For a team without any experience, which doesn’t have a proper field where to practice, and which plays only a handful of games each season, the Redcoats did really well during the tournament!
After the closing ceremony of the Memorial Civelli XXXIV International Softball Tournament, at Castions Delle Mura, Italy, there were mixed feelings for the Għajnsielem Redcoats. The expectations going into the tournament were justified, the team demonstrated that the level that the players are presently at, makes them competitive against most U18 teams from Italy and the Czech Republic. There were players who performed at their full potential while others succumbed to the pressure of their first experience of an international tournament. The biggest plus is that the players have improved as a result of the intensive preparation leading up to the tournament as well as through the experience gained during competition.
The Għajnsielem Redcoats didn’t know much about the level of the teams that they were to face during the tournament. They expected opposing batters to get hit off the Redcoats pitchers, even hitting home runs. They also expected the opposing pitchers to be overpowering, and very difficult to hit. The Redcoats knew that it would be very difficult to beat such powerful teams. The expectation of having to face strong opponents was justified as they were playing in a tournament stacked with Italian teams, currently ranked top in Europe, and teams from the Czech Republic, currently ranked 3rd in Europe. Still, the Club expected to manage to win at least two games and finish middle of the table.
In the first game of the tournament against SK Joudrs Praha Blue, the Redcoats had a very promising start as lead-off batter, Estelle Scicluna, walked on four pitches. She attempted to steal on the next pitch and was incorrectly called out by home plate umpire when the short stop of Joudrs didn’t manage to apply a tag. The bad call had contrasting impacts on the two teams. Joudrs starting pitcher, who up to that point didn’t throw a single strike, went on to strike out five of the next nine hitters she faced, whereas, the bad call shattered the confidence of the inexperienced Redcoats. During the 0-14 loss, the Redcoats didn’t register a single hit, struck out eight times, and could only manage two walks. The lack of confidence reflected on the fielding as well, with the Redcoats committing four costly errors.
Although the second game against Bulls Rescaldina came immediately after the first, with the Redcoats barely having time to re-group, there was an improvement. Estelle pitched three innings, faced just 10 hitters, giving up a solitary base hit, and struck out five players, without allowing any runs to score. She gave way to Monique Attard with her team leading 2-0. Defensively, the Redcoats were also better, committing just a single error. They managed their first base hit and scored the first run of the tournament, when in the 2nd inning Rebecca Grech batted in Simona Refalo who had reached on an error. The Redcoats would have scored more runs if it wasn’t for two costly base running errors in the bottom of the 3rd inning. The other run was scored when Kimberley Scerri had a base hit to right field to drive Daphne Cassar home.
The 2-8 final score was very harsh on the Redcoats. The game against Bulls Rescaldina was one that they should have won. Estelle was dominating their hitters, but due to tournament rules she could only pitch three innings. Pitchers were restricted to a maximum of three innings in a game and five innings in a day.
Following the games on Day 1, the opening ceremony of the tournament was held at the softball field of Friul ’81.
The experience gained from Day 1 helped the Redcoats to perform much better in Day 2. Pitching, fielding and hitting all improved during the first game. The 4-4 draw against Joudrs Praha was quite impressive with the Redcoats pitchers combining to have three innings of the four played being 3-up-3-down, not allowing a single opponent to reach base. Monique Attard, who was somewhat overwhelmed on Day 1, looked more confident, while Estelle Scicluna was relentlessly ruthless striking out four of the six batters she faced while getting the other two to ground out.
Daphne Cassar, Rebecca Grech, and Estelle Scicluna made outstanding defensive plays, whereas, Kimberley Scerri, Simona Refalo, Corinne Grima, Estelle Scicluna, Marilise Vella, Monique Camilleri, and Marija Vella provided the offence, with base hits and/or scoring runs. The players were also very vocal as they were chanting to help their teammates engineer a three-run rally in the top of the final inning to come from behind to tie the game.
It was a great satisfaction for the players and their coaches to obtain a positive result in such a highly competitive tournament and the celebrations at the end of the game were justified.
The second game against Blue Girls Bologna was another one that the Redcoats should have won. Seven fielding errors, and hitting into two inning-ending double plays with the bases loaded on consecutive innings, resulted in a 4-12 loss for the team from Gozo. In this game the Redcoats managed 11 base hits in four innings, and had only four runs to show for their efforts.
