Yesterday, we offered an overview of the Under-23 European Championship, including the feats of both the top teams and several surprising ones (link). In a tournament where a single game strongly influences one’s final placement, every game truly counts. Today, we examine more closely the games that could have easily gone a different way, with one determining the final fate of two teams.
One day after no-hitting Austria, Great Britain found itself down 8-0 to Poland after three, before staging the largest comeback in the 48 games played. After posting single runs in the fourth and sixth against an excellent Pawel Sztejka, Great Britain finally wore down the Polish ace in the eighth, piecing together a seven-run rally. With one out in the inning, four Polish hurlers combined to allow the following line: hit, walk, walk, walk, hit batter, strikeout, single, walk, hit batter, hit batter, walk, strikeout.
Now losing 9-8, Poland could have been forgiven for failing to mount a comeback after a nightmarish inning, but Dominic Golubiewski rapped his third hit of the day to lead off the bottom of the eighth, scoring on an error. Neither club plated a run in the ninth, and Great Britain looked to have sealed the win as Juan Díaz hit a two-run double in a three-run tenth, but Poland coupled together two hits, an error, and a balk to knot the game at 12 after ten.
Jordan Edmonds played hero for Great Britain in the eleventh, singling home Richard Brereton, and Jonathan Fretheim closed out the game with his fourth inning of relief work in GB’s 13-12 victory. Britain had five hits, 10 walks, and three hit batters, while Poland totalled 16 hits and six free passes and lost a game in which its starting pitcher, Sztejka, struck out 12 in 7 1/3, permitting only a single safety.
Robin Roevens, who tossed a shutout against Lithuania, was once more behind one of the tourney’s most thrilling matchups. Taking on Spain, with the victor taking home a medal, Belgium’s ace was staked to a 1-0 lead in the first without Belgium hitting the ball out of the infield. In the fourth, the Belgian hitters added another in similar fashion, and it appeared that Roevens would cruise to his second straight shutout.
Spain, however, broke through in the seventh after a leadoff single by Roibert Decena (.250 average, .625 OPS in Euros), who moved to third after the sacrifice bunt attempt resulted in a wild throw. With two runners on and no outs, Pablo González (who batted only five times in six days) stroked a sacrifice fly, but Roevens avoided further damage. An inning later, another single by the first man up, Enrique Moredo, led to another unearned run, and the score remained drawn at two through regulation.
Playing with international tiebreaker rules in which the final two batters of the previous frame are placed on first and second, Spain quickly recorded two outs, but Roevens, now playing shortstop, singled home the go-ahead run. Lucas Rizzi finished off the game, and Belgium claimed third place in memorable fashion.
The final game of the tournament was arguably the most exciting, as the veteran hitters of the Netherlands and the Czech Republic duelled for ten innings. The Czechs scored three in the opening frame after a single run from the Orange, but did so via five walks, a wild pitch, and an RBI-single from Marek Chlup.
Its lead would grow to 5-1 by the third and remain that way until the Dutch posted a five-run sixth. After two walks, Denzel Richardson, a former Rockies’ prospects, laced a two-run single to plate two. Later in the frame, Kendrick Delima ripped a two-run double as the Netherlands took a 6-5 lead.
Not to be outdone, Voytech Menšik doubled to start the bottom of the sixth and came home on a groundball. The visitors tacked on single runs in the seventh and eighth, retiring the Czechs in the bottom of the latter frame, and the Netherlands was three outs away from an 8-6 win.
However, new pitcher Jerremyh Angela loaded the bases with one out, and hit Jakub Ondraček to force home a run. Ondraček received only two plate appearances in the tourney. Mensik once again came through, but this time by taking a full-count walk. Colin van Laar recovered to get two out of the frame on a pair of Ks, but the game went to extra frames before a crowd of 1,000 in Draci Brno’s stadium.
The fans were in for plenty more action as Rodney Daal, hitting .077, sacrificed the runners over. A flyout to centre and a strong throw kept a run from scoring, but Rachid Engelhardt drove home both with a base knock to left centre, and the Netherlands would take a 10-8 lead into the bottom of the frame.
After the tiebreaker runners were placed on base, back-to-back free passes put the Czech Republic within one, and van Laar struck out the side to seal the victory. Incredibly, of the eight batters that faced him, van Laar struck out five and walked three.
The championship lived up to expectations, but plenty of thrills were to be had by individual players. Tomorrow we highlight the tournament’s best batters, including two who contributed significantly to the thrillers examined here.