2011

This good looking group of people are the 4th best team in the country! Read on to find out how it all went down...

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Back: Liam Carroll, Josh Peat, Nate Sumpter, Phil Kielthy, Jason Kittinger, Ben Woods, Mark Bowman
Front: Laura Vanderbijl, Jill Slachta, Carly Isaacs, Carolyn White, Claude Snape, Kristen Dodd

What a debut season! I enjoyed every minute of it, even though forming the team was quite possibly the most stressful time of my life! I must admit that I have lived a fairly leisurely existence up till now, but still...this was stressful! Trying to get people to commit to a theoretical team wasn't easy, we eventually decided to go ahead with interest from 6 guys and 3 gals. We probably had a 4th in Laura but even now I don't think she's sure! The guys have remained pretty much constant throughout (100% attendance from Liam Carroll, Jason Kittinger and myself) with the odd pick up here and there to cover for absences but the ladies have been much more varied, only Kristen Dodd made it to every tournament. Special mention should go to Ben Woods who was injured in the line of duty so missed 2 weekends (although he did show up to support at one of them) and Carly Isaacs who was out of the country for the only tournament she missed. 13 ladies played at least 1 day with us but only 6 were eligible for Nationals, oh well...6 is a good number!

Our first tournament back in the middle of May was Diamonds 1, a baptism of fire against the reigning NSL champs, H2O. In hindsight, this was the perfect first game as there was no pressure on us but it was a chance for us to play a game together, as a team, before facing opposition that we should probably beat. We lost 7-2, by no means a drubbing. We rebounded from this to end up 3&2 on our first day taking a few big scalps along the way, BT being one of the them in only our second ever game. We ended up 3rd in our group which meant we had to face 2nd place in the other group, the Mariners. After an uneventful first inning, we put on 8 in the top of the second and I started to get a little bit excited about a possible top 4 finish, that was until the 15 run bottom of the inning, it felt like it went on forever. But because of the crappy format, we were done...they somehow calculated that we ended up coming 7th? Still, I’d have taken it at the start of the weekend! 

2 weekends off and then we headed back to Slough for Diamonds 2. The original field of 16 teams had dropped to 15 which meant three groups of 5 with the winner of each group and the best 2 seconds going into the top tier on the Sunday. We were in what could only be described as the “Group of death” with BT, the Chromies, Pioneers and Slammers. We somehow made our way into the top tier with a 2&2 record guaranteeing us our first top 5 finish of our existence. The team went for Mexican that night and I spent most of the night trying to work out how we were going to survive with 4 women for the Sunday, Jason and myself were calling/texting/emailing everyone we knew who had ever held a bat and we were eternally grateful when Carolyn agreed to show up on 12 hours notice and we've been emailing her ever since! The next day saw us lose to H2O, get a bit of vengeance on the Mariners with a 20-4 victory, tie with the Dragons in a game that saw 2 injuries, Ben trying to barehand a come-backer and Jill wearing one of Jason's throws on the toe and then we run out of steam in a 22-2 loss to the Pioneers. As it turned out, a 3-4-1 record left us in 3rd place overall...our first podium finish!!

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Jason Kittinger representing in the Home Run Derby, unfortunately his lovely golf swing got him zero home runs...

After another few weekends off, we were then faced with consecutive weekends on opposite sides of the country in Canterbury and then Bristol. We were missing Jill and Nate who had both made a real impact on the field at D1 and D2 but they were back home in the States. We had picked up a few Muppets to fill in after they were turned away from 'B' comp because it was full. Again we faced H2O on the first game on the Saturday and it wasn't close...we hit 0.263 as a team and our only run came on a solo shot from Jason. It wasn't a great start and although we ended the day on 2&3, things just weren't clicking. After a night of fairly moderate drinking given the occasion (well, everyone except Paul Smith who was drinking G&T's out of a mixing jug because he couldn't find a glass large enough that he deemed worthwhile to use!) our misery was compounded by a 17-0 loss to the Chromies first thing on the Sunday morning, finishing the round robin in 6th place in our group. At least this put us in a page playoff to fight for 9th place, first came a high pressure game in sweltering heat against SPAM who were on a high having just won their first game in NSL against the Legends. It was close the whole way but we went out in the bottom of the last needing a run to win which was achieved without conceding an out. Straight on again against Maniacs who had lost to BT in the previous game. I don't recall much of this game but I think it went into a ninth inning and again, we won by 1. Two close games won but again, straight back on against BT who'd been patiently sitting in the shade for the past 3 hours keeping hydrated whilst we'd been fighting for a chance to face them and it showed, a very tired 16-6 loss to a team that we'd had the measure of up till now in the season. If it hadn't been for the D1 & D2 accomplishments, I'm sure 10th place would have felt like an achievement but we had tasted success and we knew we could and should have done better…

