The forecasts were dead-on: relentless and scattered showers. Nevertheless, both Herts and Oxford were determined to test one another's defence and power. As the respective leaders in AAA Divisions A and B, these rivals weren't about to let a little rain get in the way of their much-anticipated showdown. In addition to moving the teams a little closer to their 'magic number' (the countdown in games to when a squad clinches its playoff berth), this was also a preview of the likely strengths and weaknesses these two teams might encounter should they face-off again in the Final 4.
Game One got off to a shaky start for the home team. After rushing to get things underway in the nasty weather, everyone huddled under the gazebos and waited for the umpire to muscle his way through the M-25 gridlock. Despite unofficial protests from the visiting team, soon things were underway and an early four-run Oxford lead silenced their grumblings.
Starter Nic Goetz struggled to find his command in the 1st, surrendering a leadoff single followed by a monster two-run blast from switch-hitter Jorge Machado. The next batter was hit by a pitch and two Falcons errors allowed a further two runs to cross home plate. With one out and the Kings threatening to cause more damage, Goetz forced a double play to stop the bleeding and end the inning.
From that point forward Goetz was masterful, issuing only two walks in the game. Although they chalked up ten hits, Oxford stranded seven runners on base and managed only three more earned runs in the 7th. In that final inning – after three singles and a pop out – the Kings were threatening to capsize the Falcons lead. Oxford pitcher Matteo Convento was on first base representing the tying run when another player gently flied-out to the right-side of the infield. Convento, however, had lost track of how many outs had been issued in the inning, and stood shaking his head halfway to second base as the Falcons doubled him up to seal the victory.
Game Two was the most flagrant upset of the season for the Herts first team. A mixture of sloppy errors and multiple wild pitches by Falcons pitcher Darrin Ward set the score at 7-2 for Oxford in the 2nd inning. It was at this point – with catcher Jason Greenberg at bat with two outs in a 0-2 count with Andy Cornish on first – that the umpire called for a rain delay. Both teams hustled to the gazebos and waited out a 25-minute thunderstorm before retaking the field. The Kings wisely brought out a new pitcher, Masaharu Egawa. After two wild pitches, bringing the suspended count to 2-2 and advancing Cornish to third base, Greenberg lined a ground-rule double into left field. The hits kept coming after that for the Falcons. Four singles brought in six runs and Herts took the lead 8-7.
Going into the third it seemed like the Falcons were destined for a sweep… but instead they played their worst inning of baseball in the 2008 season. Perhaps the long rain delay in the cold wind had set in and the players' muscles had tightened up. Perhaps it was the failure to properly re-warm pitcher Ward, or restretch before heading out into the field. Third baseman Cornish left the game with a dead leg. Catcher Greenberg was showing signs of fatigue. Whatever the ultimate cause, Oxford combined for 15 runs on 10 hits and 5 errors committed by the Herts defence. This put the score at 22-8, and the Kings never looked back. They won the game 24-10 in five innings (the first time the Falcons had suffered defeat by the slaughter-rule).
All things considered, Herts was pleased with the split. Oxford moves to 13-5, only two games ahead of the 2nd place Southampton squad. The Falcons find themselves with an AAA-leading record of 15-3 and only eight games left to play. They are six games ahead of the .500 Essex Arrows and London Metros.
And, that magic number? It stands at 7. Any combination of seven Falcons wins or Arrows/Metros losses will vault the Herts first team into the playoffs.
Come on lucky seven.
|Oxford Kings at Herts Falcons|
|Score By Innings||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||R||H||E|
|Herts Falcons 8, Oxford Kings 7|
|Herts Falcons||Oxford Kings|
|Andy Cornish 3b||2||1||2||0||Masa 2b||4||1||1||0|
|Jason Greenberg c||4||2||1||0||Jorge ss||4||1||2||2|
|Dan Kerry cf||4||2||2||1||Jarek c||3||1||0||0|
|Kimiyoshi Saionji 2b||3||1||1||1||Paul 1b-p||3||1||1||0|
|Darrin Ward 1b||3||1||1||0||Santo cf-1b||4||1||0||0|
|Marty Cullen dh||3||0||0||0||Adam 3b||3||1||1||2|
|Lee Manning ss||1||0||0||0||Aaron rf-sf||4||0||2||3|
|Aspi Dimitrov rf||3||0||0||0||Tom lf||4||0||2||0|
|Jim Hyde lf||3||1||1||0|
|Nick Goetz p||0||0||0||0|
|TEAM TOTALS||26||8||8||2||TEAM TOTALS||29||6||9||7|
|E: Andy Cornish(2), Lee Manning(2), Nick Goetz, Jorge, Jarek, Adam. DP: Herts Falcons
1. LOB: Herts Falcons 6, Oxford Kings 7. 2B: Jason Greenberg, Jim Hyde. HR: Jorge.
SB: Dan Kerry(2), Jim Hyde, Aspi Dimitrov, Jason Greenberg, Jarek, Adam. CS: Paul.
|Nick Goetz W||7.00||10||7||5||2||2|
HBP: by Nick Goetz (Jarek). . , by Nick Goetz (Paul). . . . . WP: Paul(2). PB: Jason
Greenberg. T: 3:00. A: 0.
|Oxford Kings at Herts Falcons|
|Score By Innings||1||2||3||4||5||R||H||E|
|Oxford Kings 24, Herts Falcons 10|
|Oxford Kings||Herts Falcons|
|Masa p||5||3||3||2||Andy Cornish 3b||2||1||0||0|
|Jorge c||5||3||3||2||(t4) Aspi Dimitrov p||0||0||0||0|
|Jarek 1b||4||3||3||2||Jason Greenberg c||4||2||2||1|
|Paul 2b||5||4||2||1||Dan Kerry cf||4||2||1||0|
|Santo 3b||5||3||3||4||Kimiyoshi Saionji 2b||2||2||1||2|
|Adam ss||5||2||3||5||Lee Manning dh-ss||3||1||1||1|
|Katsu lf||3||1||0||0||Marty Cullen 1b||3||2||3||2|
|Aaron cf||3||2||0||0||Greg Bochan lf||2||0||1||1|
|Tom rf||3||3||2||2||(t4) Jim Hyde lf||1||0||1||0|
|Nick Goetz ss-3b||3||0||1||0|
|Rodney Naghar rf||3||0||0||0|
|Darrin Ward p||1||0||0||0|
|TEAM TOTALS||38||24||19||18||TEAM TOTALS||28||10||11||7|
|E: Jorge(2), Masa, Santo, Dan Kerry(2), Jason Greenberg, Andy Cornish, Lee Manning,
Greg Bochan, Nick Goetz, Darrin Ward. DP: Oxford Kings 1. LOB: Oxford Kings 4, Herts
Falcons 5. 2B: Masa(2), Santo, Jarek, Adam, Dan Kerry, Jason Greenberg, Marty Cullen.
HR: Adam, Jorge. SB: Jorge(2), Jarek(2), Masa(2), Santo, Paul, Kimiyoshi Saionji, Jim
Hyde, Aspi Dimitrov.
|Darrin Ward L||3.00||17||22||12||3||1|
WP: Masa(3), Darrin Ward(5). PB: Jorge. T: 3:00. A: 35.