France and Switzerland won their respective European Championship qualifying groups on Saturday, advancing to next year’s three-team playoff for the final two spots at the 2023 tournament in Czechia. Hungary and Slovakia will meet in Belgrade on Sunday for the second time in as many days to determine the third playoff qualifier.
France, who were relegated at the 2021 European Championship in Italy, coasted to an 8-1 victory (box score) over host Bulgaria to cap an undefeated run at the qualifying tournament in Blagoevgrad. The French, who faced Ireland and Slovenia in addition to Bulgaria, were never challenged in their four contests, finishing with a +55 run differential. Mael Zan (3 HR, 2.303 OPS) and Mathis Meurant (1 HR, 1.887 OPS) led the way for Les Bleus.
In Utena, Lithuania, strong pitching was the story of the day. Switzerland’s Jonah Schaller (7IP, R, 11K) and Lithuania’s Marius Balandis (9IP, 4H, 14K) bewildered opposing batters, but the Swiss capitalized on an error and a wild pitch to score two runs in the first inning, giving Schaller and reliever Ryan Byrne (2 IP, 3K) all the offense they needed as Switzerland booked a 3-1 victory (box score).
On Sunday, Hungary and Slovakia will meet for the second time in as many days after the two wrapped up group play in Belgrade on Saturday. Hungary won the contest 9-8 (box score) after a late-inning rally, leaving three teams with identical 3-1 records in the qualifying group. Norway, who was handily defeated by Slovakia but in turn vanquished Hungary in extra innings, lost the tiebreaker, setting up a rematch between Hungary and Slovakia, who finished last at the 2021 European Championship.
For complete results, statistics, and links to live streams, visit the WBSC Europe competition page.