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    2019 NSL1 Nationals

    Knights dethrone Pioneers in great NSL1 final

    Sun 1 Sep 2019

    By Bob Fromer

    It had been 10 years since anyone other than Pioneers or Chromies had won the BSF’s A-grade NSL National Championship, but over the weekend of 31 August-1 September at Farnham Park, the Windsor Knights broke the duopoly in thrilling fashion.

    In a brilliant NSL1 final on Sunday evening that was close all the way through and played before a large and fully engaged crowd, the Knights staged a three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning against Dan Spinks and the Pioneers to capture the 2019 National Championship by a score of 13-12.

    When Aaron Thomas smashed a double to the fence in left centre field and Kim Miller, running for Lucy Binding, who had hit a similar double minutes earlier, crossed the plate with the winning run, the Knights’ celebration was ecstatic – and well-earned, because though the margins are narrow, they had been the best team all weekend.

    In the round-robin phase of the tournament, the Knights had finished top with just one loss and one draw, and registered notable wins over the NSL1 league-winning Travelling Dodgers, Chromies and H2O while drawing with Pioneers.

    In the 1 v 2 Page Playoff game, the Knights utterly routed Chromies by a score of 20-5 with a great display of power and defense.

    And in the final against the defending champion Pioneers, the Knights out-homered the Pioneers, matched them in the circle and on defense, and executed the game-winning rally with a nerveless display of line drive hitting.

    After the game, the greatest emotion came from those who had been part of the Windsor Knights the longest.

    “After years of working and building for this,” Lucy Binding said, “this weekend we proved absolutely that we’re a good team and that we deserve to be here — and to represent GB Softball in Europe.”

    Colin Stone said, “It’s a proper team! Everybody plays for everybody else, everyone supports everyone else. It’s fantastic!”

    The results this weekend also determined the teams that will represent Great Britain at next summer’s European Co-ed Slowpitch Super Cup. Pioneers had already qualified as 2018 Super Cup winners, leaving two more places available, and these will now be filled by the 2019 National Champion Windsor Knights and by the 2018 National Championship runner-up Chromies.

    Four games were live-streamed from Farnham Park on Sunday afternoon and came be seen on BSUK’s YouTube channel on https://www.youtube.com/user/baseballsoftballuk:

    The NSL1 1 v 2 Page Playoff game between the Windsor Knights and Chromies.
    The NSL1 Page Playoff pre-final between the Pioneers and Chromies.
    The NSL2 final between the Honey Badgers from Glasgow and Tempest from Manchester.
    The wonderful NSL1 final between the Windsor Knights and the Pioneers.

    More details on the classic NSL1 final are are below, but first, a summary of other results from the weekend.

    NSL1 final: the details

    The NSL1 final was a game rich in incident, full of key hits and good defensive plays, contested by two talented and confident teams that refused to give an inch.

    Pioneers scored in five of the seven innings and the Knights scored in six, but crucially, the runs were scored in ones, two, threes and a couple of fours. The pitching and defense was too good on both sides to allow the big inning that might have turned the game.

    Pioneers’ second baseman Dan Bello, who the Knights could not get out – he had three triples and a double in four at-bats — led off in the top of the first inning with a triple and soon rode home on the first of two home runs by Steve Hazard, who had hit three in the previous game, a 13-7 win over Chromies that put the Pioneers into the final.

    But those two runs were all that Pioneers scored in the top of the first inning, thanks in part to a great force play started by Knights’ shortstop Max Zerhusen.

    In the bottom of the first inning, the Knights countered with four runs. Max Verhusen went Dan Bello one better by leading off with a solo home run, and then a double by Kelvin Harrison and a single by Natalie Woolley set up Knights’ pitcher Wolfgang Walther, who drove a three-run home run over the fence in left field.

    Earlier in the afternoon, Wolfgang had hit three home runs, good for nine RBIs, when the Knights crushed the Chromies in the 1 v 2 Page Playoff game.

    So the Knights ended the first inning of the final with a 4-2 lead.

    When Pioneers failed to score in the top of the second inning and the Knights tacked on two in the bottom half on solo home runs by Neil Selvester and Max Zerhusen, the lead became 6-2, the largest margin that the Knights were to enjoy.

    Over the next four innings, however, the Pioneers gradually chased the Knights down, “winning” the third inning by 2-1, the fourth inning by 3-2 (despite a long home run by the Knights’ Barbara Herzgen over the fence in left centre field) and drawing the fifth inning 1-1. A number of fine plays by shortstop Steve Hazard and third base player Kasey Pettit-Castor were features of these middle innings for the Pioneers, while the Knights had excellent and important catches in the outfield by Kelvin Harrison, Anna Wareham and Neil Selvester,

    All of that left the Knights still 10-8 ahead, but in the top of the sixth inning the Pioneers pounced and took the lead for the first time since the middle of the first inning.

