Phoenix Come Runners-up at "C" Grade Nationals

Chalfont Phoenix travelled to Manchester last weekend to challenge for the title of "C" Grade National Champions. The run up to the championships saw the Phoenix lose two key players in Sally Maxted (torn anterior cruciate ligament) and Neil Turner (fractured finger), but new club member Louie Pereira stepped in to bolster the team and the Phoenix carried on undeterred.

Game 1: Manchester Lions

The first game of the tournament saw Phoenix play the Manchester Lions who had just won the "B" Grade Diamond tournament a couple of weeks before. Lions chose to bat first and their first innings set the tone for the rest of the game. Solid basehitting and aggressive base running saw the Lions put 11 runs on the board before Phoenix managed to get their third out. The target was set for Phoenix but they failed to rise to the challenge and never really woke up, putting only 4 runs on the board in the whole game and conceding a further 10 through fielding errors to lose the game 21-4. Not the start to the tournament that Phoenix were looking for, but perhaps just the thing they needed to get them going...

Game 2: Yorkshire Puddings

Next up Phoenix faced the Puddings in a very tight game. Captain Geoff Brown won the toss and put the Puddings in to bat first. Puddings kicked the game off with three runs to which Phoenix had no reply going 3 up, 3 down. However, Phoenix had a tight fielding innings only conceding 1 run, a home run at that, and followed this up with some solid base hitting from the middle and bottom of the order to score 3 runs and level the game. Phoenix continued to field well with the errors from the first game limited to just a couple and this kept the Puddings runs to 3, 0 and 2 in the 3rd, 4th and 5th innings. Phoenix stepped up in the 5th innings 9-5 down knowing that they couldn’t afford to lose another game and that 5 runs would seal the victory. Quite a challenge given that the bats hadn’t been swinging well. Davey Crossman led the way with a double base hit and was quickly followed by Clare Winter and Chris Yoxall both hitting doubles. This rallied the troops and further base hits from Sarah Wood and Helen Johnston combined with a fielding error saw Simon Beedell step up with Helen Johnston, the winning run, on second base. Simon kept his cool, hitting a double base hit and bringing Helen in to win the game. Phoenix had come from behind to sneak a win, confidence was sky high and this carried them through the remainder of the day without conceding another game.

Game 3: Legends

Phoenix played Legends straight after Puddings and were on a roll. Tight fielding saw them concede only 2 runs in the game with Davey Crossman taking two catches in the outfield and Rowie Beedell at catcher making some great plays to create three outs. Phoenix started the game returning to their shaky batting and scoring only 1 run in the first three innings, but a home run from Chris Yoxall at lead off in the fourth innings got the team going again and a further 6 runs were scored in that innings followed by another 6 in the fifth, including two home runs (one from a fielding error!) from Geoff Brown. Phoenix 14, Legends 2.

Game 4: Bristol Creamers

Phoenix faced one of their "bogey teams" next - Bristol Creamers, and it was time to put that demon to rest once and for all. It was another tight game with Phoenix winning 8-7 in the 6th innings. Phoenix’s fielding was top notch, errors were eliminated and great pitching from Martin White saw Creamers "fly out" a total of 11 times. Solid basehitting and aggressive base running (spurred on by calls of "be aggressive!" from Louie Pereira and calmly called round by base coaches Sally Maxted and Neil Turner) saw Phoenix grind out a solid win, but they needed to bat more consistenly if they were to win the title.

Game 5: Nottingham Swingers

Phoenix ended the day with a resounding 17-3 win against Nottingham Swingers who "couldn’t buy a win" all day. They carried on with their excellent fielding and once again got the bats going with notable hitting coming from Chris Yoxall, Geoff Brown and Annie Brothwell who all hit home runs.

Phoenix finished the day second in their group and in the competition to play for the trophy on Sunday.

Group 2, Sunday Morning

Traditionally, mornings don’t suit Phoenix who are slow to wake up and get going. However, Phoenix finally broke this affliction on the Sunday morning, racking up wins over Mets (6-2), Tigers (13-3) and Camels (12-7, Camels’ first loss of the tournament) before lunch to finish second in the group and set-up a semi-final against Manchester Lions - revenge time!

