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09/16/2017, 10:15pm BST
By Bob Fromer & Don McDermott

SATURDAY 16 SEPTEMBER:  Semi-final games in the BBF’s Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A National Championships started at 9.30 this morning and finished in the cold, dark and damp, well after 7.00 pm.  But we now know who will play the finals on Sunday.

Six semi-finals were played on the two baseball diamonds at Farnham Park today in weather which was mostly cold and cloudy, but with a few fleeting glimpses of the sun and one short but vicious rain and hailstorm -- weather more suited to March than mid-September.

Twelve teams had come from all around the country to play the semi-finals, but only six will be back tomorrow. 

Five of the semi-finals were played to a conclusion but one – the Single-A semi-final between the Cambridge Monarchs and Norwich Iceni -- only made it through the regulation four-and-a-half innings before it was simply too dark to play.  At the time, Norwich was leading 11-4 and BBF officials gave Cambridge the choice of coming back on Sunday morning to finish the scheduled nine innings or calling the game as it stood.  The Monarchs conferred and decided that the result should stand.



Semi-final results today were as follows:

Birmingham Bandits 10, London Mammoths 2
Richmond Knights 11, Cartmel Valley Lions 2

Tonbridge 10, Sidewinders 5
Leicester Blue Sox 17, Latin Boys 3 (7 innings)

Guildford Millers 16, Northants Centurions 13 (10 innings)
Norwich Iceni 11, Cambridge Monarchs 4 (4.5 innings)

So the finals on Sunday, with seedings coming into the weekend shown in brackets, will be:

Double-A Final: 11.00 am
Leicester Blue Sox (#4) v Tonbridge (#3)

Triple-A Final: 12.00 noon
Richmond Knights (#1 South) v Birmingham Bandits (#1 Central)

Single-A Final: 3.00 pm
Guildford Millers (#3) v Norwich Iceni (#1)

These games will all be worth watching, and with the weather forecast not too bad for Sunday, why not come out to Farnham Park and give the teams some support?

Meanwhile, here are brief reports on all the semi-finals.


Guildford Millers 16, Northants Centurions 13 (10 innings)

This was without doubt the most dramatic game of the weekend, and for the first six innings, the Northants Centurions, making their first appearance at the National Championships after just three years in the BBF leagues, looked the odds-on winners.

At that stage, the Centurions were leading 6-1 and had chased Guildford starter Lewis Bawden, while Northants’ Gareth Beeby had held the Millers to just three hits and a single run, scored on an inside-the-park home run to left centre field by Tetsuro Shinkawa in the top of the third inning that gave his team a short-lived 1-0 lead.

But that wasn’t to be Shinkawa’s only contribution, as Northants would find out to their cost.

This was a game with a split personality.  Over those first six innings, the two teams committed only one error between them, and the runner who reached on that error was quickly erased on a double play.

After the first two innings were crisply-played and scoreless, Northants built their 6-1 lead on a combination of walks, hit batters, wild pitches, passed balls, a bunch of stolen bases and run-scoring hits by Gareth Beeby and Gavin Wilkinson.

But over the last four innings, when the tide turned and a storm surge washed over the Centurions, the teams committed 11 errors, seven of them by Northants, and that was certainly one reason why the game slipped away from them.

Guildford had to make two different runs at the Centurions before they finally caught them.

Trailing 6-1, the Millers scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning, three of them on another inside-the-park home run by Tetsuro Shinkawa, this time to right centre field and with two runners on base.

But Northants pulled away again, with three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and two in the bottom of the eighth, and when Guildford came to bat in the top of the ninth against reliever Nick Russell, they were training 11-6 and the result looked a formality.

But not to the Millers.  A walk to that man Tetsuro Shinkawa, a single by Lewis Bawden and an error loaded the bases with no one out, and before the inning was over Guildford had scored seven runs to take a shock 13-11 lead.  Matt Friend had a two-RBI single, Laura Bailes and Ben Stobart each drove in runs, Northants chipped in two more errors, and the coup de grace was a ringing RBI double by – who else – Tetsuro Shinkawa.

To their credit, Northants fought back in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, scoring twice on three Guildford errors and an RBI single by Ross Derek.

In extra innings, it’s always who blinks first, and in this case it was the Centurions.  With one out in the top of the tenth, another error opened the door for Guildford and Brett Lowrey and Laura Bailes had RBI singles as the Millers scored three times.

This time, Northants had no answer.  The top of their order went down in order with two strikeouts against Tetsuro Shinkawa, who had pitched the last five innings and earned the win.

Northampton have had a great season, but the Guildford Millers will be playing on Sunday.

Norwich Iceni 11, Cambridge Monarchs 4 (called for bad light after 4.5 innings)

This game started almost two hours behind schedule in cold, dark and damp conditions, and the light just got worse and worse until the game was finally stopped after Cambridge had batted in the top of the fifth inning and were trailing 11-4.

