The Beit Shemesh Fireballs returned from a historic trip to the Women’s European Cup in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria as the first club to represent Israel in a team competition abroad for fastpitch softball.
The team’s 2-6 finish “should not be indicative of how we played,” Rhonda Lloyd, who led the team on offense with a .478 batting average and a 1.165 OPS over eight games, told Haaretz. “Every game was played with a full fight, two times a day.”
The squad, a combination of regular members of the Fireballs and a handful off pick-up players, “found this tournament was very much on a very good competitive level for us,” observed Lloyd, who is originally from Maryland. “Therefore, we felt like we really put up a good competition.”
She noted that some of Israel’s rivals “were very surprised at our level, and they really had to fight back hard.” She pointed to the game against The Mix of Great Britain, a heavily favored team which finished second in the tournament with a 7-1 record, in which Israel managed to have the tying run at the plate when it made the final out.
Down to their last strike and trailing 8-4 in the bottom of the 7th, Judith Nosgorodsky knocked a 2-2 pitch with two out into center leftfield. Kaylyn Devaney followed with a single down the leftfield line. Lloyd then whacked a two-RBI double to right center. Mathilde Nielson was intentionally walked before pitcher Mary Murray was able to strike out the final batter to nail down a complete game victory for the British.
Beit Shemesh got off to a rocky start, losing 14-4 to Akademics Sofia last Monday. “The first game was not indicative at all,” said Lloyd. “We got our nerves out.”
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Indeed, the team bounced back on Tuesday with an 8-run first as it defeated host Angels Dupnitsa 10-3. Mathilde Nielson tossed a complete game, yielding just three hits in five innings. Her sister Kristina Nielson went 2-for-3 and scored three times batting leadoff, while Kelley Newell rapped two hits and batted in three runs.
Later Tuesday, Beit Shemesh opened its game against Princ Zagreb with a 2-RBI single by Nosgorodsky, but Zagreb answered every Fireball run with one of its own and then some, prevailing 9-7.
Beit Shemesh on Wednesday gave the eventual bronze medalists, Skovde Saints of Sweden, a run for their money. Down 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth, Devaney knocked in two runs with a single up the middle, but the Swedes pulled away to prevail 7-4. The Fireballs finished Wednesday on a high note with a 6-3 win over Poland’s Gepardy Zory as Mathilde Nielson earned her second complete-game victory.
After the close brush with silver medalist The Mix, Israel was blanked by the tournament’s other two powerhouses – first 6-0 against Danish Hersholm 6-0 and then 15-0 to Spain’s Atletico S. Sebastian, which went undefeated to win gold.
Lloyd noted that many in Bulgaria as well as fans at home were proud of the Fireballs’ performance. “Our bats were hot, and we had very few errors in the field.” Because most of the team did crowdfunding, “people were really watching from home and rooting for us,” she added.
She expects Beit Shemesh to come back for more. “I think in the future we’ll continue with this type of club tournament because we found it to be super fun,” said Lloyd. “We made a lot of friendships. It was much more enjoyable, with good hard played competitive softball.”