Kimberley Scerri continued with her hot streak with two base hits and two runs batted in (RBI). Daphne Cassar and Marilise Vella also had two hits, while Estelle Scicluna, Corinne Grima (RBI), Simona Refalo (RBI), Rebecca Grech, and Monique Camilleri all had a base hit.
The major news at the end of Day Two was that Redcoats pitcher, Estelle Scicluna, pitched a total of nine innings and did not allow a single earned run! She had an earned run average (ERA) of 0.00! That put her joint leader for the Best Pitcher of the Tournament award. That is something to be proud of for the Redcoats as well as for Estelle herself.
For the third day the Redcoats had to play against an SK Joudrs team, which was not ideal, but given that they felt that they were better than Joudrs Orange, and having just missed beating them the previous day, the girls in red were looking forward to the final game with optimism. Unfortunately, however, the Redcoats showed up for the final on early Sunday morning physically and mentally exhausted following four nights when they had trouble sleeping. This was compounded with the aches and pains of four gruelling games.
In the top of the 1st inning, Kimberley Scerri hit a triple down the right field line which scored Estelle Scicluna. Kimberley later scored to give the Redcoats a 2-0 lead. The start was quite encouraging but defensive lapses cost the Redcoats dearly as they were down 2-5 by the end of the 2nd inning. They did pull a run back at the top of the 3rd inning, but the Redcoats never looked like they could mount a rally to overturn the deficit. The game finished 3-9 as Joudrs scored another four runs in the last inning.
The Redcoats were very keen to finish on a positive note, and the loss was quite deflating. To make matters worse two of the five runs the Joudrs scored while Estelle was pitching were earned, and as a result she finished runner up for the Best Pitcher of the Tournament award. The run that effectively cost Estelle the award happened when a Joudrs runner stole home from 3rd as the catcher was returning the ball to the pitcher with none of the players minding the base runner. That was purely down to lack of experience, and it will certainly be a lesson learned for all the players.
PHYSIOTHERAPIST MICHELLE ZUBER
A key member of the Redcoats who travelled to Castions Delle Mura was physiotherapist Michelle Zuber. The coaching staff was aware of the physical demands of playing five games in three days, not to mention the potential injuries, as well as the aches and pains resulting from the games. As it turned out Michelle was undoubtedly the most popular member of the team during the tournament with all the players lining up for massages and for treatment.
Michelle was quickly called into action when short stop Ilena Buttigieg twisted her ankle half way through the first game. Thanks to the efforts of the Redcoats physiotherapist, Ilena was available for selection for the placing final, and she made an appearance as a pinch hitter late in the game. There were several players with nagging injuries, like catcher Corinne Grima, who plays the most physically demanding position. Michelle often stayed till the early hours of the morning treating the players and doing her best to get them ready for the next game.
Coming into the tournament the Redcoats expected to be competitive, and to be able to match their more experienced opponents. The solid performances of their two pitchers over the course of the domestic season gave the team reason to hope that they can surprise their more quoted opponents. However, despite the reputation of Estelle Scicluna as a very promising right handed pitcher, nobody expected her to do as well as she did at this tournament, only allowing a couple of avoidable runs in the final game to miss out by a single run on winning the Best Pitcher of the Tournament Award.
Over three days Estelle played five games, pitched 12 innings, faced 57 batters, allowed nine hits, walked eight, and struck out 20, a third of the batters she faced. The two earned runs in twelve innings gave her an earned run average of just 0.83, which, at this level, is quite impressive. She finished runner up to Kateřina Kindermannová, the pitcher of Beavers Choumutov of the Czech Republic.
Estelle rose to the occasion. She was resilient, unphased by the pedigree of her opponents. She always cherishes the opportunity to lead her team to new challenges, and this tournament was just another challenge for her. This is an amazing accomplishment for the very promising 18-year-old pitcher from Gozo.
With 12 hits from 18 at bats, and a batting average of 0.667 during the MABS Fastpitch Softball Championship Series, Kimberley Scerri is the favourite to win the Best Hitter Award of the competition. It should not have surprised anyone that Kimberley did so well at the tournament. With the exception of the 1st game, when none of the Redcoats managed to get a base hit, she registered a base hit in each of the other four games. Overall, Kimberley had six base hits including a triple, and five runs batted in from 12 plate appearances, giving her a batting average of 0.545. None of her teammates managed more than two hits. When one considers that Štěpánka Boučková, also of Beavers Choumutov, who won the Best Hitter Award of the tournament, had eight hits from 12 at bats and a batting average of 0.667, Kimberley’s achievement is truly remarkable.
