Great Britain were celebrating in Tel Aviv, Israel, last Friday after winning their European Championship qualifying group.
Team GB won all three of their preliminary games, despite receiving a surprising scare by Georgia in the third of those contests, to set up a final showdown with the host nation.
Great Britain had beaten Israel 8-6 in their preliminary game, meaning that a victory in the first game of the final would win the event. Israel were not prepared to go down without a fight though and their veteran starter Shlomo Lipetz pitched them to a 7-0 victory. That result set up an all-or-nothing final decider.
Great Britain could have buckled at this point, knowing that they had entered the competition as heavy favourites and had just let an opportunity to secure qualification for the 2012 Euros pass them by.
However, Sam Dempster’s men proved that they could perform when under pressure as they recovered from an early 1-0 deficit to take the final game 5-2.
Michael Johnson epitomized the spirit found in the team. He played in the Final despite carrying a badly bruised left hand that left him unable to field. Johnson launched a two-run homer in the seventh inning to give Team GB a 5-1 lead and then took to the pitching mound in the ninth. Despite giving up a run due to a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, Johnson regained his composure and got Israel’s Suitanik to ground out to end the game.
Full details of Great Britain’s qualifying campaign can be found on the British Baseball Federation website. While the team was always expected to qualify from the group, no victories should be taken for granted at international level, particularly when they are needed to get a team back to where they feel they belong.
Great Britain’s reward was made clear on Monday when their pool for the 2012 European Championships was announced. They will be in Pool B alongside the tournament hosts the Netherlands, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Belgium. The event will take place between 7-16 September next year.
Great Britain will be hoping for a good showing before heading on to their World Baseball Classic qualifying group at the end of 2012.
On the domestic front
Back home, the Lakenheath Diamondbacks extended their lead in Pool B of the National Baseball League with two victories over the Southern Nationals on Sunday. The results meant that the London Mets jumped over the Nationals into second place despite not playing, although as stated last week, for all but the two Pool winners it’s the win-loss record rather than the Pool position that will be crucial when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs.
While the Diamondbacks are on course to secure one of the automatic National Baseball Championship spots, the other is still a two-way dice between Richmond Flames and Southampton Mustangs. The Mustangs couldn’t take full advantage of the Flames’ rest weekend as they could only secure a split against the Bracknell Blazers. That leaves the Mustangs one game behind the Flames, with Richmond also having two games in hand.
This Sunday’s games could therefore prove decisive. Southampton are hosting a double-header against Lakenheath, while Richmond have two games on the road against Herts Falcons, who suffered two defeats at the hands of the Essex Arrows last weekend. The form book would suggest that Richmond could sweep their double-header (the Falcons of course will be determined to tear the form book to shreds) and so Southampton will view their difficult double-header as one in which they have to gain two wins to keep the pressure on.
Elsewhere, the London Mets host the Mildenhall Bulldogs, the Croydon Pirates host the Essex Arrows and the Bracknell Blazers travel to Harlow to take on the Southern Nationals.
Around the rest of the leagues, there were a number of games involving top teams that haven’t appeared on the BBF website at time of writing.
The AAA page on the BBF website doesn’t show any games as having taken place last weekend, although the Liverpool Trojans and Halton Jaguars played a double-header rescheduled from 6 June. The Trojans won both games. Martin Godsall gave up only three hits in the opener as Liverpool took a 13-2 victory and then Rob Vondy picked up the win in the second game with a final score of 19-4. In the South, the Essex Redbacks gained two victories on the road against the Richmond Knights, winning the opener 11-1 and the second game 15-5.
The main news from Double-A came from the Midlands where the MK Bucks earned the victories they needed to matematically assure them of the division title. The “hard fought victories” came against the Leicester Blue Sox, with the second game ending on a suicide squeeze play.
In Single-A, the only scheduled game of the weekend involved the Cambridge Royals and London Mets. The Royals improved to 11-0 with a 17-3 victory to keep their winning run going. The Royals will look to make it twelve wins from twelve as they travel to take on the Guidlford Mavericks II this weekend. The other scheduled games are Herts Raptors (still seeking their first win of 2011) at Braintree Rays and Southampton Mustangs II at Tonbridge.