The Great Britain Fast Pitch League (GBFL) was a great success in 2016 with more players, more games and higher quality fastpitch softball than ever before.
To round off the year, the league organised for a travelling team to enter the Tournoi de Fleur 2016 in Paris. The GB U19’s also travelled with 2 mixed teams which gave the tournament, a celebration of the life of former GB Women's Team player Fleur Edgerton who sadly died from cancer in 2012, a very British feel to it.
The GBFL Strays consisted of players from Oxford Diamonds, Meteor Red, Black, Blue and Green and although this was the first time many of the player had played together, started the Saturday morning with high expectations of being able to acquit themselves well.
Playing under the non de plume of The Sunflowers (all teams in the tournament adopt a flower as their playing name) the Strays started very well jumping out to an 8 run lead in the first innings against Ermont. Good pitching from former U19 player Ieaun Gale, tight defence and solid batting from all the players, including a home run from another former U19 player - Amit Aswani - meant that this game was never in danger. Only in the last innings, when Ieuan began to tire did Ermont manage to put some runs on the board but Ysa Urquiaga was able to step in and close out the game 19-10.
The second game was a similar pattern against the BCF Dragons with GBFL Strays establishing an early lead, including another home run from Amit and the game never really looking in danger. Excellent pitching again from Ysa restricted the Dragons to 4 runs and by the time Lee Grafton hit the Strays second home run of the game in the last innings, it was all over 11-4.
The 3rd game of the day was against the GB U19 1st team and this proved to be a much harder game. Excellent pitching from GB player Josh Peat, solid defence from GB players Matt Tomlin and Hannah Pitman and the ever reliable George Young on 1st base was a much harder test of the GBFL Strays who struggled to get on base. Amit’s excellent batting continued going 3 for 3 at bat and scoring 2 but with only David Morris and Anna Waring being able to cross the plate during the game, the GB U19 first team was able to run out 4-8 winners.
GBFL Strays were still pleased by the day however. The weather had been glorious all day, the games had all been played in excellent spirit by all teams and they finished 2nd in the group to advance into the cup on the Sunday. A night out in Paris for a meal and drinks in the Bastille district meant that whatever happened on day 2, all the players were going to remember this as great trip.
Day 2 started misty and cold and The Strays faced the winners of the tournament for the previous 2 years and eventual winners of this tournament, Namur (the Carnivores) from Belgium. This team contained several national and former national players and they simply overwhelmed the Strays 14-0. It would have been nice to get on the board but by then the Strays had worked out that the next game against the French team Nantes was actually to be their final with a chance of a 3rd place and trophy on offer therefore they were not too bothered by the first game.
...and so the put together team, under the continuing glorious sunshine, took on Nantes having had a fabulous weekend of softball, laughter and great teamwork.
Ysa started the pitching with Dave Morris at catcher, Barbara Young on 1st, Richard Akers on 3rd, Ieuan at short stop, Anna Waring on 2nd and an aging outfield of Lee Grafton and Greg Nielan ably assisted by guest Dutch player Marijke van den Berge!
The Strays struggled to score in the first 2 innings with the notable exception of Barbara Young who was able to get on base, steal 2nd, steal 3rd and then score on a hit from Ieuan Gale for the only run for the Strays in the first 2 innings.
Nantes meanwhile were able to generate a 4-1 lead, due to one huge home run and were looking in command. The Strays stayed in touch due to exceptional catches from man of the match Greg Nielan who robbed the Nantes team of several extra base hits with a series of sliding and diving catches but Ysa’s decision to walk the big hitter from Nantes which loaded the bases but resulted in an inning ending double rather than conceding runs proved to be the momentum shifter.
Going into the 3rd innings, the Strays still had a chance and Amit Aswani entered the game on 3rd in place of Lee Grafton.
The offence suddenly came to life. Playing small ball, the Strays began to get hits and steal bases seemingly at will. Nantes looked rattled and were making errors, throwing to empty bases and chasing the plays. The Strays scored 5 runs to take the lead and then sat Nantes down in the next without conceding another run.
Needing insurance runs, up stepped Marijke van den Berge for the Stays to hit a home run over the head of the right fielder and with Ieuan Gale adding another run at his next at bat the Umpire called time and The Strays were 10-6 winners, securing 3rd place overall.
An awesome tournament in the sunshine, friendly hosts and opponents and a trophy! Who could ask for more from a weekend in Paris?
We now look forward to next year’s GBFL and hope there will be many more of these trips out for any GBFL player who wants a similar experience. Register now for the league and let us know you want to join the travel team.