This was the first ever softball game played in Gozo and it was a great advert to the sport. The game was played well, with some superb fielding, terrific hitting and an astonishing finish!
On the 11th of November, 2012 the Għajnsielem Redcoats won their first ever match when they beat the Mellieħa Grand Slammers 8-7 in a match played at the Xagħra Ground. This was the first ever softball game played in Gozo and it was a great advert to the sport. The game was played well, with some superb fielding and terrific hitting. It was the drama, however, that mesmerized the large crowd in attendance.
The game was attended by Dr. Chris Said, the Minister for Justice, who threw the ceremonial first pitch to Redcoats manager Charles E. Attard, MABS President Mr. Mario Debono, the Mayor of Mellieħa Mr. Robert Cutajar, the Mayor of Għajnsielem Mr. Francis Cauchi, the vice-mayor of Għajnsielem Mr. Franco Ciangura, the Għajnsielem councillor in charge of sports Mr. Larry Buttigieg, councillors Mr. Stephen Mercieca and Mr. Peter Caruana and executive secretary Mrs. Amanda Abela. The Mellieħa and Għajnsielem local councils are both known for their support of sports, baseball and softball in particular, so it was fitting that two teams representing these localities featured in this historic match. The pre-game festivities consisted of a player-by-player and coach-by-coach introduction and the singing of the national anthem by Daphne Xuereb, the sister of the Redcoats player Denise Xuereb who struck the blow that brought the Għajnsielem team its first win of the season.
After the match the two teams returned to The Clubhouse for lunch. The Redcoats demonstrated their respect for the human and athletic qualities of the Grand Slammers by forming an impromptu guard of honour upon the visitors’ entrance to The Clubhouse. This was truly a special day that will long live in the memory of these 13 young girls from Għajnsielem who have captured the hearts of the entire community.
The Grand Slammers went quietly in their first at-bat when only one runner reached base. The partisan crowd in attendance was pleased to see the crisp fielding of the Redcoats but now they wanted to see if their heroes could hit the ball. Captain Kacey Grima led off with a base hit. Jasmine Bonnici and Giulia Lateo each made good contact and managed to move Grima to third base. Up came clean-up hitter Kirsty Bonnici who drove her home. Advantage Redcoats.
In the second inning both teams went down quietly, with only Denise Xuereb reaching base for the Redcoats. The sides were playing solid ball, and there was no hint of the fireworks that were yet to come.
Then the Grand Slammers’ bats woke up in the top of the third. There was very little the Redcoats could have done to prevent the three runs that catapulted the Mellieħa team into the lead. The Għajnsielem crowd was concerned. Would the Redcoats respond? Yes they would. Their reply was Għajnsielem’s first inside the park home run of the season struck by Kacey Grima. The Grand Slammers’ lead was cut to one.
Terrific fielding by the Redcoats kept the score 2-3 in the top of the fourth. It was the turn for the Redcoats’ middle and lower order hitters to bring the crowd to life in the bottom of the fourth inning. Kirsty Bonnici led off with a hit. Estelle Scicluna reached base safely as well. Martina Cardona struck out. Denise Xuereb reached safely to load the bases. Eden Debono’s ground out drove in Bonnici for the tying run. Then Scicluna and Xuereb both scored on Alicia Said’s infield hit. The Redcoats led 5-3 and were on the brink of history.
They were three outs away from their first ever victory. Would they retire the Grand Slammers in order? The answer is no. The Grand Slammers’ lead off hitter reached base. Next up, the Redcoats registered an out. They were now two outs away from victory. But their opponents are not called the Grand Slammers for nothing. Vicious hitting and aggressive base running up-ended the Redcoats and after all was said and done the Grand Slammers had scored four runs, to take a 2-run lead over the stunned Redcoats.
Thankfully, the Redcoats had the top of the order up for their last at-bat. Kacey Grima led off with a single. Jasmine Bonnici followed with another single. Giulia Lateo loaded the bases. The crowd was going wild. The Redcoats, who had just snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, had the winning runs on base with nobody out. This was the same scenario as in their away match against the same opponents. Kirsty Bonnici was at the plate. One swing from her could end this game. She is one of two or three Redcoats who can launch the ball. She hit the ball well, but the Grand Slammers showed their fielding capabilities by throwing out Grima at home plate. Estelle Scicluna made solid contact, but straight at a sharp Grand Slammer infielder and Jasmine Bonnici was thrown out at home. The situation was bleak. Martina Cardona, who had struck out in her first at bat, made amends by reaching base after the Grand Slammers failed to throw Giulia Lateo out at home plate. 6-7 Grand Slammers. Up steps Denise Xuereb with the bases loaded. The pressure was tremendous. The Redcoats looked set for yet another heart breaking loss. Strike one. Strike two. The Redcoats were one strike away from a cruel defeat.
The sun came out from behind the clouds, and Denise Xuereb blanked out the noise that was coming from her family and friends in the crowd. She swung at the next ball and pulled it high over the third baseman and into short left-field. Kirsty Bonnici scored easily. Third base coach Michelle Grima sent Estelle Scicluna towards home. It was a race for glory for the Redcoats’ second base-man. She beat the outfielder’s throw and bedlam ensued. The Redcoats had won in walk-off style.
The Għajnsielem crowd is used to nail biting finishes involving their football team but this was Hollywood stuff. They loved it and celebrated with a noisy carcade all the way from Xagħra to Għajnsielem. Deep down even the visitors, who have watched their players play this sport for years, loved to see the sheer delight of the newborn Redcoats and their supporters. This could be the start of something beautiful.