The largest university baseball tournament ever held in the UK took place this past weekend at Loughborough University as M1ST returned for its 2016 incarnation.
This year, nine university teams took up the chance to play. There were representatives from Nottingham, Southampton, Coventry, Hull, Sheffield, Imperial College London, and University College London that faced defending champions, Loughborough Thunderbirds, and their second team the Loughborough Tanks.
New additions to the tournament for 2016 included a portable mound on one of the two fields as well as British Baseball Federation (BBF) umpires working many of the games as teams competed for the M1ST Trophy. There were also an assortment of prizes donated by the tournament sponsors L’Oreal, who are the chief sponsor of the Loughborough Students Softball and Baseball Club, BaseballSoftballUK (BSUK), and the Baseball and Softball Shop.
Each team was guaranteed at least three games over the course of the weekend. Day One saw the tournament divided into three groups of three teams, each playing each other for the chance to progress to the latter stages. In Group A the Thunderbirds took on two local league rivals, Sheffield Hornets and Coventry Red Arrows. The Thunderbirds booked their place as top seed thanks to convincing 16-0 and 19-0 wins respectively. The other game of the group saw Sheffield run out 9-7 winners over Coventry.
Elsewhere on campus, the other East-Midlands powerhouse, the Nottingham Thieves, got their campaign off to a flying start with a 10-4 win over Loughborough’s second team before dispatching the UCL Capitals 11-2 in the team’s second group game.
The final group to begin play was Group C which kicked off with the Imperial Falcons taking on the Hull Scorpions in what was Hull’s first ever match against another university side. Imperial’s experience shone through as they won the clash with a 9-2 final score. The last team to make their M1ST debut on Saturday were the Southampton Mustangs who played out a thrilling 7-7 draw with Hull before the final round of games would settle who would progress to the M1ST Semi-finals the next day.
With the Thunderbirds and Nottingham already ensconced as number one and two seeds, the final two places would be decided by Southampton, Imperial, and the Loughborough Tanks. For the game between Imperial and Southampton a win for either team would be enough. For Loughborough, they had to beat UCL convincingly and hope to go through on run difference. A close game between Southampton and Imperial saw Southampton sneak through 8-6 in the final inning before news came through that the Tanks had beaten UCL 13-1 and would also advance to Sunday’s semi-finals.
Day 2 began with Imperial defeating Sheffield in the 5th place play-off before Nottingham took on Southampton and an all-Loughborough affair as the Thunderbirds took on the Tanks for a place in the M1ST Final.
Nottingham triumphed over Southampton 9-3 and the Thunderbirds came out on top in the other semi-final, 10-5. All that was left before the final was for the Mustangs to secure 3rd place with an 8-6 victory over the Tanks.
So the M1ST 2016 final would be contested between the Nottingham Thieves and the Loughborough Thunderbirds. In increasingly frigid conditions the Thunderbirds came out firing, rushing into a 5-0 lead before Nottingham replied with some heavy artillery of its own, including a home run by Dane Derstine. The score narrowed to 5-4. By the top of the third inning the score was even at 5-5 before the Thunderbirds, and in particular starting pitcher Hytham Bakir, went to work tacking on runs of their own whilst keeping Notts off the board.
With the score at 13-5, and the Thunderbirds only needing three more outs to secure their second M1ST title and fourth consecutive major championship, the weather which has held all weekend finally broke, sending a covering of snow all over the artificial field. Not even snow could clip the Thunderbirds wings and it was left to Loughborough Vice Chancellor Bob Allison to award the trophy back to Thunderbirds Team Captain (and M1ST Director) Luke Stott for another year.