BRATISLAVA — Slovakia used three big innings to defeat Ireland by mercy rule and leave no doubt that it had earned the right to contest the European Baseball Championship for the first time. The Central European nation scored 42 runs in its four games, defeating ascendant Ireland twice by large margins, though Jakub Ižold once more played a sizeable role and added nine strikeouts to his jaw-dropping total of 31 in the tournament. Despite the consecutive losses to hot-hitting Slovakia, Ireland’s transformation from also-ran in C-Pool competition to the Euro contender should also be celebrated.
Slovakia 12 – Ireland 2 (7)
From Ireland’s perspective, the crucial inning may have been the first, when Leo Farrell, Fionn Gallagher-Hall, and David Gallagher hit consecutive singles to start the bottom of the frame. However, Ižold suddenly flipped the switch, striking out Denison University’s all-time home run leader, Brian McAuliffe, as part of a three-batter shutdown to end the threat.
Slovakia made the most of the reprieve, turning a leadoff walk and a hit batter into four runs, two of which came after two outs. The first run came around off the bat of Ižold, with a passed ball and a wild pitch leading to two more. A subsequent single from Michal Noga gave Slovakia a 4-0 lead.
A similar recipe led to another big outburst from the home team. After Ireland had two runners on in the bottom of the third, Ižold’s escape act once more worked, and Slovakia’s pitcher led off the next frame with a free pass. Alexander Václavík sent a booming double to left center that was retried before Ižold could head for home. Martin Brunegraf then simplified matters, drilling able to almost the exact same location, but with enough force to send it over the wall. Two more singles set up Jakub Horáček, who drove a pitch to deep right centre to score two more, though not quite enough for Horáček to leg out a triple.
With Slovakia now up 9-0, Ireland was stymied by Ižold, who looked more locked in than ever. The score remained unchanged until the bottom of the sixth, when a leadoff walk put a runner on base for Michael McGee. Ireland’s leftfielder made Slovakia’s ace pay for the free pass, crushing a round-tripper over the right field wall.
Consecutive plunkings to start the seventh allowed Slovakia to immediately erase the damage. Horáček, Dennis Pakši, and Ižold bashed one-base hits one after another, putting the game into mercy rule territory before an out was even recorded. Although McGee – who came in from left field to pitch after the hits – struck out the last three in the inning, the damage was done.
Ižold would stay on the mound for the bottom of the frame, and ploughed through the heart of Ireland’s order, sending down each one on strikes. The left-hander (2-0) finished with nine whiffs, giving him 31 for the tournament in only 16 innings. The base on balls issued in the sixth was the only one he surrendered in the qualifier, along with just three earned runs (1.69 ERA) and 11 hits (.180 average). Ižold was also one of two Slovakians with two hits and three RBI, with Horáček joining him.
Breaking Down the Finalists
Gallahar-Hall and McGee were the only players for Ireland with a brace of hits, with the former hitting .364/.533/.545 in the tournament. The Irish hit .290/.445/.379 collectively, with Gallagher (.444/.688/.778, 3SB) and McAuliffe (.455/.533/.545) doing all they could at the plate. A whopping 20 free passes (.372 OBP) in 30.2 innings led to a 6.46 ERA despite allowing the opposition to hit only.222 with a .316 slugging percentage.
The home side qualifies for the European Championship for the first time since it began senior national team competition in 1994. Slovakia featured a blend of patient hitting (.314/.427/.438) and solid pitching (3.60 ERA, 1.53 WHIP in 15 innings by pitchers not named Ižold), though there is no denying the role that Ižold played. Martin Brunegraf was the club’s top hitter (.421/.450/.789), with Pakši (.455/.538/.545) and Noga (.455/.500/.545) turning in good performances as well. The homegrown club (one of very few teams in the tournament without any American residents) will join neighbors Czech Republic and Ukraine in Italy in September, with the announcement of pools sure to attract interest.
June 30: Finland 1– Ireland 6
June 30: Hungary 2 – Slovakia 3
July 1: Ireland 16 – Hungary 3 (7)
July 1: Slovakia 12 – Finland 1 (7)
July 2: Hungary 5 – Finland 3
July 2: Ireland 5 – Slovakia 15 (8)
July 3 (Final): Slovakia 12 – Ireland 2 (7)