ZÜRICH – Greg Hendrix pitched a nine-inning masterpiece against Ukraine in the championship game of the B-Level European Championships’ Zürich pool, and Great Britain earned a spot in the 2014 top level European tourney with a 2-0 victory. Ukraine settled for a 3-3 record despite a plucky performance by Kostyantyn Korolov.
Hendrix set the tone for the pitchers’ duel by striking out the side in the first around a single, while Korolov set down Great Britain 1-2-3 in the bottom of the frame. Britain’s starting hurler worked around a hit batter in the second, whiffing another, and the Lions looked to break open the game in the bottom of the frame.
Sam Wiley beat out a slow roller to shortstop and moved to third on a double by Brett Rosen. Ian Young then drove in Britain’s first run by bouncing a one-base hit through the hole on the left side. It was his eighth RBI of the tournament, tying him with Wiley for the lead among all hitters.
With no outs and runners on the corners, Britain’s offence, which had looked particularly strong in the first three games, looked to have a chance to break the game wide open. Korolov had other ideas, though, getting Maikel Azcuy to strike out for this first time in the pool.
Ryan Trask then tucked a hit through the right side of the infield, and the Lions had a 2-0 advantage. Korolov would buckle down, however, ending the inning on a flyout and another whiff.
Hendrix ran into trouble of his own in the third. With two out, Artem Borshch and Andriy Kubalskyi stroked singles, putting runners on the corners. Kubalskyi then took off for second and swiped the bag with Ukraine’s cleanup hitter, Ruslan Deikun at the plate. Deikun had been 5-for-10 with runners in scoring position and two out, but Hendrix attacked him in the zone, striking him out on a 1-2 pitch.
Korolov and Hendrix settled into a rhythm in the middle innings, though both clubs threatened in the sixth. In the top half, Hendrix hit Deikun with two outs and then threw a wild pitch before walking top hitter Enver Lyumanov, but generated a groundball from his mound mate to exit the jam.
In the bottom of the sixth, Wiley singled with one out and Young stroked a two-out safety. An error moved Wiley to third, and Korolov ran the count full before getting Azcuy looking.
Dmytro Limarenko, who had started and earned the victory over Bulgaria on day three, entered in relief in the seventh and gave up a leadoff single to Trask. He was sacrificed to second, but Limarenko struck out the final two batters of the inning to keep Ukraine’s deficit at two.
Great Britain had one final chance to pad its lead in the ninth after Mitch Evans reached on an error by third baseman Sergii Tykhonets to start the inning. Wiley then attempted to bunt him over, but reached himself on a miscue by the third sacker, this time on a throw.
Rosen successfully laid down a sacrifice to put runners on second and third with one out, and Limarenko pitched around the scorching-hot Young to load the bases. Azcuy ripped the first pitch he saw from Ukraine’s pitcher, but the line drive was right at the second baseman Oleksandr Mamontov, who flipped to Lyumanov at short for the double play.
Hendrix came out for the ninth despite having thrown 120 pitches, but got two strikeouts to end the game and ensure Britain would return to the top level of European competition. The southpaw struck out 13 to give him 28 Ks in 16 innings, along with a 2-0 record and a 1.13 record and was named MVP of the Zürich Pool.
Korolov took his second loss despite a gutsy performance that included six strikeouts in as many innings. He did not walk a batter and gave up two runs on seven hits. He finished with a 4.20 ERA in the bracket, striking out 12 in 15 innings. Limarenko struck out two and allowed a pair of baserunners in two frames.
Borshch was the only batter for Ukraine with a brace of hits. Ievgenii Poliakov had a double, but Deikun was 0-for-3 with a strikeout in each at bat as Ukraine left eight on base. The losing side committed three errors.
Young, Wiley, and Trask all had two hits for the victors. Young also walked and finished with the best batting average at .588, more than 100 points above the next best. The first sacker was among the league leaders in most offensive categories and named Best Batter.
With Hendrix taking home MVP honours, Switzerland’s Daniel Levine was tabbed as Best Pitcher for his effort against the Ukraine, out-pitching the unlucky Korolov. Levine struck out 10 and did not allow an earned run in nine innings, walking three and giving up just three hits.
Great Britain finishes 6-0 and will join the continent’s top teams in the 2014 European Baseball Championship.