Semi Final: Manchester Lions

Although the Lions had the right to be the home team by virtue of finishing top of the Silver round-robin group, they chose to bat first, perhaps anticipating another decisive outburst in the top of the first inning. The Lions did take the lead in the first inning, scoring three runs to only one for Phoenix, but Phoenix had come on in leaps and bounds since early on Saturday morning and there were early signs that this would be a different game. A great throw to second by Phoenix first base player Sarah Wood prevented the Lions from scoring more runs in the top of the first, and a booming home run by Chris Yoxall in the bottom of the inning got the Phoenix on the board.

After that, the decisive factors were errors by the Lions and aggressive baserunning by the Phoenix, especially Sarah Wood and Helen Johnson. The Lions still led, 5-4, after four innings, but it was all Phoenix the rest of the way. Two runs in the bottom of the fifth put them into the lead and six runs in the bottom of the sixth sealed a 12-7 win that put the Phoenix in the Silver Final and left the Lions needing to play their way past the Camels to join them.

And so it was that for the third time in the tournament, Phoenix faced the Lions in a winner takes all game. The trophy was there for the taking...

Final: Manchester Lions

Batting first once again, the Lions threatened to end the game as a contest in the first inning. With one out, Lindsay O’Farrell and Lee Englestone singled, and with two out, Gordon Milson and Vic O’Farrell doubled. Suddenly, the Lions had three runs on the board, and when Adam Roberts walked and Angela Killian took the automatic walk, the bases were loaded and the game could have been over early. But Phoenix pitcher Martin White got Oscar Marenco to fly out to left field, and Phoenix breathed a collective sigh of relief.

By the end of the second inning, Phoenix had a 5-3 lead, pulling a run back in the first inning on a leadoff home run by David Crossman that just tipped the glove of Vic O’Farrell in right field, and then scoring four more in the second. Geoff Brown led off the second inning with a double, but was still on second with two outs. Then consecutive singles by Helen Turner, Mark Wardman and Annie Brothwell and a throwing error by Lions pitcher Adam Roberts produced four runs and a momentum swing Phoenix.

A single run by the Lions in the third inning (one of six RBIs in the game by Lions left fielder Gordon Milson) and another in the fourth (a walk and two groundouts) tied the game before Phoenix took the lead again in the bottom of the fourth. Geoff Brown, Helen Johnson and Martin White opened the inning with consecutive singles, but three Lions errors were the key to Phoenix cashing three runs and taking an 8-5 lead.

But that was when the momentum changed again, as the Lions’ offense woke up and the Phoenix bats went quiet.

A five-run outburst in the top of the fifth inning put the Lions in the lead for good. With one out, Carol Whittaker, Ed Watkinson, Lindsay O’Farrell and Lee Englestone singled, good for two runs, and one out later, a double down the right field line by Gordon Milson drove in two more and Gordon scored on a throwing error on the relay.

So it was 10-8 to the Lions, who scored another run in the sixth and two more in the top of the seventh to stretch their lead to 13-8 as Phoenix came up for their last at-bat. Things might have been closer but for a stunning grab by Lions pitcher Adam Roberts of a vicious line drive off the bat of Chris Yoxall in the bottom of the fifth inning when Phoenix were mounting a rally.

Phoenix didn’t go down without a fight. Annie Brothwell and Simon Beedell singled to start the bottom of the seventh, and David Crossman added another single with one out. But the Lions’ infield held their nerve and executed three force plays at the cost of a single run to take the title.

Round-up

A fantastic performance from Phoenix to attain their highest ever finish at "C" Grade Nationals and with the Lions automatically upgraded to "B" Grade for the next championships, Phoenix will be looking to go one step further in September.

Finally, a great big thank you to Neil Turner and Sally Maxted who travelled up to support the team despite not being able to play and whose excellent base coaching was key to Phoenix’s aggressive batting performance thoughout the weekend.

Squad: Annie Brothwell, Rowie Beedell, Helen Turner, Helen Johnston, Sarah Wood, Clare Winter, Mark Wardman, Chris Yoxall, Martin White, Davey Crossman, Simon Beedell, Louie Pereira and Geoff Brown (capt).

(Author: Clare Winter)