With a large number of regular-season games in the North curtailed by the weather this season, it would have been difficult to determine which teams should represent the region at the BBF Youth National Baseball Championships, also held on 13-14 September at Farnham Park. So instead, it was agreed that a BBF Northern Championship – the first of its kind – would be held in parallel to the National Championships.
The tournament was arranged in two age categories – Under-17s and Under-14s.
Thanks to the hard work of volunteers at Manchester Baseball Club, Wythenshawe Park was successfully transformed into a three-diamond facility, with the Under-17s playing a round-robin on Day One over two diamonds, followed by semi-finals, a third place game and the final on Day 2, while the Under-14s played a double-round robin over two days on one diamond.
Halton Polecats 7, Manchester Saints 2
Cartmel Valley 11, Leicester Blue Sox 6
Leicester Blue Sox 7, Halton Polecats 5
Cartmel Valley 12, Manchester Saints 3
Cartmel Valley 6, Halton Polecats 5
Leicester Blue Sox 12, Manchester Saints 6
After an open draw at the start of the day, a shortened game format was adopted for the round-robins, with games scheduled for four innings each or one hour and 30 minutes, whichever came first.
The closest encounters were between the teams from Cartmel Valley, Halton and Leicester. There was great excitement during Halton’s second and third games, where just a few more runs in their favour would have made them the top seed going to the semi-finals on Sunday.
Unfortunately for Halton, it wasn’t to be and results meant that the #1 seed, Cartmel Valley, would face Manchester in their semi-final while the evenly-matched Halton Polecats and Leicester Blue Sox would face each other for the sixth time this year in the other semi-final.
Cartmel Valley 9, Manchester Saints 5
Leicester Blue Sox 5, Halton Polecats 2
Third place game:
Halton Polecats 11, Manchester Saints 0
Cartmel Valley 8, Leicester Blue Sox 0
The highlight game of the tournament was the semi-final between the Halton Polecats and Leicester Blue Sox. Although Halton had the upper hand in the regular season with four wins to nil, two of those encounters were one-run games and the Blue Sox were out to avenge those two defeats at this tournament.
The early exchanges were tight, with the game perfectly poised at 1-1 going into bottom of the third inning. Leicester then blew the game open, piling on four runs with the help of a sacrifice fly from Dan Heywood and a final RBI by Adam Grogan.
With a 5-1 run lead going into the final inning, Leicester just needed to get three outs while conceding fewer than four runs to progress. But Halton clawed one run back and had runners on the bases when Blue Sox starting pitcher Rory Chandler reached his pitch limit and gave way to Charlie Oxley, who struck out Halton's #9 batter for the final out of the game. There was much celebration from the Blue Sox bench after what had been a tense ending.
Cartmel Valley had saved their star pitcher, Luke Armstrong, to face the Blue Sox in the Championship final, while Leicester, who had given their all in the previous game, had difficulty in raising themselves again.
Leicester were shut down in the top of the first inning and Cartmel Valley replied with three runs, courtesy of a number of walks and errors.
The second inning was scoreless, but Cartmel Valley came alive again in the third inning, piling on five more runs, and by this time Leicester were on the ropes.
Leicester got runners into scoring position in the fourth inning but the bottom of their order couldn’t cope with Luke Armstrong’s pitching.
In the top of the fifth and final inning, Cartmel Valley mopped up the Blue Sox with a strikeout and double play ground ball, to much excitement of the Cartmel supporters.
Cartmel Valley Coach Bruce Armstrong said: ”I was very proud of the teamwork and effort shown by our players, a group of friends who have been playing together for many years, and it was a great way for them to finish their youth baseball careers.”
Leicester Blue Sox Junior Manager Matt Crawshaw added: “Cartmel Valley and in particular Luke Armstrong were superb. We simply had nothing left after giving our all in the previous four games this weekend. I am so proud of our boys, who have improved all season long, but credit to Cartmel who are worthy champions.”
Cartmel Valley 4, Halton 0
Cartmel Valley 16, Manchester 4
Halton 8, Manchester 2
Cartmel Valley 9, Halton 1
Halton 8, Manchester 7
Cartmel Valley 17, Manchester 6
Cartmel Valley (4-0)
Cartmel Valley demonstrated their superiority once again in the Under-14 category over the weekend. The star of the show was Coby Hargan, who secured six strikeouts against Halton on Saturday and another seven on the Sunday.
The double round-robin was already decided by early on the Sunday, and in the final game of the day, Manchester took the opportunity to field around 20 players during their encounter against Cartmel Valley, having increased their membership dramatically in recent weeks. It was great to see some future stars with obvious potential.
Cartmel Valley ended the weekend unbeaten across both age groups, and their Under-14 Coach Jonathon Pearson said: “It has been a great weekend that all our players have enjoyed. I hope the success of this tournament will help us retain and recruit players going into next year.”
With the successful experiment of running a Northern Youth Baseball Championship under their belts, the BBF plans to hold the event again in 2015, but earlier in the season, as a means of deciding Northern representation at next season’s Youth National Baseball Championships.