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Back: Liam Carroll, Billy McMahon, Mark Bowman, Paul Smith, Brendan McGrath, Jason Kittinger, Laura Vanderbijl, Ben Woods - Front: Kerri Palamara, Claude Snape, Meghan McMahon, Beth Bear, Carly Isaacs, Kristen Dodd

Bristol was the 4th event of the season and we were struggling for players. Penny Stanford very kindly stepped in at the last minute to make the squad a bare but quite talented 5&5. We had fairly high hopes thinking that with all the players playing all the time, if we could get hot and stay hot then we might cause an upset...unfortunately, we never got hot! We lost a close first game to the Slammers on what I think was a bad call, but we just couldn't get ourselves going and despite going 5&0 in the coin toss, we were 0&5 in the games. After a night out in Bristol, we finally showed up on the Sunday morning, scoring more runs in our first 2 games than we had in all 5 on the previous day. We then agreed to play one 7 inning game against the Legends rather than the impending double header of timed games to sort out 9th and 10th places but again our bats deserted us, losing 16-1 after 6 innings. Another 10th place

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Jason Kittinger leading the line after losing to the Legends in the Beer final

Diamonds 3 was the last NSL event of the season and the eagerly anticipated return of Nate and Jill, also known as the day of the headbands. (Team photo with us all wearing them below.) Only the top 8 teams in the NSL get to go to Premier Nationals and we were sitting in 8th at the start of the tournament. Come 5th and there's nothing the teams behind us could do to catch us...just to have our destiny in our own hands at this stage of our debut season was an achievement. A well played 8-6 victory against the Dragons was exactly the start we were after, another injury in a 7-7 tie against the Marvels with Lindsay Copenhaver jamming her wrist when going for a tag at home (which later turned out to be 2 fractures and a popped tendon!) was the only low point of the day which ended with us on 4-0-1, putting us top of our group. That night, we sat at the side of the pitches, ordered pizza, drank beer, did our Jager fines and watched Josh do back flips until the sun went down. The top 3 from our group joined the top 3 from the other group to compete for the cup (your previous results against the other 2 teams moving with you were carried over) so we were 1-0-1 starting the Sunday. The first game was against BT, 5-0 in their group and one of teams trying to take our spot at the Premier Nationals, the game felt close the whole way through but we ended up losing 9-5. We then lost 7-5 to the Chromies, "Ball game" was called with the scores tied but without us completing a full inning, so the scores reverted to the previous complete inning. A horrible way to end a timed game! The last group game before the placing games was against the Slammers, win this and I was fairly sure we'd end up in the 3rd/4th playoff game, obviously ensuring a place higher than 5th. It was a nervy affair but the bats came good when it mattered, we hit over 0.550 as a team including a Carly homerun and Nate going 3 for 3 with 3 RBIs and we ended up winning 11-7...we were going to Nationals!! Our attention swiftly turned to the Diamonds Series, if we could finish 2 places higher than Chromies then we'd take the series. Slammers and Chromies had identical 2-3 records but Slammers won the head to head so we thought we'd be facing the Slammers for the Series title...BUT...the Slammers captain had been texting the wrong number all day and were deducted points. The Chromies had obviously been working out their calculations as well because they promptly forfeited once they found out the news

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Back: Liam Carroll, Josh Peat, Jill Slachta, Nate Sumpter, Carly Isaacs, Laura Vanderbijl, Ben Woods, Carolyn White, 
Jason Kittinger, Kristen Dodd Front: Phil Kielthy, Mark Bowman, Lindsay Copenhaver

