For anyone who has followed the 20-year history of the Women’s Softball European Championship (WSEC), this year’s final results will come as no surprise. The Netherlands claimed their 10th WSEC title against Italy.
There has never been a team other than The Netherlands or Italy that has taken home the title. Furthermore, only in 1999 (Italy) and 2009 (The Netherlands) were either of the teams kept out of the top three.
In 20 years, Italy has taken the title 6 times against The Netherlands and, including this year, The Netherlands has returned the favor 8 times themselves. Italy has 10 gold, 8 silvers and 1 bronze medal from the tournament. The Netherlands has 10 gold, 6 silver and 3 bronzes for a total of 19 medals apiece.
The top 5 teams finished the tournament in fairly similar spots to their WBSC world rankings as well. The top five ranked European teams by the WBSC are The Netherlands (#9), Italy (#12), The Czech Republic (#13), Great Britain (#14) and Austria (#18). In the tournament those teams finished #1, #2, #4, #3 and #9 respectively.
The biggest surprise to come out of the tournament may have been the unexpected effect of a 24th team at the Women’s European Championship. Mother Nature never signed up for the event but she made a stronger appearance than anyone could have anticipated. Wind, rain, thunder and lightening were all in the lineup and, for days, managed to wreak havoc on the tournament schedule. In the end, nearly a full day’s worth of games were cancelled. When the opposition began playing through during the semis a rolling blackout was brought in on relief causing a 45-minute freeze in the action.
Tap photo for slideshow
In terms of team statistics the results will be less than surprising. The Netherlands led the event in batting with a team average of .400 including 17 doubles, 14 triples and 8 homeruns. They walked 47 times while striking out just 30 times. On the bags they successfully stole 22 in 26 attempts.
Great Britain, who finished the tournament in 3rd, had the next highest average with .350 and Italy finished in 5th behind Denmark (not placed) and Germany (11th), with a team average of .322.
On the individual standings side it is interesting to note just how well some of Demark’s players did considering the team is ranked last in the WBSC standings and did not place at the tournament.
At the plate it was Denmark’s Julie Monberg-Jensen who had the best average. Over 10 games and 28 plate appearances she hit .643 with 4 runs off 5 hits including a double. Her teammate, Kristina Nielsen had the next best average/at bats with 25 appearances and a .600 average. In the top 10 batters of the tournament only The Netherlands’ Damishah Charles, who had 20 at bats and a .600 average, appears on the individual leaders board for either of the top two teams. With more at bats to their disadvantage, in terms of leadership numbers, both Italy’s Laura Vigna (.529 over 34 plate appearances) and The Netherlands’ Britt Vonk (.519 in 27 appearances) round out the top 15.
In pitching it was the Netherlands on top once again with a team ERA of just .34 that included 12 wins and no losses or saves over 62 innings. They gave up just 3 earned runs all tournament while striking out 82. Italy’s staff had an ERA of less than one as well. Their .80 ERA included 10 wins and 2 losses plus a save over 70 innings where they struck out 73. The Czech staff (4th place) rounded out the top three with a 1.80 ERA, the only other team to remain below 2.00. They had a record of 8-3 over 70 innings with the highest strikeout total at 97.
Not surprisingly, The Czech Republic’s Veronika Pecková led the tournament in pitching. She posted a .64 ERA over 5 games with a 4-1 record in 33.0 innings of play. She struck out 58 while giving up just 3 earned runs and walking 5. Italy’s Greta Cecchetti pitched 31.1 innings over 7 games giving up 4 earned runs and striking out 47 while walking 5 for a .89 ERA and a 4-2 record with 1 save, the second best of the tournament. Slovakia’s Dominika Rapácková rounded out the top three with a 1.43 ERA over 29.1 innings earning a 2-2 record and a save. She struck out 24 while walking 7 and giving up 6 earned runs.
On the field both the Czech Republic and Great Britain (3rd place) had stronger defense than either of the championship game teams. Over 11 games the Czech Republic had 210 putouts, 62 assists, 6 errors and a .978 fielding percentage. Great Britain gave up one more error in 12 games with 196 putouts, 72 assists for a .975 fielding percentage. Italy came in 3rd on defense with 210 putouts and 89 assists for a .961 percentage while committing 12 errors. The Netherlands finished fourth with 186 putouts and 47 assists with 10 errors over 12 games for a .959 fielding percentage.
Individual leaders included Italy’s Laura Vigna who tied with Denmark’s Julie Monberg-Jensen for most hits at 18. Denmark’s Kristina Nielsen toped the runs scored board with 17 and The Netherlands’ Soclaina Van Gurp tied with Sweden’s Linnea Goodman for runs batted in with 16. On the bags it was Denmark’s Kristina Nielsen who went 12-12 in stolen base attempts. Pitching it was Veronika Pecková that topped the strikeout charts averaging 1.75/inning but Ireland’s Christine Campbell also averaged more than 1/inning with 52 in 48.2 innings of action.
The top three teams of the tournament, The Netherlands, Italy and Great Britain, are now qualified for the 2018 WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan.
All this might lead you to wonder, why bother? If the teams that are ranked the best always win, what’s the point of participating? This year, there were a record number of teams signed up to the tournament. 23 nations competed for the title and there were definitely some surprises headed into the semis. Even without a shot at the title however, the value in participating, for most of these teams, is simply the opportunity to play at all.
Even unranked teams played an average of 10 games during the tournament despite the rain cancellations. For some organizations, this increases their season totals two-three fold. Not all areas of the continent have strong programs yet. The opportunity to compete against the best in the world and do well provides leverage for those nations to take back to their countries to begin negotiations for improved facilities and better funding.
More importantly, it gives the women an opportunity to grow as players. When you play against different styles you learn from what you face. When you face people who have been doing it longer, with great success, you are bound to take lessons away with you.
It also keeps the higher ranked teams on their toes. Game tapes and scouting reports are rare in European softball. Facing new opponents means you can’t sit back knowing what to expect. Every at bat, every play in the field, is a surprise because you have no means of measuring your opponent’s abilities until you see them. As the numbers show, more than once, the individuals who finished statistically best were not on the teams that lead the competition. Some of that is because the pools were split for more competitive play. Some of it is simply they played better no matter who they faced. That is a lesson for everyone to take note of heading into future international play.
The more experienced teams were able to rely on strategy, as much as skill, to help them win their games. That kind of success comes from facing a variety of situations over a great deal of time. Looking at the numbers, the more exposure the smaller clubs are given to the game, the more even the playing field will, no doubt, become. And that is better for the game, not only in Europe, but around the world.