SÉNART, France — The second tier of competition for European clubs commenced on July 13 at the home of the Templiers, just southeast of Paris. At stake is qualification to the Champions Cup and its crown for the top club in Europe. The six teams this year come from Eastern Europe, represented by Minsk, the central part of the continent – in Dornbirn Indians, Draci Brno, and Therwil Flyers – and Western Europe’s Astros Valencia and host club Templiers Sénart. The tournament’s first day had only one game, with Dornbirn testing Minsk, the latter victorious, 6-1.
Clubs may qualify for the CEB Cup through several measures, including winning the third-tier Federations Cup, finishing neither first nor last in the previous CEB Cup, or relegation from the previous Champions Cup. The team finishing last in the standings is relegated to the Federations Cup. It is worth noting, though, that all of these positions are, in fact, saved for a club from the national federation of the requisite team, not that club itself. In essence, these six clubs are fighting not only for the success of their team, but their entire nation.
Dornbirn 1 – Minsk 6
The squad from Belarus’ capital had, by far, the longest journey to the tournament, particularly as virtually the entire team had only just returned from representing their nation in Moscow at the European Championship Qualifiers. Belarus pushed Russia to the limit in the pool title game before falling short, but the experience was excellent preparation for the CEB Cup.
Both nines had their aces on the mound. Lochlan Southee has been the best pitcher in Austria this year and tossed a no-hitter for Dornbirn in the season’s second week. Meanwhile, Yauheni Kurhun toed the rubber for Minsk after punching out 11 of Russia’s sluggers in the championship of the Moscow qualifier.
The early results were befitting of the pitchers, with neither side able to hit safely until Yauheni Kisliakou led off the bottom of the third with a single. To this point, Southee had whiffed four of the six hitters to face him. Another base knock was sandwiched between two more Ks, but Euros hero Siarhei Sokal ensured Minsk would not come up empty, lining a triple to center and scoring on a cutoff error.
A Joachim Frick double put the Indians on the board in the following frame, but the run was erased after an error led to a run for Minsk in the bottom of the fourth. A third defensive miscue put a runner on board in the fifth for Ilya Sladzinski, who crushed a ball over the left field wall for the 6-1 lead.
With Kurhun sailing on the mound and Frick’s two-bagger the only safety for Dornbirn, Minsk coasted the rest of the way. Of the two baserunners to reach first, only one made it to second, with Chris Squires and Kurhun dealing till the end. Southee sent down 10 on strikes in six innings with four earned runs, while Squires struck out three of the final six Minsk hitters. Kurhun had the best performance, though, punching out 12 in a one-hitter, allowing only two free passes and an unearned run.