European Champions Cup 2016: L&D Amsterdam Pirates a surprising winner?

You all may have noticed by now that L&D Amsterdam Pirates won the European Champions Cup by beating A.S.D. Rimini Pirates in extra innings. But was this a surprising win? Even though Curacao Neptunus won the cup last year, Italian club baseball was dominant in Europe over the past eight years. Since 1996, Neptunus from Rotterdam was the only Dutch team that won the European Cup (six times of which five in a row from 2000 through 2004).

When you look to the season so far, L&D Amsterdam Pirates was the dominant team in the Dutch Hoofdklasse next to Curacao Neptunus. Both teams battled for first place in the final weekend of the first half of the season and Neptunus won two of the three game series to take a temporary lead since the second game of that series was suspended. The two wins of Neptunus were with the slimmest possible margins of one run. So the Rotterdam based team wasn’t flat out dominant in the meeting vs Pirates, but still they showed who was the strongest of the two.

So far, Pirates never got further than third place in this European tournament, so what could we expect?

L&D Amsterdam Pirates immediately had to face current Italian champion A.S.D. Rimini Pirates. In this 6-2 win, the Dutch outscored and outhit the Italians and even played perfect baseball, while Rimini committed two errors. Perhaps this was an omen what was about to come.

In the second game, Pirates had to take on Kotlarka Praha (Prague). The current Czech champion was no match for the Dutch team. Pirates won 10-2 but after scoring their tenth run in the fourth inning, the failed to finish the job in seven innings. But hey, a win is a win.

In the third game against Regensburg, runner up last year in the German championship, Pirates was kept in check rather well by pitcher Jan Tomek, who gave up just one unearned run on one (!) hit and four walks. Kenny Berkenbosch got on base on a fielding error in the seventh, advanced to second when Linoy Croes drew a walk and advanced to third on a 5-4 out at first base when Rashid Gerard laid down a sacrifice bunt. Eventually Berkenbosch scored the game’s only run on a wild pitch by Jan Tomek. A wild pitch… Is this how you want to win? Ah well, a win is a win. But Regensburg (and Heidenheim too) showed that German baseball is no longer a pushover. Both teams gave their opponents a hard time. The only thing they lack is pitching depth.

So by winning their group, L&D Amsterdam Pirates had to face their eternal rival Curacao Neptunus, who came back from trailing 3-1 and won in extra innings vs T&A San Marino, a narrow escape. How would Pirates do vs Neptunus with the recent two losses still in their mind? Pirates club icon Loek Loevendie, said the following in a Facebook post:  After winning three games Pirates will face Neptunus. Another tough game but if Pirates keeps up the good work there will be chances. It will be tough but it won’t be impossible.”

So on Friday, Pirates took on Curacao Neptunus. In a slug fest (in which Pirates hit just one homerun but seven doubles) in which the score went back and forth both teams were each others match during the first seven innings, before Pirates scored five runs in the eighth, which was too much to overcome for Neptunus and Pirates won 11-7.

And in the final, A.S.D. Rimini Pirates waited for a revenge for the first loss of the tournament. And even though the Italians came back from trailing 3-1, they fell short in the extra innings.

The team goes crazy with the trophy

It seems that everything fell in place this week. Take Nick Urbanus, who was red hot this week, hitting .529, yesterday he just hit 1 for 3. But yesterday Remco Draijer (2 for 4), Linoy Croes, Gilmer Lampe, Jesse Aussems (3 for 5) and Kenny Berkenbosch stepped up to carry the team. The same with the pitching. When Kevin Heijstek was carried off the field yesterday, Tom de Blok took over to keep the Italian line up at bay. It was a team effort. Even in the game vs Kotlarka Praha, Pirates manager Charles Urbanus sent a pitcher to the mound who pitched only 13.2 innings so far this season. But this pitcher, Pim Walsma, pitched five solid innings in which he gave up just one run on two hits and Jimmy Osinga, who didn’t appear in a Hoofdklasse game either, lasted four innings in which he also gave up just one run. When Dennis Burgersdijk, who dominated the Neptunus lineup in the first three ininngs on Friday, gave up four runs in one inning, Daan Hendrix took over and silenced the Neptunus hitters. Even though Kyle Ward and Tom de Blok gave up a few runs, their effort was enough to clinch the victory. Everyone contributed in his own way.

So looking to this achievement afterwards, perhaps the championship wasn’t a surprise at all. After all, the best TEAM won. Baseball is an unpredictable game in which the best team doesn’t always win. But this team had it all this week: A team performance, good pitching and especially hitting when it mattered most.

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