The Monarchs were given the option of having the game suspended and resumed on Sunday morning, but their decision to bow to the inevitable and accept the result was a sporting gesture and probably the right one.

The high-flying Iceni, who were undefeated in winning the Single-A South Division this year, had too much pitching for the Monarchs in the person of Andreas Fopp, who gave up only three hits over five innings and struck out nine.

Fopp also walked six, which led to three of the four Cambridge runs, and there was a peculiar pattern to the single runs that the Monarchs scored in the first, second, third and fifth innings.  On each occasion, the lead-off hitter reached base, stole second, and moved to third when the catcher threw the ball into centre field (in one case, it was a stolen base and then a passed ball).  A runner on third with no outs usually means a run, and in each case the Monarchs cashed it.  But it was the only offense they could mount against Andreas Fopp.

Norwich had no such trouble against Cambridge starter Daniel Straw, who simply didn’t throw hard enough to keep the Iceni at bay.

Norwich scored five runs in the first inning on singles by Ariel Soriano, Chris Bell, Michael Smith and Andreas Fopp, plus two walks, and four more in the second inning on five hits and a walk, including a long double by Chris Bell.

Edward Caro replaced Straw to start the third inning, and managed to hold Norwich to just two more runs in the last two at-bats.  But this game was only going to have one winner, and the Monarchs bowed to the inevitable, while Norwich will be back at Farnham Park on Sunday morning.


Tonbridge 10, Sidewinders 5

The Tonbridge Wildcats booked their place in the Double-A final after holding off a rally from the Sidewinders to secure a 10-5 win on Saturday at Farnham Park.

Tonbridge stamped their authority on the game from the start.  Leadoff hitter Ben Carter reached on an error and advanced to second on a single by Laurence Hodgkins.  The two men executed a double steal while Martin Barker was at the plate, and he eventually drew a walk to load the bases.  Then Christian Secareanu did his job in the clean-up spot, lining a two-run double into the gap in left centre field.  Sorin Puiu increased the Wildcats’ lead to 3-0 with a sacrifice fly to centre for the first out, but Sidewinders pitcher Tang Cheung was able to limit the damage and get out of the inning with a strikeout.

The Sidewinders quickly showed that they were going to rely on speed on the basepaths.  After an early out, Tang Cheung singled and then tried to steal, but was gunned down by Tonbridge catcher Martin Barker.  Despite that setback, the next two Sidewinders to reach—David Sommer with a single and Tetshushi Hino courtesy of a walk—both stole second.   Sommer advanced to third on a passed ball, but Toshihiro Matsuo grounded out to pitcher Christian Secareanu to strand the runners.

In the top of the second inning, Bob Brightt singled and moved to second on a wild pitch, though it looked like he would be stranded there as Ben Carter grounded out and Laurence Hodgkins flew out to centre.  But then Martin Carter singled Brightt home and advanced to second himself on a throwing error, and Christian Secareanu continued to hit, driving in Carter with a single. 

The Sidewinders were sent down in order in the bottom of the second  inning and then made a pitching change for the top of the third, with Yuto Ito taking to the mound.  The complexion of the game changed from there as Ito would allow just one Tonbridge baserunner while retiring six of the first seven batters he faced.

Meanwhile, the Sidewinders’ offense came alive.  Ayumu Ikata walked, stole second and third, and came home when Christian Secareanu couldn’t handle a grounder back to the mound by Tang Cheung.  Cheung then stole second, advanced to third on a single and came home on a wild throw.  The Sidewinders would go on to load the bases from there but Antonio Soto struck out to end the threat.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Sidewinders threatened again but stranded runners on second and third. Yuto Ito continued his excellent pitching in the top of the fifth inning and his defense stepped up too, turning the game’s only double play.  So the Sidewinders came up in the bottom of the fifth down 5-2 but with momentum.

They turned that momentum into a couple of runs with a pair of singles from Tetsushi Hino and Takuto Furusaki plus a wild pitch. Tonbridge again failed to score in the top of the sixth inning, and then the Sidewinders completed the comeback.  Yuto Ito drew a walk, stole second, and after advancing to third, came home on a wild pitch to tie the game at 5-5.

Tonbridge responded in the top of the seventh.  Laurence Hodgkins led off with a single, then stole second and came home on an RBI single by Christian Secareanu. 

The Sidewinders tried to rally again in the bottom of the inning but after they put runners on first and second with one out, Secareanu struck out Vincent Kwok and Yuto Ito to end the threat.

In the eighth inning, the Wildcats put the game away thanks to three singles and a couple of errors. Laurence Hodgkins drove in two with a single and then Ben Carter came home from second after a throwing error on a steal.  

That made it 9-5 to Tonbridge, who tacked on another run in the ninth inning and moved on to the final.

