over the rest of the game against the pitching of Brad Gilmour.
GB added three more home runs – by Steve Hazard, Dan Spinks and Ian Kulka – to give them 36 for the tournament, more than double the total compiled by the nearest challenger, Germany. Steve Hazard finished the tournament with 13 home runs earning the crown of “Home Run Kind”, and his four RBIs against Lithuania, added to three more against Ireland this morning, gave him 42 runs batted in over 10 games.
Against Lithuania, Steve Hazard went 4-for-4, Ian Kulka had three hits, and Jenny Ball, Dan Spinks, Claudine Snape, Ben Taylor and Ed Watkinson had two hits each.
GB’s two runs in the first inning came on a triple by Jenny Ball and Steve Hazard’s home run to left field, and two more runs in the second inning resulted from a double by Ian Kulka, a single by Ed Watkinson and one of the nine errors Lithuania committed during the game.
In the third inning, three more runs came in via the long ball: a two-run home run by Dan Spinks and a solo shot by Ian Kulka.
There were five GB runs in the fourth inning on singles by Vicky Chapman and Jenny Ball, a double by Steve Hazard and two errors.
Finally, in the top of the fifth, GB had yet another of the offensive explosions they have inflicted on teams through the tournament, scoring 10 runs on nine hits, including a single and double by Claudine Snape.
In two games against Lithuania, who entered the European Slowpitch Championships for the first time this year, GB put up 43 runs and conceded none.
While Ireland, Germany, the Czech Republic and to a degree Bulgaria were fairly evenly matched during the tournament, and Lithuania was learning some painful lessons, the GB Slowpitch Team was simply in a different league.
As has become characteristic of GB Slowpitch under Head Coach Stephen Patterson, team morale was high, everyone on the roster played and contributed, and everyone played hard and to a very high-level.
Over the 10 round-robin games played, GB scored 227 runs and conceded 40, for an average game score of almost 23-4. The 23 runs per game is impressive, but holding all opposition to an average of just four runs per game is even more so, and almost unheard of in slowpitch softball.
In the batting stats for players with more than 10 at-bats over the tournament, the top six players are all British, and seven of the top ten, including the only woman in the top ten in batting, Areej Emaazi.
Dan Spinks led all tournament pitchers with an ERA of 2.47 and Steve Hazard led tournament in batting average (.833), home runs (13), RBIs (42) and total bases (71). Danny Gunn led the tournament in triples with seven. Ten GB players batted over .500, another three over .400 and only one GB player batted under .300.
GB Wins the Gold going unbeaten in 10 games!
Summary of Results
A full list of scores from the tournament is below:
GB 23, Ireland 2
Germany 18, Czech Republic 7
GB 21, Lithuania 0
Ireland 21, Bulgaria 5
Germany 13, Lithuania 10
Czech Republic 14, Bulgaria 9
Ireland 23, Germany 20
GB 18, Czech Republic 4
Bulgaria 21, Lithuania 1
GB 19, Germany 2
Czech Republic 15, Ireland 3
Bulgaria 18, Germany 9
Ireland 16, Lithuania 1
GB 23, Bulgaria 2
Czech Republic 24, Lithuania 6
Bulgaria 24, Lithuania 4
Germany 15, Ireland 10
GB 26, Czech Republic 5
Lithuania 24, Ireland 9
Germany 20, Bulgaria 5
Czech Republic 14, Lithuania 4
GB 26, Germany 6
GB 24, Bulgaria 9
Ireland 8, Czech Republic 7
Germany 20, Lithuania 7
Czech Republic 24, Bulgaria 8
GB 25, Ireland 10
GB 22, Lithuania 0
Czech Republic 15, Germany 14
Bulgaria 28, Ireland 26
THIRD PLACE PLAYOFF
Ireland 12, Germany 7
The final tournament standings, with final round-robin results, are:
l. GB (10-0)
2. Czech Republic (6-4)
3. Ireland (5-5)
4. Germany (5-5)
5. Bulgaria (4-6)
6. Lithuania (0-10)