The Baseball gods were smiling brightly down on ‘the Hill’ in anticipation for the Herts Little League’s first ever appearance in the BBF Southern playoffs. It was to be a monumental task for the Herts All Stars, in only their second year in existence. What lay in wait for Herts were two very established teams with a celebrated history of success in British Baseball.  Bracknell and Horsham.

The Herts All Stars, hand picked from the Herts Little League, had been training for the past two months in preparation for this very day. With the focus of a Falcon, the eyes of an Eagle, the hearts of a Hawk and the resolve of a Raptor, the Herts All Stars arrived with a quiet confidence rarely witnessed in a second year team about to play the most important games of there lives.

Game 1 vs Bracknell:

With the pitching restrictions for Bronco level Baseball in place, Herts Manager, Marty Cullen put together an eclectic rotation of 4 pitchers, hoping to get the job done while saving some arms for game 2. Would the tactic pay off?

Nickolas Martinez started off strong, striking out 2 before leaving a base runner on for reliever Mikito Ariga, who struck out the first batter he faced to retire the side.

Herts went down in order in the bottom of the inning to Bracknell’s hard throwing ace, Brendan Harsan.

Ariga continued his dominance into the 2nd, cutting down Brackell in order.

Then………Lighting struck and ‘the Hill’ erupted.

In the bottom of the 2nd, Herts catcher, Kieran Manning delivered a 2 run single with 1 out to open up the scoring and take a lead that would prove crucial.

In the bottom of the 3rd, with 2 on and 2 out, up stepped Nick Martinez. With a 2-1 count, Martinez got hold of a Harsan fastball and deposited over the 220 ft centerfield fence, giving Herts a 5-0 lead. Martinez said of his blast, “I was just trying to get a pitch to drive up the middle. Luckily I hit it well and it got out there.”

Bracknell never gave up. They struck back immediately scoring 4 runs over the next 2 innings.

But Herts weren’t done yet. With some aggressive base running and good eyes at the plate, Herts padded their lead going into the final inning. These runs would prove critical as Bracknell jumped on relievers Liam Green and Carlos Casal for 3 more runs in the top of the 6th, before grounding out to end the game, falling to the Herts All Stars 9-7.

It was, by any standard an amazing game that could have gone either way.

It went Herts way.

As he lead his team away from the field and throngs of reporters, Manager Marty Cullen only had this to say: “I’m very pleased with the outcome, but we still have another game to play, so if you’ll excuse me……”

And so with the Herts All Stars off talking strategy, Bracknell set out to salvage their campaign against the hotly tipped Horsham All Stars. A mountain that would prove a little too steep to climb. Bracknell, weary from their epic battle with Herts, couldn’t quite put it together against the dominant Horsham and fell via the mercy rule after 5 tough innings.

In a round robin format, the team that loses 2 games is automatically eliminated. That leaves 1 game with it all to play for between the remaining 2 teams. On this day……it would be Herts and Horsham. Horsham would be the home team in this, the final game of the day, and their starting line-up read like the who’s who of British youth Baseball with no less than 7 GB players, 2 of whom recently returned from the European qualifiers for the Little League World Series. This alone confirmed their status as the wildcard favourites over the 2nd year Herts All Stars. Could Herts pull off the upset of the year, or would lightning strike again for Horsham?

Bracknell Blazers at Herts All-Stars
Score By Innings 1 2 3 4 5 6 R H E
Bracknell Blazers 0 0 0 1 3 3 7 5 1
Herts All-Stars 0 2 3 1 3 0 9 3 3

