Team Italy made its final preparations for the European Softball Championship Finals by playing two games against Russia and the Netherlands on June 30, 2017. In the day game against Russia, Italy starting pitcher Alice Nicolini took the mound in search of her third consecutive shutout after having blanked Switzerland and Sweden during the weeklong competition in Bollate (Milan), Italy. After a scoreless first inning, it appeared this game would he tightly contested. With one out in the bottom of the second inning, Team Italy took advantage of an outfield error, which allowed Elisa Cecchetti to reach first base. Mariel Bertossi followed with a double. Feeling the pressure of two baserunners looming nearby and threatening to score, Russia pitcher Vera Kukharenko could not concentrate on hitters at the plate. As a result, she walked Lara Cecchetti and Fabrizia Marrone to bring Elisa Cecchetti home and give Team Italy an early 1-0 advantage. The Italians benefitted again from another Russian outfield error and a slew of walks in the bottom of the fifth inning. After Kukharenko walked Lara Buila, a deep fly ball to left field hit by Marta Gasparotto was dropped by the outfielder. The blunder allowed Buila to advance to second and Gasparotto to get on base. An RBI single by Ambra Collina put Italy on top 2-0 and Gasparotto on third base. Subsequent walks to Beatrice Ricchi and Erika Piancastelli resulted in another unearned run and ultimately secured Team Italy’s 3-0 win. Pitcher Alice Nicolini kept Russia off the scoreboard and earned her third victory of the international tournament featuring 23 countries in Bollate (Milan), Italy.
Undefeated teams Italy and the Netherlands clashed in the nightcap to showcase what is to be expected when the two powerhouse squads meet in the European Women’s Softball Championship. It would be the Netherlands night as 24-year-old Louisiana-born Dutch pitcher Lindsey Meadows threw nearly a perfect game against Team Italy. With the exception of a walk issued to NCAA All-American Italian Slugger Erika Piancastelli, the seven-year veteran of the Netherlands National Team stifled the Italy offense. Despite Team Italy’s Greta Cecchetti pitching an outstanding game with nine strikeouts, the Netherlands got the best of her in the top of the third inning when she surrendered back-to-back singles and then hit the next two batters to give the Dutch a 1-0 lead. With no outs and bases loaded, Cecchetti dug down deep and regained control by striking out the next three hitters to stop the Netherlands rally. Italy threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh when Erika Piancastelli reached first on an infield error and eventually advanced to third. Although Piancastelli was just steps away from scoring, the Netherlands held on to win 1-0 in the end.
Italy now seeks another opportunity at taking down their Dutch rival in the European Women’s Softball Championship on July 1, 2017; however, they must first earn that right by defeating Great Britain---a team they beat 4-1 on June 29, 2017. Should the defending Euro Women’s Softball Champion Italy meet the Netherlands under the lights of their home turf, expect Team Italy players to be ready for redemption. Manager Enrico Obletter and pitching coach Lisa Birocci Banse are confident that the Italians can turn the tables on the Dutch and repeat as European Champs. Forza Italia!