Leicester Blue Sox u18’s closed out another successful season at the BBF Youth National Baseball Championships last weekend, with a pair of exciting games against top quality opposition.
It was a coming of age tournament for the Blue Sox Juniors programme, with the nucleus of our u18 team having played together since it’s inaugural year of 2012.
Following the first couple of seasons coming to terms with the quality gap between new and existing programmes, the Juniors came into their stride last year with their first-ever league wins and an impressive silver medal finish at the BBF Youth North Baseball Championships.
At the start of 2015, Team Coach Phil Rudkin set his sights on going one better this season, knowing that being the top team in the North would mean a first-ever appearance at the BBF Youth National Baseball Championships for Leicester Blue Sox.
With a 3-1 regular season record under their belts, the u18’s still needed to be the top placed team in the round-robin YNBC North Qualifier in June. They achieved this feat by the narrowest of margins; a count-back win against last year’s North Champions Cartmel Valley and another nerve-jangling one-run win against regular foes Halton Polecats.
Following this success, the u18’s continued to play baseball
all through the summer with players rostered on both Blue Sox adult teams, as well as star
player Rory Chandler’s debut appearance for the GB Juniors in the Czech
And so to Farnham Park, the National home of baseball and softball – a real 'field of dreams' right here in the UK. The place where everybody wants to play, but only a privileged few have in its' relative short history.
A tough draw ensued with the Blue Sox being seeded fourth and paired in the semi-finals against last year’s u17 Champions, the LYBL Bulldogs, skippered by two of the top coaches in this country Miguel Rodriguez and Cody Cain.
Semi-final: Leicester Blue Sox 1 LYBL Bulldogs 6
Arriving at Farnham Park with the first semi-final reaching an abrupt conclusion seeing the London Mets putting old rivals Herts Harriers to sword in record time (with a 13-3 mercy win) thoughts started to turn towards the outcome of the second game of the day.
With Chandler starting on the hill for the Sox, Coach Rudkin knew his team had a real chance of competing, so long as everyone on the team played their part and to the best of their ability.
Going 3-0 down in the first inning was a bit of a sucker punch, but the boys in light blue regained their composure with a much better defensive display in the next sequence of plays.
Dropping just the one run in the second, Chandler then emphatically shut down the Bulldogs in the next three innings assisted by some great defensive
plays from both the infield and outfield.
Blue Sox then made it a little bit more uncomfortable for the LYBL coaches when one run came across the plate, to keep the game close at 4-1. Leicester’s bench and nearby support was electric!
When Chandler’s pitch count was up, Max Bennett came on in relief and with that, the break in pitching enabled the intensity of the preceding innings to die down, allowing the Bulldogs to re-group and re-focus.
Bennett pitched well to keep the Sox in the game, well away from mercy loss territory, but the Blue Sox bats were quiet when it mattered the most and the Bulldogs ultimately marched on towards the final, adding a further two runs at the conclusion.
6-1 was certainly no thrashing and Leicester earned the praise of
LYBL’s coach Cody Cain who was impressed with how well the Blue Sox pitching
and defence kept the game close for so long.
The LYBL players are veterans of the European Little League and Varsity Circuit, so going toe to toe for a complete game was a huge marker demonstrating just how far the Blue Sox Juniors programme has come in a little over three years.
The Blue Sox players had their heads held high at the end of
day one, looking forward to celebrating a great performance that evening at an arranged team meal with their team-mates and family.
Bronze Medal Game: Leicester Blue Sox 3 Herts Harriers 16
Day two was a very early start, arriving in thick fog for an 8.30am warm-up and 10.00am first pitch.
The atmosphere at Farnham Park this early in the morning was a quite subdued, even for a third / fourth place match.
The prize was the opportunity of a first-ever competitive
win against the Herts Harriers, who have been a bit of bogey team for the
Junior Sox over the past four seasons. Last year, Leicester came very close to
breaking this hoodoo with an agonising one-run defeat at an inter-league
fixture at Grovehill Park.
Could the Sox round off their 2015 season with a historic win against their old foes?
Charlie Oxley took to the hill facing some hungry Herts batters. The key difference between the teams, was making things count when runners were in scoring positions. Whilst the Harriers got players across the plate, the Sox were continually stranded with bases-loaded; an extra hit or so away from matching the Harriers inning by inning.
And with that the Herts lead continued to build; it was
broken up momentarily when Rory Chandler brought in a three-run inside the park
homer, but any further signs of a comeback were snuffed out in the top of the
fifth to deliver a mercy loss to the Sox.
The disappointment of a second YNBC defeat proved to be short lived. The players left Farnham Park with good spirits and memories of a fantastic weekend of top quality baseball.
Leicester Blue Sox u18 Team Coach Phil Rudkin said “I’m
incredible proud of all my team who stood up well facing their strongest opponents
to date. We handled ourselves with great class and a spirit that endeared us to whoever we came into contact with. This group of boys continues to justify our belief within the club, that the future looks very healthy”.