Some things only happen once in a life time. Your national team winning a major tournament, or your favourite team coming top of the league, or for the Raptors who played on Independence Day, being a part of 'THAT' game. Ken Pike reports:
The team travelled away to the top team in the league, the Braintree Rays, with coach Ken Pike urging them to treat it as a training game. As late as the night before, the team were thinking of calling it off because of a lack of players. There were no expectations, and the command was to relax with the pressure off, and to focus on doing what we knew we could do right so that we could take something on for the next game. Funny how these things work out though.
It seemed to do the trick in the first inning with Ken Pike taking the mound. Although the Raptors scored nothing in the first inning, they also only conceded 1 in the bottom of the frame. The second was trickier, with 7 Rays crossing the plate, but no one was surprised or too gutted — the team had been expecting a rocky ride, and to be fair had seen worse innings against worse opponents. Nevertheless, Raptors had 2 back at the start of the inning and another two in the next to keep within touching distance.
As is so often with baseball, one inning made the difference. A crushing 9 runs were scored by a Raptors lineup simply enjoying the nice weather and the friendly opponents, and only 3 came in reply at the bottom of the inning. Suddely they were in the lead, and people started to wonder if something might even come of this. Would the Rays simply turn up the heat? Would fielding errors creep back into the game?
With Pike still pitching to the calming influence of Kal Dimitrov behind the dish, the Raptors team held firm with brilliant catches and throws all round the field. They had hit their groove and were suddenly playing with a serious purpose. From there on til the end of the game — which was closed out for the last 3 innings by Bryan Drummond as Pike took his familiar spot at short –the Rays never once hit more than 3 RBIs in an inning, repeatedly stranding players as the two Raptors' pitchers played with a cool that flew in the face of the 26 degree heat.
So came the last inning. One out came swiftly, but there were now runners on base. A pitch by Bryan Drummond, a crack of the bat, up goes the ball….William Belbin sets himself deep in left field…and the ball sinks into his glove. A quick throw back in and it's in Ken Pike's glove, who looks confused when Tak 'The General' Ashida is screaming “go three, go three”. Then it dawns on him that the runners have all advanced, thinking that it had cleared Belbin in the outfield, and the simple throw to Ashida meant a double play. A moments silence ensued as Drummond looked at Pike and asked…”have we just won?” The response was screaming, jumping and a massive team hug as everyone flooded infield to celebrate.
What a way to break a duck, against the division leaders, and completely down to a rock solid performance from every person on the field. Senna Ashida had to learn fast at second base, a position he had not played before; his father Tak and Ralph Bartholomew gave excellent hitting performances, getting on base more often than not, Simon Elkington was a wall through which balls would not pass at first; Will Belbin taking in 6 catches for outs, and Ken Pike and Bryan Drummond pitching their hearts out and the Hawks' Kal Dimitrov keeping the pitchers calm and being the best possible target; and Matt Johnston playing as the centre field general. There was not one poor performance.
Box score: final
Inning: 1 ¬ 2 ¬ 3 ¬ 4 ¬ 5 ¬ 6 ¬ 7 ¬ 8 ¬ 9
Raptors : 0 ¬ 2 ¬ 2 ¬ 9 ¬ 2 ¬ 3 ¬ 1 ¬ 1 ¬ 2 ¬ 22
Rays: 1 ¬ 7 ¬ 3 ¬ 0 ¬ 1 ¬ 1 ¬ 2 ¬ 2 ¬ 1 ¬ 18