SÉNART, France — European baseball’s second-highest tier of club competition resulted in three nail-biting finishes, with Valencia pulling out a wild 10-9 victory over Minsk and host team Templiers Sénart dealing Draci Brno its first loss. The final standings came down to a tense discussion among officials, however, as Valencia, Sénart, and Draci all finished 4-1, while a rule violation changed the result of Therwil’s 6-2 victory over Dornbirn to open the day. The net result was a change of place for five clubs, none of which could overtake the mighty Dragons of Brno.
Dornbirn 2 – Therwil 6 (later changed to a 9-0 forfeit victory for Dornbirn)
Austria’s representative at the CEB Cup was given a serious second chance on Day 5, as Therwil secured fourth place with a solid 6-2 victory over Dornbirn. Ferlon Gijsbertha was electric for the Flyers, punching out 14 in six shutout innings, surrendering only two hits. Therwil’s lineup cobbled together only four hits – two from Christopher Horne – with eight free passes and six stolen bases to post its runs, four of them coming in the fourth in what had been a shutout game. In the process, the Swiss entry handed Indians’ ace Lochlan Southee his second loss of the tournament. Or so Therwil believed.
Big news broke at the end of the final day, however, as the CEB Technical Commission announced via Aleksandr Horvatić that Therwil’s Gijsbertha was ineligible for the competition and all games in which he played must be forfeited. Given that the right-hander led the Cup in strikeouts (19) and had a 3.00 ERA (fifth), his contributions were significant.
Horvatić‘s statement included the following: “Player is not eligible according to Article 28.E.1. of the CEB Tournament Rules, since it is documented that he played for another team in the period between the delivery of the Preliminary Team Roster till the start of the CEB Cup competition.”
Therwil had started Gijsbertha on the mound twice, in the field once, and used him as a pinch hitter on two other occasions, thus rendering all of the Flyers’ games 9-0 defeats. The consequence were more severe than simply losing two victories, however, as the last place-finisher’s federation is relegated to the Federations Cup. This means that not only will Switzerland move down to the third-tier competition for 2022, but that Austria will earn a pardon and remain in the CEB Cup next year.
Valencia 10 – Minsk 9
The middle game of the day might have included even more dramatics than the Technical Commission’s ruling, with the most eastern and western clubs riding a non-stop rollercoaster. Needing a win to stay in the running for promotion, Valencia found itself continually putting out fires set by Minsk, which almost erased a 9-2 deficit and had the winning run on first with no outs in the final frame.
It was the Belarussians that struck first after Yauheni Kisliakou singled and Ilya Sladzinski lined a double to left center. Kiryl Kazlouski roped a base knock over second and Minsk had the 2-0 lead.
The Astros got one back in the second, but saved the fireworks for the following frame. Two free passes set up Emmanuel Febles for a two-run triple, and he would score when Edison Valerio laced a two-bagger. After the first out was finally recorded, a Blake Ochoa double added a fourth run. Two more free passes then allowed Daniel Méndez two hit his own three-bagger, and Valencia held an 8-2 advantage.
After Ricardo Hernández escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the frame with his fifth and sixth strikeouts, the Spanish club posted another run in the fourth. In the subsequent frame, it was Minsk’s turn against Valencia’s second pitcher. A walk and a single with one out provided the red-hot Siarhei Sokal with a RBI opportunity and, as he has done so many times in the last two weeks, the slugging shortstop came through. A line drive through the left side somehow kept bouncing, and both runners scored as Sokal scampered into second with a double. Anton Pryputnevich sent him home with a single up the middle.
Valencia went to the bullpen with no one out in the sixth after Yauheni Kurhun dropped a base knock into left field and scored on a Yauheni Karalevich triple. Luis Galicia would end the threat, but Sokal once more caused trouble for the Astros with a leadoff triple in the seventh. Long-time Spanish national team pitcher Lowuin Sacramento was the next Valencian moundsman to swing the bullpen gate and promptly walked Uladzislau Barashenka on five pitches, the last four all missing the zone. Anton Pryputnevich immediately made him pay, lining a base hit down the right field line to reduce Minsk’s deficit to 9-8.
By this point, Sladzinski had taken over for Kurhun on the mound after the latter held out for five innings, during which he surrendered eight earned runs on 10 hits and six walks. Sladzinski, though, had been solid, getting a little help in the sixth from Kazlouski in center field, who threw out Roibert Decena in his attempt to leg out a triple. Given that Ochoa then doubled, the defensive gem proved significant.
By the ninth, however, a third double amounted to the only baserunner against the youthful two-way player. Ochoa, who was 4-for-5 with two doubles in the games, figured out a way to score without the need for a baserunner, torching a ball to deep right center for the all-too valuable insurance run.
Given their play this week, Minsk was in no way deflated by the dinger, as Kazlouski singled to start things off against Sacramento, moving to third on a Sokal single. Barashenka lifted a flyball to center to narrow the margin to one, but the Astros’ bullpen ace induced a groundball before punching out the final batter on three empty swings.
