Wednesday August 21st 2019

Cougars beat Harriers to reclaim their national title

This article by Michael Jones and David Dunphy was first published on britishbaseball.org

Following a relatively comfortable semi-final win over Halton on Saturday, the Cobham Cougars had to work harder on Sunday 15 September at the BBF’s Pony National Baseball Championships at Farnham Park, but ultimately had enough to overcome a feisty Herts Harriers side and defend their Pony title.

Cobham, defending Pony champions and finalists for the fourth consecutive year, came into this game having swept Halton convincingly in Saturday’s semi-final but were second seeds based on regular season record. The Harriers, many of whom were Bronco Under-14 champions three years ago, were in their first-ever Pony final, and could smell victory, with their legions of fans whooping at every success.

After Herts starter Will Zucker tossed a goose egg in the top of the first inning, Carlos Casal and Callum Vangundy reached base before Conner Brown provided the key hit, driving in two runs with a double through right field to give Herts an early lead.

Cobham pulled one run back, then blanked Herts and tied the score in the top of the third inning when Jonny Fretheim’s deep sacrifice fly was enough for Cobham pitcher Jacob Dean to tag up and score, the pitcher thus helping his own cause.

Cobham failed to score in the fourth inning, but as Herts struggled against Jacob Dean, the Cougars were about to pounce on Will Zucker in the fifth. Patient batting and then hits from Spencer Dellapina and Andrew Lee brought in three runs, with Connor Dellapina then adding another after scoring on a throwing error before Jose Morillo replaced Zucker on the mound.

By the time Cobham had batted around, they led by five runs and it looked like the defending champions would lift the trophy again.

With the fans and coaches lifting Herts, they were soon back to within two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, but the rally ended with the bases loaded.

More Cobham offense restored a four-run advantage, and as Herts came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning, they needed four runs to take the game into extra innings and five runs to win. The Herts supporters, backing their side with horns and vuvuzuelas, continued to cheer at every opportunity, which was met with some annoyance from other spectators around the ground.

Off-field antics aside, the Herts players knew that they needed to do the damage on the diamond. With runners at second and third and one out, Conner Brown drove in Jose Morillo to start the scoring. But the game ended soon after as Jonny Compton-Weight couldn’t catch up to an outside pitch, ending up in the dirt as he finished his swing.

However, late drama erupted as coaches began arguing about whether the third strike was dropped. Umpire Cody Cain stood by his call – that the ball went straight into Jonny Fretheim’s glove behind the plate – and tensions reached boiling point with Charlie Mayhew ejected following a heated exchange with the umpire, for which he later apologised.

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Winning Manager Jeff Dellapina said of the Cobham title defence: “It was a terrific game and the kids at this age know what they’re doing, so I don’t have to coach much! Herts were great too, and they hit the heck out of the ball throughout the match.

“There’s not much in it between all the teams in this league, especially this year,” Dellapina added, “so it could have been any one of four teams just from the South in the final, let alone the Northern sides.”

Reflecting on Cobham’s chances for next year, Dellapina said: “A lot of our guys are moving up from youth baseball so we’ll work on recruitment over the winter in time for spring and hopefully we can defend our title. It would certainly be interesting to see if we can start to develop a senior team for them to filter into for the future.”