Leicester Blue Sox 17, Latin Boys 3 (7 innings)

The Latin Boys probably came into this game as favourites, and at the end of three innings they only trailed 3-2. 

The threat of a big inning by Leicester in the top of the third was averted when the Latin Boys brought in Yefri Aguilar to replace starter Alex Lopez with one out and the bases loaded, and Aguilar struck out Scott McMillan and Chris Mee to end the threat.

But that was really the end of the road for the Latin Boys, as Leicester scored six runs in the top of the fourth inning and steadily pulled away for a mercy rule win after seven innings, scoring three more in the top of the fifth, two in the sixth and a final three in the seventh.

Catcher Rik Martina had a single, a double and three walks for Leicester while Rob Seward and Andy Davidson each had three hits.

But the main reason for Leicester’s unexpectedly easy win was pitcher Justinas Raupenas, who pitched the full seven innings, struck out 13 Latin Boys and gave up only four hits and four walks.  The Latin Boys had at least one baserunner in every inning but the sixth, but Raupenas came up with big pitches when he needed them, ending five of the seven innings on strikeouts.

Long before the end, it was clear that the Blue Sox would be at Farnham Park on Sunday.


Birmingham Bandits 10, London Mammoths 2

Birmingham cruised to a dominant 10-2 victory over the London Mammoths to advance to the Triple-A final.

Mario Escobedo shut out London in the early frames, allowing just two hits and walking a pair of batters while striking out five through the first five innings.

His offense gave him more than enough run support as Birmingham scored four in the first inning. Armando Da Silva and Jamie Ratcliff hit back-to-back singles and Da Silva came home on a balk by Brian Dearing.  Ratcliff moved to second, and later stole third, and when the throw from the catcher went into the outfield Ratcliff raced across the plate. 

Next up was Shannon Henry, and he got all the way to second on a throwing error, advanced to third on a wild pitch and stole home.  Miguel Martinez also came home thanks to an RBI single from Andy Dominguez and Birmingham led 4-0.

They increased their lead in the bottom of the second inning.  Singles from Armando Da Silva, Dennis Grogan, Shannon Henry and Miguel Martinez and a ground out did the damage, resulting in another three runs.

The game slowed up a bit from there, as neither team got on the scoreboard for the next three innings. 

Then in the sixth, London finally broke through.  James Cavanagh singled and Atshushi Agario walked, and then Bob La Flamme loaded the bases with a single.  Cavanagh came home on a wild pitch and Agario also crossed the plate.  But that was all London could manage.

Birmingham weren’t content to leave their lead at 7-2.  Armando Da Silva singled and stole second to start the bottom of the sixth, and then Jamie Ratcliff electrified the spectators with an inside-the-park two-run home run to centre field to run Birmingham’s lead to 9-2. 

They added another run in the eighth inning courtesy of an RBI double by Dennis Grogan.

London put runners on second and third with two out in the ninth inning, but Shannon Henry, who had earlier replaced Mario Escobedo on the mound, induced Rion Hoshino to pop out to shortstop to end the game and put Birmingham in the Triple-A final. 

Richmond Knights 11, Cartmel Valley Lions 2

Two big innings lifted the Richmond Knights into the Triple-A final as they defeated Cartmel Valley 11-2 on Saturday afternoon.

Cartmel Valley had the brighter start, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning on an inside-the-park home run.

Pitcher Luke Armstrong struck out four while keeping Richmond off the board in the first two innings, although he did load the bases in the second.

That was a sign of things to come.  In the bottom of the third inning, Richmond sent 11 men to the plate, scoring six runs and chasing Armstrong from the game.  Armstrong hit Phill Eriksen with a pitch to start the inning and Michael Daykin singled, as did Cade Thune, who drove in Eriksen.  Nicolo Montori and Adam Ramsey walked, forcing in Daykin, and then a sacrifice fly, another walk and a passed ball scored another run before Mitsuhiro Shinkai smacked a two-RBI double. 

That ended Luke Armstrong’s day on the mound with the score 6-2 in favour of Richmond.

Cartmel Valley had a chance to get a run back in the fourth inning but stranded Luke Armstrong, who had stayed in the game but changed positions, on third base.  No Lions’ baserunner would advance any further than second base for the remainder of the game. 

Richmond, on the other hand, carried on quietly until the eighth inning when their bats came alive again.  Sam Rounce doubled and moved to third on Phill Eriksen’s single.  A wild pitch brought home Rounce and Eriksen would cross the plate on a passed ball.  Michael Daykin and Cade Thune walked, and Nicolo Montori reached second on an error, with Daykin and Thune scoring on the play.  A pair of ground outs sent Montori home and that put Richmond into an unassailable lead.

Cartmel Valley went down in order in the top of the ninth and Richmond will play Birmingham in the Triple-A final on Sunday.  

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