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Mark Bowman receiving the Series runners-up trophy from Craig 'Honey' Moran

My first ever Premier (A-Comp) Nationals! I wasn't really sure what to expect from the weekend as my only goal for the season was to get there, I never dared to think what might happen if we made it. We received a very complimentary preview during the week preceding Nationals: 

"This is the new team on the block in 2011, but the players have been drawn from a host of top B-grade teams including Muppets, Spartans, Comets Black and SPAM. Blue Steel has done incredibly well in its first season to qualify for the Premier Nationals and has taken a number of notable scalps along the way. The team missed out on winning the Diamond Series title by the skin of its teeth and will certainly win some games this weekend. But can they get hot and make a run for the title?"

The weekend arrived and my initial goal was to win a game. Dragons were our first opponents and the middle of the order stepped up...both Jill and Claude went 3 for 4 and Phil went 3 for 3 with a homerun and 6 RBIs. We won the game 11-6 and Ben reacted like we had just won the World Series, he never really calmed down all weekend! 4 more games on the Saturday and 3 of them were against the "Big 3"; H2O, Chromies and Pioneers. Both H2O and the Pioneers held us to 1 run a piece and the Chromies beat us 14-7 in a game where I don't think the scoreline reflects how the game felt but a couple of big pop-flies that scraped over the fence ended up making all the difference. And we won't mention the appalling call from the Umpire when he said I was thrown out at first by their Right fielder - only he and one other guy on the Chromies bench thought it was out! The other game of the day was 10-7 victory over the Marvels so the "Big 3" were running away with it, the Marvels and the Mariners hadn't won a game and the Slammers, the Dragons and us were all on 2&3 and fighting for the 4th place spot which would put you in the page playoff for the National title. We were favoured with an 11:30 start on the Sunday morning against the Mariners but 2 of the 3 cars (mine being one of them) only showed up with about 15 minutes till game time and the quality of the start reflected this. After 2 innings, we were 13-0 down. Going once through the line up must have served as an adequate warm up because we then remembered how to play...I think we were still 17-15 down and about 20 minutes still to play when the heavens opened and we were delayed by the best part of an hour. When play restarted, we carried on chipping away until the top of the 7th when we actually went ahead by a run. A lead off double from them meant a victory seemed out of reach but we managed to get the final 3 outs with only that 1 run crossing the plate for a 20-20 tie but it certainly felt like a win. The final round robin game against the Slammers ended up being a straight playoff for 4th spot, our run rate continued steadily and we were keeping them off the board. The score was 9-1, 2 down and runners on 1 & 2 when an E6 (sorry Liam, pitchers always remember this sort of thing!) loaded the bases for their number 3 hitter and as is always the way, the softball Gods punished us with a Grand Slam. After we had tacked on a few more runs, we went out to field in the bottom of the last with a lead of 6 to defend, they brought the tying run to the plate but she got no further after a ground out to Jill at 2nd base ended the game...could it be the fairytale of all fairytales?

It was the "Big 3" and us in the page playoff, so I'm going to class us as "The best of the rest!" To win it all, we had to beat each of them back-to-back-to-back, something we hadn't achieved even as a one-off throughout the regular season. The idea was pretty much as good as it got...after conceding 8 runs to the Pioneers (the eventual winners) in the bottom of the first, we just didn't have another comeback in us. The game ended 12-4 so it would have been close if we could just forget that first inning?!! 4th...but I don't mean to sound down, in all honesty, I would have laughed at anyone who told me we'd come 4th at the start of the season so I'm absolutely delighted, I always knew we had the ability but I thought it might take a season to gel? Huge thanks to everyone who has taken the field with us in this fantastic debut season! Special thanks to Paul Smith for donating a gazebo which came in very handy during the 45 minute rain delay at Nationals, Kristen says you're welcome back anytime as long as you keep away from her backside! I'm sorry to say that Carly is heading back to the States at the end of the year but she leaves us with a signed 'BLUE STEELE' (?) ball and the honour of being officially the first Blue Steel player to have their number retired! Onwards and hopefully upwards to next season, we'll be back in 2012 with new 'less-Legend-like' shirts and let's hope this wasn't beginners luck!!!

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Laura’s damning indictment of the Canadian education system!


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