Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Greatest Feeling in the World

Almere wins Promotion/Relegation Series!
ALMERE (Neth.) - Almere Magpies on Monday-evening defeated MediaMonks RCH 5-4 in the fifth and deciding game of the Promotion/Relegation Series. RCH had taken an early 2-0 lead on a homerun by Derick Francisca and was leading 4-3 in the fifth inning, but in the end it could hold onto the lead. Veteran René Rijst again closed the game for Almere to earn his third save of the series.

With the win, First Division-champion Almere is entitled to promote to the Dutch big league, while RCH on the other hand will relegate to the First Division. But this result is far from final, as the Series now will continue with paperwork. A week ago, Almere was informed by the Dutch Federation (KNBSB) that it will not grant a licence to the club in case it would win this series due to financial insecurity. More about this ruling in this story

Almere turned a 2-1 deficit in the Series into a 3-2 win by winning the last two games. When is gets permission to play in the big league it will return to the highest level after a 2-year absence. In 2007, Almere relegated from the Major League to the First Division.

...Almere's Head Coach Marco Wels...
...shouts his team to victory...
(© Photo: Alfred Cop Fotografie)
In the fifth and deciding game, it was RCH that appeared to be the favorite to win, as it was leading 4-1 in the fifth inning. In the first inning, with two outs, Almere-starter Kenny van Kampen walked Lex Leijenaar, then gave up a homerun to Derick Francisca. Ricky Daal followed with a double, but then stranded, as next batter Ferd van Stekelenburg flied out. In the second inning, RCH reached base again with two outs. This time, Jaïr Roseburg walked and advanced to third base when Nick Heij followed with a single, but hereafter the inning ended thanks to a great play by third baseman Siegert Flaneur, who forced out Heij at second base on a grounder by Floris Morang. Almere then got one run back in the home of the second inning. Linoy Croes led off with a triple and scored on a following single by Joey Berkenbosch, but Almere failed to add more runs. Berkenbosch stole second and third and then was thrown out at the plate when he tried to score on a hit by Flaneur, which was diverted by pitcher Joran Klarenbeek, turned into a 1-6-2 putout.

...Celebration time after the last putout...
(© Photo: Alfred Cop Fotografie)
RCH added a run in the third at bat. Lex Leijenaar led off with a single, which led to a pitching change. Head Coach Marco Wels brought in American Justin Prinstein to relieve Kenny van Kampen, who then gave up a single to Derick Francisca after Leijenaar first had advanced on a passed ball. Next, Francisca stole second and the bases got loaded when Prinstein walked Ricky Daal, but despite having the bases loaded with no outs, only one run was scored. That happened when Leijenaar scored on a sac-fly by Ferd van Stekelenburg. Next, Francisca was eliminated in a rundown between third and home and then the inning ended when Anthony Sandstrom struckout.

RCH increased the lead to 4-1 in next inning. With one out, Jaïr Roseburg walked, moved on a single by Nick Heij, stole third and scored on a grounder by Floris Morang. But there, the scoring for RCH would end, while Almere started to comeback in its fourth and then turned the game in its favor. In the home of the fourth, Joran Klarenbeek hit lead-off batter Joey Berkenbosch and then Churandy La Cruz followed with a 2-run homerun to narrow the deficit to 4-3. In the fifth, Almere came alongside. First, lead-off batter Niels van Weert reached on an error. Klarenbeek was then relieved by Martin Kuipers, but he was greeted with a single by Rhiency Imperator, resulting in another pitching change. Australian Chris Mowday was brought in, but failed to hold onto the lead. He first struckout Giovanni Samboe, but then gave up a single to Linoy Croes that tied the score.

...Closer René Rijst with the last pitch of the game...
(© Photo: Alfred Cop Fotografie)
In the remainder of the game, RCH got several runners on base, but was unable to add more runs, thanks to some nice defensive plays, like a catch in centerfield by Wesley Bernardus that ended the fourth inning, a play by 2B Niels van Weert that ended the fifth and a line drive caught by short stop Rhiency Imperator in the sixth at bat. Almere got only one more scoring opportunity and grabbed it. In the seventh inning, Niels van Weert led off with a single, but then was forced out at second base on a grounder by Rhiency Imperator. Next, Giovanni Samboe was hit by a pitch and then the very productive Linoy Croes (who was 3-for-4, scored once and had two RBI's) followed with a double to enable Imperator to score the go-ahead run. Samboe also was waved home, but was thrown out at the plate, but Almere had taken a 5-4 lead.

In the eighth, RCH stranded one runner, then faced veteran closer René Rijst in the ninth inning. After two flyouts, Rijst gave up a single, but then ended the game himself by catching a line drive by Lex Leijenaar.

Did Almere relegate in 2007, for RCH that year was its first in the big league after it had relegated itself in 2002. As a First Divisionist, RCH then qualified for for the promotion pool in 2003, then finished in fifth place in 2004. In 2005, RCH captured the First Division-title, but was swept 3-0 in a best-of-five Promotion/Relegation Series against.......Almere, which therefore remained a big league-team! The next year, 2006, RCH again won the title and then did promote automatically to the big league where it made its comeback in 2007.

...The victory has yet to sink in...
...for Almere's Chairman Fred van Leeuwen...
(© Photo: Alfred Cop Fotografie)
This marks the fifth time that RCH relegates from the highest divison. It first played on the highest level in 1938 and then relegated. After promotion, it played in the top again from 1951-1954 and then relegated again, but returned in the 1956 season. However, in that year it relegated again. It then took 40 (!) years before the team returned to the big league, where it made its comeback in 1997. But after six seasons, it regelated in 2002 and came back again in 2007. With the current relegation, RCH closed a disappointing season, which came in its 75th anniversary.

Almere first played in the Dutch big league in 2001, not because of a championship, but because of a merger! In 2000, Amsterdam-based Xanthos (which was a separation of OVVO) finished in ninth and last place in the big league, which had no relegation that season. After the 2000 season, some of the Xanthos-teams returned to OVVO, but the big league-team then merged with Almere '90, which therefore got Xanthos' licence to play in the big league the next year. By the way, in 2000, Marco Wels was the Team Manager of Xanthos and then went on to become the Head Coach of Almere, which he also was this season.

Another merger secured Almere's spot on the national level in 1996. In that season, Almere played in the First Division (which back then was two levels below the big league) and relegated to the Second Division (which had no national status). In 1996, Amsterdam-club De Spartaan played in the so-called 'Overgangsklasse' (a division between the big league and the First Division). However, after that season, De Spartaan left its site at Sportpark Ookmeer (which is the home of Amsterdam Pirates since 2000) to 'move' to Almere where is merged with Almere '90. Because of the status of De Spartaan, Almere didn't relegate, but even went on to play in a higher division in 1997.

When Almere gets the big league-status for next year, it will mark the first time it accomplishes a promotion through a championship title and the winning of a promotion/relegation play-off.
(September 7)

Box Scores
Box Score Game One, Almere vs. RCH, 5-2 (Wednesday, September 2)
Box Score Game Two, RCH vs. Almere, 8-6 (Thursday, September 3)
Box Score Game Three, RCH vs. Almere, 9-2 (Saturday, September 5)
Box Score Game Four, Almere vs. RCH, 7-4 (Sunday, September 6)
Box Score Game Five, Almere vs. RCH, 5-4 (Monday, September 7)