ZÜRICH – Great Britain jumped out to an early lead, but Bulgaria refused to give in, threatening late in the game, but the Lions survived the comeback in a 6-4 victory at the B-Level European Championships. The win qualifies the undefeated British for the championship game and a chance to play in the 2014 Euros.
Jordan Edmonds was the starter for Great Britain and started off strong, keeping Bulgaria off balance through the first five innings. Coach Sam Dexter’s hitters ensured that he worked with a lead, plating a pair of runs in the second and third.
Brett Rosen got the Lions started in the second with a leadoff single. Ian Young and Maikel Azcuy followed with one-base hits, with Azcuy’s scoring Rosen. Zack Wiley would plate Young with a sacrifice fly, and Britain had a 2-0 advantage.
An inning later, Mitch Evans ripped a two-bagger down the left field line, tying him for the pool lead with three doubles. Eugenii Chernozemsky, who had gotten a big save the day before but got the starting nod in game five, retired the next two batters, but Young laced a RBI-single to score Evans and Britain was up by three.
With two outs, the Lions continued the rally, with Azcuy once more stroking a safety and Ryan Trask doubling to left to make it 5-0. Britain put runners on second and third with no out in the fourth, but could not score against Chernozemsky.
Young and Azcuy singled again in the fifth, with the former scoring on a ground out, and Chernozemsky exited after five full frames with the score 6-0. He allowed 12 hits, two wild pitches, and a walk, striking out three.
Bulgaria finally solved Edmonds in the sixth, tiring the young right-hander out. Edmonds entered having thrown 75 pitches through five, but went to full counts on each of the first four hitters, giving up three walks and retiring only one batter.
With the bases loaded and Edmonds’ pitch count up to 99, Dexter inserted David Rees, who struck out the first batter he faced but gave up a two-run double to Hristian Temelkov, putting Bulgaria on the board for the first time. A second strikeout would end the rally with Britain on top, 6-2.
Neither side threatened in the seventh, and Bulgaria worked around en error in the eighth to keep the deficit at four. In the bottom of the frame, Ben Pearson, who had been brilliant against Slovenia, replaced Rees.
Bulgaria’s rediscovered patience continued, as the first two batters took first on full count walks and advanced a base on a slow bouncer to third. Pearson induced a flyout and it appeared that Britain would snuff the rally, but Alexander Nassapov, Bulgaria’s leadoff hitter, came up with his first RBIs of the tournament with a two-run single. Pearson escaped without surrendering another run, but the Lions could feel the momentum slipping away.
The British fans no doubt felt increasingly nervous in the ninth after the Lions failed to score despite another double from Evans, a walk, and a hit batter jammed the sacks with no outs. Petyo Petkov, who had entered in the sixth, managed to induce a grounder to short that nabbed Evans at home, and then thrilled the crowd with a 5-2-3 double play to get out of the predicament with a scoreless frame.
Dexter elected to dip into the pen for Andy Heggen, and it turned out to be one of his best moves of the tournament, as the right-hander needed only nine pitches to retire the 4-5-6 hitters for Bulgaria and preserve the 6-4 victory.
Edmonds, who turned 18 only 11 days prior, earned his first international win for Great Britain with 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball. Batters hit only .111 against him, though he did issue six walks while whiffing three. Rees got five outs, four by strikeout, issuing two walks and giving up a hit. Pearson, only 21, gave up two runs in an inning, and Heggen was credited with the save.
Chernozemsky dropped to 1-1, while Petkov lowered his ERA to 0.64 in 14 innings, though he did not record a strikeout in the tourney. He allowed three baserunners. Britain did not commit an error for the first time at the B-Level games, while Bulgaria was guilty of a pair of miscues.
Bulgaria managed only four hits, but drew an incredible 10 walks against Dexter’s pitching staff. They did not attempt a steal against Rosen, who has thrown out 50 percent of runners in the tournament. Temelkov had a brace of hits for Bulgaria, joining Nassapov with a pair of RBIs.
Evans, Young, and Azcuy had three hits for Britain, with Young raising his pool-leading batting average to .571. The Lions continued their superb plate discipline, striking out only thrice to go along with two walks.
The 5-0 British side will take on Ukraine for the right to advance to the 2014 European Championships, to be held in the Czech Republic. The title match begins at noon on 27 July, with the winner moving on. Great Britain defeated the blue-and-yellow only yesterday, surviving a determined Ukrainian side, 4-2. Bulgaria, rated 17 of 29 in Europe, finishes 3-2, but in third place via run differential.