Kimberley joined the Għajnsielem Redcoats at the start of last season, and immediately demonstrated that she has the potential to become a great player. Her height and athleticism does give her an advantage, however, her poise under pressure allows her to perform at her best. She is a great asset for the Redcoats, and in the near future she could be an important player for the Maltese softball national team.
During the preparatory stage for the tournament, the coaching staff of the Redcoats expressed concern about having Corinne Grima catch all of the five games due to the physical and mental demands of playing that position. Although, the Redcoats have two back-up catchers, Corinne is the most experienced, and had a great season playing that position in the domestic competitions. As a result, it is understandable why the coaches insisted on playing her at catcher during every inning of the five tournament games.
It is quite remarkable that Corinne was able to pull it off giving 100% throughout despite several nagging injuries. During the tournament she was responsible for 22 put-outs, and had two assists, while committing four errors. Most importantly, Corinne gained invaluable experience playing at such a high level international tournament.
A quick glance at the tournament statistics for the Redcoats provides clear evidence where the team needed to do better to win.
Offensively, 31 strike-outs and 19 base hits from 80 at bats for a batting average of 0.238, was quite poor. Kimberley Scerri had 6 hits, while there were six players with two base hits each. There were two players who struck out three times, three who struck out four times, while one player struck out five times. Estelle Scicluna was the only player in the line-up who didn’t strike out. The number of strike-outs should have been at around 20 whereas the number of base hits should have been around 30.
Defensively, the 15 errors stick out like a sore thumb. An average of three errors a game might not seem like much, but in the game against Blue Girls Bologna, the Redcoats committed seven errors, which cost them the game that they were leading 2-0 after three innings. The number of errors should have been well below ten.
Finally, pitching is the key to softball. A great pitcher can make a bad team look good, and a good team look great. Teams depend on their pitchers, which is why pitchers practice more than the other players, and which is why they get more attention than the rest of the team. The Redcoats need to have three pitchers who are at around the same level as Estelle Scicluna in order to successfully compete at such international tournaments.
Both offensively and defensively there were mistakes which the statistics above do not pick up, and such mistakes were not always the fault of the players. There were too many base running errors, and maybe the positioning of the outfielders could have been better, however, as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.
Effectively the Redcoats underperformed as a team. They were not used to competing at such a level, and they were not used to playing multiple games over three days. In addition, softball is particular as a sport as the focus is continuously on a single player. When pitching, as well as when hitting, all the pressure is on that individual. Unless the player is able to cope with that pressure, she will not perform at her best. Some of the players did not expect that they would feel such a pressure as they never experienced it. As a result, they were not prepared for it, and ended up being overwhelmed. Others were able to handle it, and they played as well as they did in domestic competitions.
The softball team of the Għajnsielem Redcoats has been participating in the competitions organised by the Malta Baseball & Softball Associations for the past four seasons. For the past three summers they travelled abroad to participate in training camps. In hindsight, it was a mistake not to participate in such tournaments instead. It is true that the players improved considerably over the past two seasons, and they did as well as they did at the XXXIV Memorial Civelli tournament because they have become good softball players. However, if last summer, or the one before that, the Club had opted to participate in tournaments rather than training camps, they would have been better prepared this time round.
Still, one should look at the bigger picture, and coach Lisa Maulden, who did a great job coaching the Redcoats during the tournament, summed it up best. “For a team without any experience, which doesn’t have a proper field where to practice, and which plays only a handful of games each season, the Redcoats did really well during the tournament!“
The Għajnsielem Redcoats softball team has worked very hard over the past two seasons to be in a position to compete against teams from Europe. Participating in the XXXIV Memorial Civelli International Softball Tournament was intended to gauge the progress, while at the same time help the team to gain valuable experience. The performances during the tournament provided plenty of proof that the Redcoats are at the level of several Italian and Czech U18 teams, but lack depth and experience.
The focus of the Redcoats now shifts on hosting the SIZZLING FASTPITCH INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENT in Gozo in mid-August, with the participation of two top Dutch softball teams, Sparks Haarlem and BC Herons. The Redcoats will try to use the experience gained at the XXXIV Memorial Civelli International Softball Tournament to perform at their best and win.
The Club received financial assistance from SportMalta and the Għajnsielem Local Council to make participation in this International tournament possible. The Għajnsielem Redcoats would like to thank both SportMalta and the Għajnsielem Local Council for their support.