Spain and Great Britain to play for historic European Championship

September 29th, 2023
Spain celebrates after the go-ahead run scored in the top of the 9th. Photo by Petra Voet.

Tournament baseball can be cruel. Have one bad inning, one mistimed error or one call that doesn't go your way and your team's chance of a gold medal evaporates. 

That was true for 14 of the 16 teams taking part in this year's European Championship hosted in the Czech Republic. But now, ahead of Sunday's final matchup that will take place at 6:30 p.m. CEST / 12:30 p.m. EST, we know who the final two teams are: Spain and Great Britain. 

Here's how they got here after Friday's action-packed semifinal action.

Great Britain 8, Germany 4

Great Britain celebrates after its semifinal victory over Germany. Photo by Barbora Reichová.

"Relentless." That's the word that Great Britain manager Drew Spencer has used to describe his ballclub and they've displayed that out on the field. Going back to the 2022 World Baseball Classic qualifier, Great Britain has come from behind to win eight of their last ten games -- including a remarkable four in a row in the European Championship.

That didn't change on Friday.

While fearless and selfless are two other words that Spencer uses to describe GB, "relentless is the word that we really locked onto," Spencer said after the victory. "We use it to define ourselves. We had that word in our vocabulary before Regensburg [when the team upset Spain to reach the World Baseball Classic], we had that word in our vocabulary before we went to Phoenix, and we and we had that word in our vocabulary with this team as well. Relentless: This is what I want to define Great Britain baseball."

After Germany took a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth, GB tied it with a fielders choice from left fielder Kennard Dawson. Germany tacked on another in the top of the seventh, and then Great Britain's bats came alive, putting up a six-spot in the bottom of the seventh to stretch the lead.

Dawson, who usually lines up behind the plate for Brewton-Parker College, earned player of the game recognition after going 2-for-4 with a run and two RBIs.

"For me being from the Virgin Islands, being able to represent a big country like this is always a great time," Dawson said. "[We lost in the] U-23s to the Dutch. I want to come in prove that we can do it."

Winning the game and heading to GB's third European Championship also means a little extra to Dawson and his fellow teammates from the British Virgin Islands like Ray Mercer and Shamoy Christopher. Dawson dedicated the game to their former coach and mentor in the Virgin Islands.

"We had a coach, Terrence Chinnery. He died about two years ago," Dawson said. "Anytime we can get on the field together and play for him, it's always a big a big feeling for us. I'm always proud of that."

Spain 7, Netherlands 6

For seven innings, the Netherlands looked like the team that had won the last four European Championships. For seven innings, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, who had outscored its first four opponents 52-7, looked like the giants who had won 24 European titles.

Things turned around in the eighth inning as Spain began chipping into the Kingdom's 6-3 lead. In the top half, Spain plated two runs after two singles, a wild pitch, a ground out and a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to one. 

Then, in the bottom of the inning, Netherlands slugger Sicnarf Loopstock -- who homered earlier in the game and has been one of the most dominant hitters in the tournament -- stepped to the plate. He launched a deep fly over the left field wall that landed just foul. On his next swing, he straightened the ball out. Loopstock began to trot around the bases and the Netherlands -- known for their celebratory home run dances by the dugout -- got ready to leap into action.

Instead, left fielder Daniel Jimenez raced back and made a leaping catch at the wall, robbing Loopstock of his second homer of the evening.

"We're always talking about shut down [innings] and eliminate extra bases," Spain manager Nelson Prada said after the victory.
"We were down, so [needed to] eliminate four bases. That was a great play."

Netherlands still came tantalizingly close to heading back to the finals on Sunday. Closer Wendell Floranus retired the first two batters before giving up a single to Omar Hernandez and walking Edison Valerio. After the batters advanced thanks to a wild pitch and a stolen base, first baseman Jesus Ustariz came to the plate.

Ustariz took a massive swing and miss on each of the first two pitches. After working the count even, Ustariz blasted a hard line drive down the third-base line. Juremi Profar -- the brother of MLB's Jurickson -- made a remarkable play to knock the ball down, but as the tying run came in to score he tried to make a wild, no-look throw to get Ustariz at first base. Instead, the ball got away, allowing the lead runner to come home.

"I didn't know the guy caught the ball -- that was a great play," Prada said. "When I saw the ball on the line, I was thinking we were going to score the two runs. Then I saw the throw to first base -- it was a little off the line -- and the third base coach did a good job sending the guy to the plate."

That proved to be enough for Spain: Former Major Leaguer Rhiner Cruz worked around a walk in the bottom of the ninth end the game and send Spain to the finals.

It's not just a big win for Spain -- it's also a remarkable moment for European baseball, which hasn't seen a champion other than the Netherlands or Italy since 1967. Spain will now try to defeat Great Britain and pick up its first gold medal since 1955, while Great Britain goes for their first, last winning silver in 2007. 

"These group of guys, they are warriors. They bought in every game. We came here and played hard," Prada said. "We were upset last year, but we wanted to come back this year and try to do the best for the country."