    Dan Bello (who else?) led off the top of the sixth for the Pioneers with a triple, though this one was a little fly ball down the right field line that bounced away from the defenders. The next batter, Kasey Pettit-Castor, drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. It was only the second walk that Wolfgang Walther had allowed in the game, but it felt like it might be important – and that was confirmed when Steve Hazard followed with a three-run smash over the left field fence.

    One out later, Dan Spinks parked a solo home over the fence in left centre, and the Knights only averted further scoring by executing a beautiful 4-6-3 double play.

    But now Pioneers had a 12-10 lead, and when the Knights tried to respond in the bottom of the sixth inning, there was nothing there: they went down without scoring for the only time in the game, thanks in part to a brilliant force play created by Kasey Pettit-Castor from a bouncing ball that pulled her far behind third base.

    This was the only time on the weekend that the Knights looked rattled. But having failed to score in the bottom of the sixth inning, they then performed the crucial feat of setting the Pioneers down in order in the top of the seventh inning so that the deficit remained at two. A great catch at the fence in left centre field by Kim Hendry on a drive by Amy Rice was the key play of the inning.

    So the Knights came up in the bottom of the seventh inning with just a two-run gap to overcome, and it was an uncharacteristic error by Dan Spinks, the best-fielding pitcher in the game, that opened the door.

    Natalie Woolley led off and smashed a ball up the middle that caromed off Dan Spinks’s leg towards third base. Dan sprinted after it and fired off-balance to first, but the throw pulled first base player Jane Pettit-Castor into the baseline, and Natalie, Jane and the ball all arrived at the same place at the same time.

    There was a terrible full-on collision, and while Natalie Woolley got up relatively quickly, Jane Pettit-Castor stayed down for a long time as the first-aiders attended to her. Eventually, Jane was able to get up and leave the field, and the Pioneers shuffled their defense, with Amy Rice moving to first base.

    It was close to 15 minutes before play resumed, with Natalie Woolley on first and no one out. But the end came quickly.

    Wolfgang Walther drove a sharp single to left field, and when the ball skipped past the fielders to the fence, Natalie scored and Wolfgang wound up on third.

    Next up was Lucy Binding, who had entered the game in the fifth inning, and who later admitted her heart was pounding. But it didn’t stop her smashing a line drive double to left centre field that scored Wolfgang and tied the score at 12-12.

    Kim Miller re-entered the game to pinch-run for Lucy with Aaron Thomas at the plate, and with no one out, the Pioneers were going to need a miracle to stop the Knights from completing the comeback. They didn’t get it.

    The count went to 3-1 on Aaron as Dan Spinks tried to keep the ball away from him, but on the next pitch Aaron drove a long fly ball to left centre field that landed at the base of the fence. Kim Miller, who had waited to see if the ball might be caught, now only had to round third and into the joyful embrace of her teammates as soon as she crossed home plate.

    The age of the Pioneers and Chromies had ended, at least temporarily, at the hands of a team that had worked very hard to achieve exactly this result, and who did it with style.

    But make no mistake: the Pioneers and Chromies will be back next year.

    NSL1 Page Playoff scores

    1 v 2 game: Windsor Knights 20, Chromies 5
    3 v 4 game: Pioneers 13, Legends 9
    Pre-final: Pioneers 13, Chromies 7
    Final: Windsor Knights 13, Pioneers 12

    Final NSL1 standings

    1 – Windsor Knights
    2 – Pioneers
    3 – Chromies
    4 – Legends
    5 – H2O
    6 – Travelling Dodgers
    7 – Blue Steel
    8 – Greensox

    The 2019 NSL1 league winner was the Travelling Dodgers.

    History

    Below are the National Championship and NSL winners over time, and the list shows what a rare feat the Windsor Knights pulled off this year. No one but Pioneers and Chromies had won the A-grade National Championship since 2008, and since 2002, when Pioneers won their first title, the two teams had won 14 out of 18 championships.

    2019 – Windsor Knights
    2018 – Pioneers
    2017 — Chromies
    2016 — Pioneers
    2015 — Chromies
    2014 – Chromies
    2013 – Chromies
    2012 – Chromies
    2011 – Pioneers
    2010 – Pioneers
    2009 – Chromies
    2008 – Dragons
    2007 – Chromies
    2006 – Chromies
    2005 – Slammers
    2004 – Chromies
    2003 – Stingrays
    2002 – Pioneers
    2001 – Baker Tomkins
    2000 – Baker Tomkins
    1999 – Baker Tomkins
    1998 – Baker Tomkins
    1997 – Chromies (then known as Superchrome)
    1996 – Windsor Dodgers
    1995 – Genies
    1994 – Slammers
    1993 – Isherwood
    1992 – Slammers
    1991 – Meteors
    1990 – Sliders
    1989 – Pirates
    1988 – London New Zealand
    1987 – Pirates

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