Herts All-Stars 9, Bracknell Blazers 7
Herts All-Stars Bracknell Blazers
  ab r h bi   ab r h bi
Mikito Ariga p-ss-c-3b 3 0 0 0 Alex Price c-ss 3 2 2 0
Jamie Paterson cf 3 0 0 0 Sian Wiggington 1b-p-3b 3 1 0 0
Liam Green 3b-p 1 2 0 0 Brendan Harsan p-3b-1b 2 1 0 0
Lewis Paterson 1b 1 3 0 0 Chloe Wiggington ss 3 1 2 1
Nickolas Martinez ss-p 1 3 1 3 Nathaniel Leff 2b 4 1 1 0
Lewis Green rf 2 0 0 0 Adam Hopkins cf-3b-p 0 0 0 0
(t6) Charlie Mayhew rf 0 0 0 0 Lee Coster 3b 1 0 0 0
Kieran Manning c 1 0 1 2 (t4) Millie H. cf 2 0 0 0
(t3) Dan Phillips c-2b 1 0 0 0 Ryan Dale lf 2 0 0 0
Carlos Casal Jr 2b-p 3 1 1 0 (b4) Oliver Graib lf 0 1 0 0
Alex Ringrose lf 1 0 0 0 Jack Eve rf 3 0 0 0
(t6) Jonathan Compton-Weight l f
TEAM TOTALS 17 9 3 5 TEAM TOTALS 23 7 5 1

E: Mikito Ariga, Carlos Casal Jr, Dan Phillips, Chloe Wiggington. LOB: Herts
All-Stars 2, Bracknell Blazers 7. 2B: Carlos Casal Jr, Chloe Wiggington. HR: Nickolas
Martinez. SB: Liam Green, Adam Hopkins(3), Nickolas Martinez(2), Brendan Harsan, Sian
Wiggington, Nathaniel Leff, Oliver Graib. CS: Lewis Green.

Herts All-Stars IP H R ER BB SO
Mikito Ariga W 4.33 3 4 0 5 12
Nickolas Martinez 0.67 1 0 0 0 2
Liam Green 0.67 0 2 0 2 2
Carlos Casal Jr 0.33 1 1 1 1 0
Bracknell Blazers            
Brendan Harsan L 4.00 3 6 2 4 7
Adam Hopkins 1.00 0 0 0 2 1
Sian Wiggington 0.00 0 3 1 2 0

HBP: by Sian Wiggington (Liam Green). . WP: Mikito Ariga(2), Carlos Casal Jr, Brendan
Harsan(3), Adam Hopkins(2). PB: Dan Phillips(8), Kieran Manning, Alex Price(6). T: 2:00. A: 110.

Game 3  

Horsham took the field, lead by flame throwing GB starter Miguel Rodriguez (known by some as     M-Rod ). The tension mounted and the crowd grew silent as UBUA legend Darrin Muller yelled “Play ball!”

The first 2 Herts batters reached base safely and with no one out, up stepped slugger Liam Green. With runners on 2nd and 3rd and a 2-0 count, Liam connected with a fastball, launching it 60 feet passed the 220ft left centerfield wall for the longest homerun in Herts Little League history. Stunned silence fell over the Horsham fans as they watched Herts take an improbable 3-0 lead in the top of the first.

Green took to the mound and retired Horsham in order in the bottom of the inning. Herts, after threatening to add more runs, eventually followed suit and were retired, leaving 2 runners on base in the top of the 2nd.

In the bottom of the inning however, the Horsham bats came alive and scored 4 runs, including a 2 run double by GB All Star Tyler Burnie. Carrying the momentum, M-Rod  sat  Herts down, leaving 2 more runners on base before helping his own cause with a 2 run single in the bottom of the 3rd.

Herts, down but far from out, dug deep and clawed back a run in the 4th and 1 in the 5th,while game 1 hero Nick Martinez took the mound and shut down Horsham’s mounting offense allowing only 1 baserunner and striking out 4 over these 2 frames.

Now or never.

Down 6 – 5 going into the final inning, a final war cry could be heard from the Herts bench, as Manager, Marty Cullen rallied his troops for one more push. “Now or never” he said. “You deserve this. Go out there and get it”. 

The All Stars responded.

They kicked and scratched for 4 runs with some aggressive baserunning and timely hitting off hard throwing GB reliever, Callum Vinall and with only 10 minutes of regulation play remaining, Herts took a 9-6 lead into the bottom of the 6th.

