University of Nottingham Arrows break curse to win NUSC title

Tue 17 Oct 2017

By Luke Stott

The University of Nottingham Arrows finally won the BSUK National University Softball Championship title on the weekend of 14-15 October at Farnham Park, courtesy of a 10-8 win in the final over the Portsmouth Shafters.

Having lost on a walk-off in this event in March 2017, the Arrows produced a literal walk-off of their own as Luke Nelson took a base on balls with the time limit expiring in a final played in unseasonably warm October sunshine.  The winning margin had already been accounted for earlier in the inning thanks to a two-run go-ahead double off the bat of Robbie Studholme.

The win marked the first time Nottingham had won the NUSC title since March 2014 (when they were still called The Swingers) and there had been many near misses in the interim, with Nottingham teams losing four finals overall and three in a row, the most recent in March 2017.

There had been talk of a curse -- but a new approach over the last year towards both player and club development has finally yielded results.

Arrows Captain Alec Newton said: “It obviously feels great for the club to finally win a Nationals final after nearly 4 years of near misses. Having had a tough loss to Loughborough in the Spring Nationals and losing lots of experienced players we were keen not to allow another chance to pass us by. We know Loughborough will be back better than ever and Portsmouth will be seeking revenge in the spring but with new players starring in the Archers the future is bright for the club who would like to cement this position after taking so long to reach it.”

Group Stages

With 14 teams entered, the competition was divided into two groups of seven teams: Red and Blue.  The top two from each group would progress to semi-finals while the other teams would compete in placing games.

In the Red group, defending champions Loughborough Ones took on the Southampton Mustangs, Reading Knights, UEA Blue Sox, the University of York, the Queen Mary Knights and Nottingham’s second team, the Archers.

In the Blue group, the Arrows were faced by the Portsmouth Shafters, Manchester Maelstrom, UCL Capitals, Imperial Falcons, the Loughborough Twos and the University of Kent.

With some of the more fancied teams such as UEA and York finding the going tough, surprise packages Reading and Manchester both had perfect records as Day One came to a close. 

In what would foreshadow events the following day, the Shafters and Arrows faced off in the group stage, and the Arrows escaped with a narrow 7-5 victory despite the Shafters loading the bases in the final inning.

By the end of a frantic first day’s play, both groups had separated themselves into a top three that would fight for the two semi-final places: Loughborough One, Reading and Southampton in the Red group and the Nottingham Arrows, Manchester and Portsmouth Shafters in the Blue group.

Day Two

Day Two began with a huge shock as the Loughborough Ones succumbed to a spectacular display from Southampton that sent shockwaves around Farnham Park.

With Southampton maintaining their perfect record through the group stage, they progressed as winners of the Red group, forcing Loughborough into second place.  A three-way tie then had to be resolved in the Red group as Queen Mary, UEA and York all had two wins apiece by the end of proceedings.

The Blue group roughly went as expected, with the Arrows winning and Portsmouth overcoming a spirited challenge by Manchester to claim the other semi-final place.

Playoffs

The semi-final line-ups produced two grudge matches.

In the first semi-final, the Portsmouth Shafters took on their local rivals, the Southampton Mustangs, in a seesaw game in which Portsmouth narrowly progressed after a 14-13 walk-off win.

The second semi-final was a rematch between last year’s finalists, the Loughborough Ones and the Nottingham Arrows, with Loughborough’s streak of five consecutive titles under serious threat.   After Nottingham jumped out to an early lead, Loughborough mustered all the opposition they could.  But their historic run ended here as Nottingham advanced to the final.

The third-place play-off game between Loughborough and Southampton lived up to the tournament’s unpredictable nature, as Loughborough overcame a huge Southampton lead in the game’s dying moments to win 16-15.

And the final, as noted, produced another tight game that brought the title back to Nottingham for the first time in over three years.

In the battle for other places, the Nottingham Archers finished 13th and Kent beat York to finish 11th, while the Queen Mary Knights rounded out their championship debut with a victory over Imperial College to secure ninth place. 

The Loughborough second team took seventh place courtesy of a narrow 9-8 win over UEA while Reading finished in their highest-ever fifth position with an emphatic 23-5 win over Manchester.

Improvement

A familiar refrain during the weekend among umpires, spectators and event staff was how far university softball has come in a short space of time.  In what is now the fourth season of organised university softball, many of the teams are made up of experienced and athletic players and would be a real threat at any B-grade tournament.

While the event was the last to be held at Farnham Park this season as the home of British baseball and softball hunkers down for the winter, University baseball and softball is just getting started, with British University Baseball and Softball leagues commencing at the end of October.

Final standings

Final placings in the October 2017 National University Softball Championship were:

1 - University of Nottingham Arrows (Champions)
2 - University of Portsmouth Shafters (Runner-Up)
3 - Loughborough University Ones
4 - University of Southampton Mustangs
5 - University of Reading Knights
6 - University of Manchester Maelstrom
7 - Loughborough University Twos
8 - University of East Anglia Blue Sox
9 - Queen Mary University Knights
10 - Imperial College London Falcons
11 - University of Kent
12 - University of York
13 - University of Nottingham Archers
14 - University College London Capitals

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