Blowout victories, last-inning fightbacks and the arrival of three new teams highlighted Opening Day of the BBF's National Baseball League on Sunday, April 18.
With Southampton, Mildenhall and Essex making their top-tier debuts, there was an extended schedule of eight matches, with plenty of surprises.
Bracknell @ London Mets
Defending champions Bracknell Blazers locked horns with fellow heavyweights London Mets in the pick of the day's action at Finsbury Park, with both sides forced to settle for a game apiece in a wildly contrasting doubleheader.
Game One saw the Mets sneak a 4-3 verdict, backed by a sterling pitching effort from Jason Roberts, with Henry Collins taking the loss.
But Bracknell bounced back in fine style in Game Two, scorching the Mets to the tune of 15-2.
Truth be told, this was far from a masterclass, with a catalogue of errors peppering both contests. Bracknell committed nine errors in Game One alone and Blazers coach Rob Rance admitted he was happy to take a share of the spoils.
He said: “I am sure the London Mets are going to provide our strongest competition this season, so I am pretty happy. We were missing six starters for a variety of reasons so I am very pleased with how we dug in. They were not great games in any way and we made far too many errors, but to bounce back like we did is very satisfying.”
Mets coach Alex Pike echoed those thoughts: “I think it was a case of ironing out the bugs. We made a lot of errors and we did not really hit well. We got the win in Game One but they were much better than us in Game Two. They were two very ugly games of baseball and we just had to get them out of our system.”
Richmond @ Croydon
There was a surprise in Croydon as the Croydon Pirates, who went the whole of last season without claiming a single win, split their doubleheader with the Richmond Flames.
Even more impressively, the Pirates bounced back from a 23-3 hammering in Game One to record a thrilling 6-5 win in Game Two.
Cody Cain claimed a comfortable win in Game One for the Flames, with Jose Sosa taking a pounding for Croydon.
But all that changed in Game Two as a Michael Azuya two-run home run set the Pirates on their way to a comeback victory, earning Tim Ssali the win with Mike Osborn taking the loss.
Understandably Croydon coach Dave Ward was delighted: “In one weekend we have beaten what we achieved in the whole of last year. I am absolutely over the moon. Everyone has worked so hard over the off-season and in training and this is a reward for that work. Last year was completely dismal but hopefully we can look forward with some confidence this year.”
Mildenhall @ Essex
New boys Mildenhall Bulldogs wasted little time signaling their intentions, brushing aside the Essex Arrows in both games of their opening set at Waltham Abbey.
The Bulldogs cruised to 16-5 and 11-1 wins, with Brandon Blide earning the win and impressing at the plate in Game One (Richard Chesterton taking the loss) and Jason Coffee hurling a gem in Game Two.
Mildenhall coach Gabriel Macias insisted his side were not simply joining the NBL to make up the numbers. He said: “We love competition and we will really be going for it this season. We are really excited to be playing at this level and we aim to make our mark.
“The key for us was hitting,” Macias continued. “We put together a few good innings and scored runs consistently throughout and defensively we were sound. We just had a good day all round and it was pretty rough on Essex.”
pictures by www.hp2photographic.com
Southampton @ Herts
Fellow debutants Southampton Mustangs did not enjoy their opening series quite as much, suffering 8-7 and 12-0 losses at Herts Falcons.
But the new boys will take heart from their Game One performance, where they scored three runs in the top of the seventh and had the bases loaded before a groundout ended their rally.
Chuck Truelson took the loss, with Herts' Dan Kerry claiming the win, while Oscar Sierra clubbed a three-run shot for the visitors.
Things went downhill for the Mustangs in Game Two, with Pete Kikel pitching an impressive complete game shutout for Herts as the Mustangs fell apart.
Despite that, Southampton's Ben Davis saw plenty to encourage him: “We fell short in Game One, which was pretty heartbreaking, but there are plenty of positives we can build on. We did not let ourselves down in any way at all.
“Game Two we will wipe out of the memory,” Davis continued, “and quickly. The key for us this season is to try and compete in every game. We want to prove the BBF were right to bring us into the league.
The Falcons' Jason Greenberg admitted it was a case of job done for his side.
He said: “We won both games and we are very happy with that. I thought Southampton had a good squad and I think it is great they are in the league. Obviously, we will get a better indication of where we are at when we play London next week but we cannot ask for more than two wins on opening day.”
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