The Raptors' quest for a first victory took them to Chelmsford, to face the Clippers who thumped them 37-6 early in the season. The Herts rookies were determined this time it would be a different story — and it was. On a changeable summer Sunday, they took the division-leading Clippers all the way to the 9th inning, coming up an agonising three runs short and losing 24-21.
It all began well. Rob Jones led off with a single, before stealing second and being driven home by Bryan Drummond. More aggressive running — including from manager Ken Pike — helped the visitors score four in the first frame, with all nine players coming to the plate. Even more importantly, the Raptors then shut down a Clippers offense which had trampled on them when the clubs first met. One walk was the only blemish on “Cowboy” Jim Arnott's first inning on the mound.
The game was tight over the next few innings, and by the middle of the fifth Chelmsford narrowly led 9-8. That's when they suddenly broke out. Six runs came in, with the biggest hit of the day so far arcing just inches over the glove of Tom Green in right field.
But — crucially — the Raptors did not allow their heads to drop, even after being shut out in the top of the sixth. Pitching in relief, Bryan Drummond held the Clippers to just one run in the bottom of the inning and then the Herts bats came alive for five runs. There were hits for Tom Green, and for Ken Pike. With two out, veteran first baseman Jeff Witter showed the vital role which hustle plays in baseball. He'd moaned about his hitting all day, but this time after a dropped third strike he sharply avoided the catcher's tag and ran to first, seeing the fielder's throw bounce in the dirt and away up the line. The inning stayed alive, and a run scored. The gap closed to 18-20.
In these closing stages the Raptors' clutch of new players also proved their worth. Young debutant Senna Ashida got two strong hits to get on base; his father Tak was less lucky in where the ball fell, but still made good contact. The Reinebold family double act was perhaps even more impressive — father Jon stroked hits all over the park, fielded three positions, and made the catch of the day diving to his right at shortstop. Reinebold Jnr — Jesse — dazzled as he pitched two innings like a pro. He's the latest in an impressive line of young talent for the Herts club.
Back to the game, then …. and it was turning into a slugfest. That was mostly down to aggressive hitting, as errors had largely faded out of the game. Chelmsford responded to the Herts surge, plating four runs before the visitors racked up another five. Jim Arnott can claim an “unofficial” inside-the-park home run after scoring on overthrows, having hit a bases-clearing triple into the outfield gap.
The stage was set — again. Raptors needed six runs in the top of the ninth to keep the game alive, seven to take the lead. Although Chelmsford had a fresh arm on the mound, the Herts rookies would not surrender. One run scored, then another. Then a third. But the Raptors were running out of at-bats. A force-out had claimed the lead runner, some brilliant fielding had stolen away surefire hits. So the final confrontation was Saint on the mound against Green at the plate. It was a tough battle, but a low strike sealed the Clippers' win.
The game had been another rollercoaster. Maybe it wasn't for the purist, but it was a good test of heart for both teams. There were a sprinkling of errors which revealed it as an A-class game — but there were flashes of excellence too on both sides. The Raptors' manager Ken Pike said his team's massive improvement since their first clash with the Clippers was “something special” and was a deserved reward for the team's work. The growing expectations of a win are looking increasingly justified.
4 0 3 0 1 0 5 5 3 – 21
0 4 4 1 6 1 4 4 x – 24