Never one to assign the win to reliever with more runs than innings, CEB’s scorekeepers gave Galicia the W, while Sacramento garnered the save with three innings of three-hit ball. Sladzinski allowed just the one run in four frames, lowering his Cup ERA to 4.15.
Kazlouski saved his best effort in the tournament for last with a 4-for-5 effort, while Sokal was 3-for-4 and a home run short of the cycle. Sokal hit .318/.375/.591, while Sladzinski finished at .389/.542/.778. Four players joined Ochoa with at least two hits for Valencia, with Sandel Cuevas notching three. Ochoa led the tournament in doubles (5), was third in the average (.500) and OBP (.583), and fourth in slugging (.944). After the final game, it was announced that the Astros’ Yosbany Torres took home the trophy for Best Pitcher after starting both of the club’s games on Day 4 and throwing 12 innings, striking out a dozen.
Sénart 6 – Brno 4
With promotion on the line for both clubs and a pair of aces on the bump, the final game of the tournament promised to be a memorable one. With Valencia also eagerly awaiting the result, the Templiers’ late-game heroics ensured that none would confuse them with the Hospitaliers, but fell slightly short of the ultimate objective.
It was, indeed, Sénart that opened the scoring against Radim Chroust, with sparkplug Alexander Perdomo leading the way. The tournament MVP beat out a single through the right side to begin the game and remained at first as the first out was recorded. After surviving a pickoff throw, Perdomo scampered to second on a crucial bit of thieving and then raced home as Oliver van der Wijst bounced a ball over the keystone sack.
It would be Brno’s turn next, with Jared Mortensen done in by a bit of bad luck and a well-struck single in the second. Přemek Chroust singled up the middle to start and an error put two on. A sac bunt by Martin Kalábek moved the runners over and, with two out, Jakub Hajtmar zinged a line drive to left center to give the Draci a 2-1 margin.
The Templiers would answer momentarily, though, receiving a gift of their own. A free pass to the first batter turned the lineup over, which brought Perdomo to the plate. The second-sacker drilled the second pitch he saw over the right field wall, and Sénart once more had the lead.
In the fourth, Hajtmar came through in the clutch again, ripping a two-out double off Mortensen – who had registered the last four outs by K – that scored Pavel Budský, on first with a hit. Sénart’s starter would get his third whiff of inning to keep the score level, the de facto championship game proving to be a thriller.
Chroust and Mortensen both seemed to get stronger in the middle innings, with Brno’s right-hander retiring 11 consecutive through the end of the seventh. Mortensen, meanwhile, sent down 12 on strikes as the game moved to the eighth, when both clubs finally broke through.
Pinch hitter Tanguy Meurant poked a ball through the right side to start, returning the Templiers’ nine to the top of the order. Two attempts to nab Meurant allowed – guess who – Sénart’s shortstop to get comfortable. With the count run 2-2, Perdomo lashed at the next offering, depositing the go-ahead homer over the fence in right for his fourth four-bagger of the Cup. After a walk, Filip Čapka entered for Brno, surviving a van der Wijst double to quell the rally.
Needing a pair of markers to tie the game once more, Eugene Helder whacked a ball to the wall in right that bounded out of the park after touching down. Back-to-back flyballs halved the deficit, but Mortensen surrendered nothing else. After a wild pitch on strike three, a walk, and a throwing error on a grounder led to another Sénart run in the ninth, Mortensen closed out the gem with a K and a double play.
Mortensen (1-0) scattered eight hits and just one walk across the nine innings, striking out 13 and allowing only two earned runs. Chroust (1-1) had seven strikeouts and a single free pass himself, but gave up five runs on seven hits in seven.
Hajtmar drove in three with his three hits and Přemek Chroust added another hit to his tournament-leading .563 average. That mark earned the Draci’s third baseman Best Batter, and Chroust also topped the tourney in OBP (.636), finishing with nine hits and seven runs.
Despite Pabel Manzanero’s back-to-back two-homer days to go with 10 tournament runs (first), 11 hits (tied for first), and 10 RBI (tied for second), most valuable player honors went to the electric Perdomo, who offered a significant contribution in all five of the Templiers’ outings and drove in as many as Manzanero, equalling his homer total, and scoring nine runs himself. The two finished with virtually identical OPS marks (Manzanero slightly ahead at 1.136 to 1.125).
Given the loss by previously undefeated Brno, though, determining who earned the Cup and promotion to Europe’s top tier would be more complicated. With no championship game scheduled, it came down to Total Quality Balance (TQB), the WBSC’s method of determining run differential that factors innings into account. Given the Dragons’ domination until Day 5, its TQB was clearly the best, leaving Sénart and Valencia on the outside looking in after impressive performances. They, however, secure places at next year’s CEB Cup, with Minsk and the Indians of western Austria also set to return.
By Gabriel Fidler
Standings without Therwil Penalties