FARNHAM PARK, Bucks. – Taiga Satou pitched an outstanding game against a very strong University College London baseball club, and Durham University advanced to the championship game of the 2016 Autumn National University Baseball Championship with a 3-2 extra innings victory.
On a beautiful day for baseball, Durham and UCL locked horns in what turned out to be arguably the best game of the national tournament thus far. Satou was opposed on the mound by fellow southpaw Gordon Chau, and the two hurlers dueled for all five innings.
It was Durham who struck first, as Laurence Hodgkins was hit to start the second and stole second, moving to third on a single up the middle by Ben Turner. Turner swiped second, but on the delayed steal, Hodgkins was nabbed as he attempted to pilfer home. A walk to Jack Andrew put two runners on, and each advanced on a wild pitch, but Chau struck out Cameron Richardson to put two down.
With a one strike count on Jenny Laurence, Chau uncorked a pitch that broke sharply in front of the plate, and both runners started sprinting. By the time the ball was found, Andrew had flashed some serious wheels as he scampered all way the home from second to give the Palatinates a 2-0 advantage.
Featuring a filthy curve and impeccable control, Satou set down the Capitals 1-2-3 in the second and Durham had another chance to score in the third. Will Zucker reached on a single and stole second, moving to third on a flyout, but in a repeat of the first frame, Durham could not bring him home from the keystone sack with only one down.
The Capitals made Durham pay for the missed opportunity in the lower half of the third as the bottom of UCL’s lineup came out hacking against Satou. After a leadoff double, an infield hit put two on, and the Capitals’ leadoff hitter laced a ball to dead centre that should have been caught for the first out, but instead dropped for a two-base error and a tie ballgame. Satou would escape without any further damage, and neither side would score in the fourth.
With the game being timed and the scored knotted at two, the fifth inning was played with international rules for extra innings, with the last two batters in the previous inning placed on first and second for each team in the top and bottom of the inning.
Not to be intimidated, Chau used his excellent pickoff move to catch Richardson looking off first for his second pickoff of the game. Joe Ramsden stepped to the plate, and Chau buried his knee-buckling curve in the dirt, which saw Andrew, who had been placed on second, race to third on the wild pitch. The throw from the catcher was mishandled at third, at Andrew once more came all the way around with the go-ahead run.
That was all for the Black-and-Purple against Chau, and Satou faced the same extra innings rule in the bottom of the fifth. The first batter lined a pitch to shortstop, and Laurence Hodgkins made a diving catch toward the hole and then made a nifty throw to second for the double play.
The final out of the game was not without the drama that makes all memorable games great. The Capitals’ leadoff hitter blooped a foul pop to first that Amané Sobue leaned against the fence to catch. After the ball popped out of his glove, Sobue, who started the game at second base, caught the ball again and held on as Durham rushed the field to celebrate advancing to the title match.
With the complete game victory, Satou (2-0) tied the single season and career marks for victories with his second in as many decisions. The rookie lefthander tossed five innings, giving up two unearned runs on three hits. Satou did not walk a batter and struck out four.
Chau (0-1) was the hard-luck loser for the Capitals, who dropped to 3-1 in the 2016-17 season and will take on the University of Southampton in the third place game. Chau also hurled all five frames, surrendering three runs, two earned, on two hits and three walks. He sent six down on strikes.
Video of the game is available via UCL’s Facebook page here.
Durham (4-1) will test Loughborough University for the second time in two days for the national title. Extra Innings will have a wrapup after the final, while you can stay tuned to the action on Twitter @Durham_Baseball.