European Championship Women was this year‘s top ESF event. It was held in Rosmalen, Netherlands from July 19th to July 22nd.
There were 20 teams participating. They were divided into four five-member groups for the first phase of the tournament.
Group A: Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Israel – teams are in the order of their final pool A results. Netherlands didn’t have a single problem with their opponents in this round robin, while Germany did similarly in all the other games very well. Anyone who expected a tight game against Sweden, was surprised by mercy-rule score. The tightest game of this group was played on Tuesday: Denmark 4: Israel 3.
Group B: Russia, Spain, France, Poland, Croatia – Spain fought for the first place in this group in their first game at the tournament already. Only three runs were scored, two on the Russians’ side, one by the Spanish. There was another close game that lead into extra innings. This time, Spain played against France and managed to stay on top after the 10th inning and won 9:8. Poland earned its fourth spot in the pool after beating Croatia 10:0.
Group C: Czech Republic, Austria, Ukraine, Slovenia, Ireland. Only one game in this group has not finished on a run-ahead rule (AUT vs. UKR - 5:0). This was historically the first appearance of team Ireland at a fastpitch championship.
Group D: Italy, Great Britain, Greece, Slovakia, Switzerland. Also in this group all games were decided quite clearly. Only Greece vs. Slovakia seemed a bit more close and Slovakia vs. Switzerland needed an extra inning to break the tie. A surprising result came out of the game GB vs. Swiss team – a matchup between the first and the last team of group D – only 5:1 for the Brits.
After the round robin games were over second phase was scheduled. Top eight teams formed groups E and F, next eight teams were divided into groups G and H and teams that ended last in their pools met in group I.
The playoff part of the tournament started – the teams in groups E, F and G, H would play each other and their results would be transferred into the last phase, the page system (for the 4 teams in top). Sadly, for the teams in groups G and H the weather didn’t allow the last-day games to be played. Therefore, the final scoreboard was completed according to the teams’ results until this point. After the last championship’s troubles, France came back stronger and took the 9th place. Greece placed just behind them.
Group I finished their games on Friday as well – Israel ended up last (20th place), the Irish took 19th place, Switzerland placed 18th and Croatia 17th.
The top eight teams played their group’s opponents - E (Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Spain) and F (Czech Republic, Russia, Great Britain, Germany). As the top teams met for the first time during this tournament, first guesses on the winner were made. Italy lost to Netherlands 1:0, Czech Republic lost to Russia 2:1. Germany lost to team GB 2:1. Many voices were heard saying team GB came not that strong to EChW, on the other side - the German team finally made it clearly to the top 8 and fought for more. After this phase of the tournament, Germany and Spain found themselves out of the top six. Teams that advanced to the higher level again had to play games with the remaining teams that they have not played yet. Austria and Great Britain got left out of the top 4, similarly to the last European Championship.
The best four teams then played according to the page system for the final. Netherlands and Italy played for the first spot and after a big struggle of the Dutchies in the offence, Italy made it to the final with the score 2:0.
Russia and Czech Republic played for the chance to get into the final. The winner also had the bronze medal guaranteed. Czechs got an early lead 1:0, but that wasn’t enough when Russia scored two runs in the sixth. The Czech squad wouldn’t let go, though, and in their next offense responded with another four runs and won the game 5:2.
On the last day of the championship, the weather complicated the situation not only for the organizers, but also the players. The semifinal game Netherlands vs. Czech Republic had to be suspended for a couple of hours - it was raining, but the strong wind was causing an even bigger mess. First two hits into the outfield were basically uncatchable, even for the most experienced players out there. The first hit of this kind ended up as a triple; however, the Dutch were lucky when the runner from third was tagged out at home plate after a passed ball. The only run of the game was scored after a long and high fly ball, that was moved by the wind and the Czech outfielders weren’t able to catch it. There were more runners in scoring position during the game, but none of them actually ended up scoring. Netherlands won 1:0 and Czech Republic took the third place.
The final game: Italy vs. Netherlands (by Bob Fromer)
Although the rain had largely stopped before the final began, and there was even a glimpse of the sun, conditions were cold and damp and the wind continued to try to blow fly balls over the heads of outfielders. But the weather did not prevent a large and enthusiastic crowd taking up every available seat around the main field, and trading chants of “Ee-tal-ya” and “Hol-land” throughout the game.
And it was a fascinating game with some key turning points.
The first came in the top of the fourth inning, with the Dutch leading 1-0 on Suka van Gurp’s home run. A walk, a strikeout and two more walks by Dutch starter Lindsey Meadows, who had cruised through the first three innings, loaded the bases for Italy with one out. Inevitably, that meant a pitching change, and in came Holland’s longest-serving pitcher, Rebecca Soumeru. With Italy desperate to push the tying run across the plate, Soumeru mesmerised both Alice Fiorio and Valeria Bartolomai with drops and change-ups, and had both of them called out on strikes.
However, Italy broke through against Soumeru in the top of the fifth. Alice Parisi led off with a bloop double into left field that eluded Jessie van Aalst’s dive, and pulled off a delayed steal of third as Andrea Montanari grounded out. Italy’s tiny second base player, Elisa Grifagno, put down a bunt in front of home plate, and Dutch catcher Karin Tuk failed to pick it up cleanly, then looked the runner back at third, and had no chance to get Grifagno, who then stole second base.
But Rebecca Soumeru struck out Priscilla Brandi for the second out and now looked to get out of the inning against Eva Trevisan. The count went to 1-1, and Trevisan then drove a sharp single between third and short. Now the Italians had a 2-1 lead.
The Dutch were always going to have one more big chance, and it came in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Greta Cecchetti faltered for the first time in the game against the top of the Dutch line-up and gave up consecutive one-out singles to Chantal Versluis and Saskia Kosterink. With runners on first and second and Jessie van Aalst at the plate, Dutch Head Coach Tracy Bunge took a familiar leaf out of the Craig Montvidas playbook, and tried a double steal to put both runners into scoring position. But Italian catcher Valeria Bortolomai fired a strike to Erika Piancastelli to cut down Chantal Versluis at third, and cut the heart out of the rally. Jessie van Aalst then bounced out to second to end the inning.
There was one last scare for the Italians, and it came from Dinet Oosting, who led off the bottom of the seventh inning for Holland. Her fly ball to centre field was taken by the wind and just kept on going, driving centre fielder Andrea Montanari back towards the fence. But at the last second, Montanari pulled down the catch, and the Italians were almost there. Greta Cecchetti got the dangerous Suka van Gurp to pop out to first base, walked Karin Tuk, but induced another pop-up from Manoa Weijgertse that Priscilla Brandi clutched in foul territory as she ran into the sideline fence.
The balance of power in European softball has now shifted back south of the Alps. Congratulations to Italy!
3 CZECH REPUBLIC
5 GREAT BRITAIN
Video Streamed Games: http://www.playo.tv/event/19-Mistrovstvi-Evropy-zen-1708.aspx
Condensed Games: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYTPyQDDFlZg-GPDdTRnK0w
Detailed Results: http://competition.europeansoftball.org/2015/rosmalen/schedule.php
Final Standings: http://competition.europeansoftball.org/2015/rosmalen/standing.php
Photos by Dirk Steffen: http://dirksteffen.zenfolio.com/f667878534
Photos by Grega Valancic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/grega_valancic/sets/72157656025301180
Photos by Olaf Haugwitz from Softball Magazine: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Softball-Magazin/181138708715325?sk=photos_stream&tab=photos_albums
-HNov, Bob Fromer-