By Simon Fitzjohn
Mike Nickeas’ 2RBI single capped a ninth-inning rally as Great Britain continued their fairytale adventure with a nail-biting 10-7 victory over Sweden.
The magnitude of the win cannot be overestimated – not only have Team GB now qualified for the Baseball World Cup for the first time in their history, but the team is in a prime position to steal one of the Olympic playoff berths up for grabs.
For a long time in the game though Beijing and Havana seemed light years away as the Swedes capitalised on British mistakes to open up a 7-3 lead.
Starter Mike Renery was pulled by coach Stephan Rapaglia without recording an out – giving up four walks and having major location problems.
He was replaced by Sam Jew, who although inducing a number of ground balls, was unable to stop Sweden opening up a 4-1 lead on RBI groundouts.
After a Swedish throwing error allowed Bradley Marcelino to cut the deficit, Sweden hit Jew hard in the second to score another two runs.
On came Geoff Freeborn and he steadied the British ship with a clutch 5.2 innings of relief, giving up just one further run on only three hits.
GB began the fightback in the third, with Marcelino singling to score Ian Young, before a three run outburst in the sixth cut the gap to one run.
Aeden McQueary-Ennis walked, Brant Ust forced another walk, Nikeas hit an RBI single followed by a huge 2RBI double from Young.
It was Britain who had the momentum now, and with their enthusiastic support growing in voice as the Swedish followers grew silent, they tied it in the seventh.
Darren Heath singled and reached second on Adam Roberts’ sac bunt, then advanced to third on McQueary-Ennis’ fly out.
Calm as he’s been all tournament in pressure situations, Ust laced a sharp single to square it up.
Still the game stood on a knife-edge, until Team GB broke it open with a three-run top of the ninth.
After Tim Collins walked, Heath fouled a bunt attempt before Roberts singled to advance Collins. McQueary-Ennis looked as though he too had ground out to third, but a crucial throwing error allowed him to reach safely and saw Collins score from second. Ust was issued an intentional walk and Nickeas made Sweden pay for that insult, driving a single to left to score Roberts and McQueary-Ennis.
With Britain holding the lead for the first time in the game – Stephen Spragg came on and shut down Swedish hopes of a revival with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth.
Team GB now go on to face old rivals Germany in confident mood, with their place in the history books already secured.