British baseball heads to Hemel Hempstead this weekend for the end-of-season National Baseball Championships (NBC).
Herts Baseball Club will once again host the marquee event in which the 2011 champions in all four levels of senior baseball will be crowned.
The format is slightly different this year. The top-tier National Baseball League (NBL) and Triple-A levels will play semi-finals on Saturday and finals on Sunday, rather than each competing in six-game double-elimination events. This change will reduce the risk of games being played into the evening.
After the four semi-finals on Saturday, Sunday will offer a feast of four finals
There will be lots going on alongside the baseball games over the weekend and, if you are going along, look out for the official NBC programme (yes, I have written an article for it again this year!).
National Baseball League
In the top-tier of British baseball, the Pool winners Richmond Flames and Lakenheath Diamondbacks will be joined at the NBC by the Southampton Mustangs and Southern Nationals.
The Mustangs had battled with the Flames all season long in Pool A, but partway through their playoff against the Croydon Pirates it looked like their year could be coming to an abrupt end. Instead, the Mustangs rallied and came from behind to win 12-8, setting up a semi-final on Saturday against Lakenheath.
Southampton technically won the regular season series between the two, although their two wins came courtesy of the Diamondbacks having to forfeit the games. The semi-final will therefore be the first true encounter between the two sides, with the Diamondbacks looking to win the title in their first year of competing in the BBF leagues.
The other semi-final will be contested between the Richmond Flames and the Southern Nationals after the latter defeated the London Mets 7-3 this past Saturday. As noted in Simon Fitzjohn’s report, it was the first time in five games that the Nationals had gotten the better of the Mets in 2011, but that’s how the playoffs work and the Nationals got the win when they needed it the most.
The Flames and Nationals split a double-header in their only meeting of 2011 so far. The Richmond Flames deserve to go into the NBC as favourites as they had the joint-best win-loss record in the regular season (19-5, the same as the D-Backs) and have the experience of winning it all just twelve months ago. The question now is: can Richmond retain their trophy?
There is still some uncertainty over the make-up of the AAA NBC. The Essex Redbacks and Oxford Kings met for a playoff on Saturday seemingly with only one spot up for grabs, as the Bristol Badgers, Liverpool Trojans and Halton Jaguars had already qualified.
The Redbacks and Kings waited out a rain delay before Essex’s veteran pitcher Vince Warner took over. Despite a typically spirited fight by the Kings, the Redbacks prevailed 7-2 and looked to have ended Oxford’s season. However, the Jaguars are now unable to compete at the NBC and it looks like Oxford may well gain a reprieve and take the vacant slot.
If so, the Kings would face the Badgers in the second semi-final, with the Redbacks taking on the might of the Liverpool Trojans in the opener. The Trojans went through the regular season unbeaten (22-0)and have waited a year to make amends for slipping up in the AAA Final last time against the Kings. A re-match would make for a great story – particularly after Oxford thought the defence of their title was over – although the Badgers and Redbacks will have something to say about that.
You definitely have to put the Trojans down as the favourites after their regular season dominance and with the semi-final/final format potentially playing into the hands of their one-two pitching punch of Martin Godsall and Rob Vondy. It could be a true north versus the south battle.
It will definitely be a north/south clash in the Double-A final as the Bolton Robots of Doom face the Latin Boys.
If ever a team earned its way to a British final, it was Bolton this year. They fought their way past the Nottingham Rebels 9-8, after trailing 5-0 at one point, to set up a game against the Midlands champs, the Milton Keynes Bucks, who had beaten the Sheffield Bladerunners 13-3.
The subsequent Midlands/North AA Semi Final was an absolute classic. It was a tense affair that headed into extra innings, followed not just by those present at Nottingham’s ground, but also by British baseball fans reading the rapid-fire tweets of Will Lintern. It was a game in which neither side deserved to lose, but one team had to and unfortunately for the Bucks they were the team to narrowly come up short in a 13-12 final score.
In the Southern play-off pool, the Latin Boys and Guildford Mavericks defeated the Poole Piranhas and Essex Archers respectively to create a semi-final between the two regular season pool winners.
The two teams had split a double-header during the regular season and the only form that could separate them leading into the game was the Mavericks’ convincing 15-5 victory over the Archers compared to the Latin Boys’ tight 2-1 win over the Piranhas. If that suggested the Mavs had the edge then the form book was chucked to one side by the Latin Boys, who completed a 9-5 win to book an NBC place in their debut season.
The Southern section in Single-A has been a season-long battle between the Cambridge Royals and Southampton Mustangs II, so it was fitting that those two teams met in the semi-final after victories against the London Maruaders and Old Timers respectively.
The Royals won the only game between the two sides during the regular season – the game scheduled in Southampton was postponed and ultimately not rearranged – and entered the showdown not just with an eye on NBC qualification but also on continuing their unbeaten season.
The Mustangs II took a 2-1 lead in the first inning but their offence was shutdown for the rest of the game and the Royals prevailed 6-2. That means the Royals are 14-0 on the year and now have the chance to make it a perfect 15-0 at the NBC.
Standing in their way will be the Birmingham Maple Leafs. The Midlands team defeated Manchester Torrent 14-4 and Humber Pilots 15-10 on Sunday to make it through to the NBC Final.
It should be a great weekend of baseball to bring the 2011 season to a close. Good luck to all of the teams.