Martinez, with only 19 pitches left (based on BBF regulations) would have to come up with something special……and fast! He did…. Inducing  2 ground ball outs with just 5 pitches before walking a batter with 6 pitches.

8 pitches left. 3 minutes left. If the next batter isn’t retired, the game ends (according to BBF rules) with the score from the previous full inning. In other words…..Horsham wins.

Up steps MVP Tyler Burnie who quickly and expertly works the count full and proceeds to foul off 3 more pitches using up Martinez’s pitch count and prompting an announcement by umpire Muller. “Last Batter!” he shouted.

30 seconds left.

Martinez glances toward his manager. Glances toward his family. Takes a deep breath. Sets. Fires……

Strike 3!!!!! HERTS WIN!!!!

The crowd erupts. The Herts bench erupts,  and the All Stars celebrate their improbable upset in front of a stunned Horsham bench.

In the post game press conference, Horsham manager Rob Burnie said, “Our hats go off to Herts. They have a great program and they play the game right. They proved that today.” When asked about the upset, Herts manager Marty Cullen had this to say; “I couldn’t be more proud of these kids. Horsham are a great team, maybe the best in the country, but these kids don’t quit and it really paid off. They showed a lot of heart today.”

Next week the Herts All Stars make the trip south to the hostile waters of Finsbury Park. To reach the National Championships, Herts will have to win 2 more games. Do they have what it takes?

Stay tuned…………….

More photos from the BBF Wild Card Playoffs

Herts All-Stars at Horsham All-Stars
Score By Innings 1 2 3 4 5 6 R H E
Herts All-Stars 3 0 0 1 1 4 9 3 2
Horsham All-Stars 0 4 2 0 0 0 6 2 3

Herts All-Stars 9, Horsham All-Stars 6
Herts All-Stars Horsham All-Stars
  ab r h bi   ab r h bi
Carlos Casal Jr 2b 4 2 0 0 Tyler Burnie cf 3 0 1 2
Jonathan Compton-Weight 1b 2 2 0 1 Dean Jacob ss 3 0 0 0
Liam Green p-ss 4 2 2 4 Adam Lamport lf 2 1 0 0
Lewis Paterson 3b 3 1 0 0 (t4) Dean Coe lf 1 0 0 0
Nickolas Martinez ss-p 3 0 0 0 Callum Vinall p-3b 2 1 0 0
Mikito Ariga c 2 0 0 0 Miguel Rodriguez p-3b 3 1 1 2
Jamie Paterson cf 4 0 0 0 Harry Law 2b 1 1 0 0
Lewis Green lf 0 0 0 0 (t4) George Penfold rf-2b 1 0 0 0
(t4) Alex Ringrose lf 0 1 0 0 Tim Moore c 2 1 0 0
Charlie Mayhew rf 2 0 1 0 Will Chase 1b 2 0 0 0
(t5) Dan Phillips rf 0 1 0 0 (t4) Ben Chambers rf-1b 1 0 0 0
Callum Lewis rf 1 1 0 0
TEAM TOTALS 24 9 3 5 TEAM TOTALS 22 6 2 4

E: Carlos Casal Jr, Jamie Paterson, Harry Law, Callum Vinall, George Penfold. LOB:
Horsham All-Stars 4, Herts All-Stars 7. 2B: Nickolas Martinez. HR: Liam Green. SB:
Mikito Ariga(2), Carlos Casal Jr, Lewis Paterson, Liam Green, Charlie Mayhew,
Jonathan Compton-Weight, Callum Vinall, Harry Law, Miguel Rodriguez.

Herts All-Stars IP H R ER BB SO
Nickolas Martinez W 4.00 1 0 0 2 7
Liam Green 2.00 1 6 4 4 5
Horsham All-Stars            
Miguel Rodriguez 4.00 2 4 1 5 4
Callum Vinall L 2.00 1 5 2 5 1

WP: Liam Green(5), Nickolas Martinez, Callum Vinall(3), Miguel Rodriguez(2). PB:
Mikito Ariga, Tim Moore(4). T: 2:00. A: 110.

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