Hopes were high after the upset victory over Braintree but expectations were realistic, too – the Raptors were now taking on the Richmond Dragons, who lead the other division and have the best record in all of A-class baseball. Raptors were also going into the game without some key players — first baseman Simon Elkington, and the handy infield sluggers Bobby Gould and Phil Gover – but the team had its pitching stars all present, so there was hope….
Ken Pike got the call to start on the mound and barely put a foot wrong. But it swiftly became clear this was not going to be the Raptors’ day. Some close calls around the strike zone did not go their way, and without ever getting a really big hit, the Dragons managed to find the gaps all over the field. Richmond have always stolen bases as if they were bread in a time of famine, and they were once again aggressive on the base paths, and they were soon totting up the runs. Pike persevered and his curve ball sharpened up, throwing off the batters. But the team will be disappointed with defensive miscues behind him. Some balls were dropped, and some throws went to the wrong base. But the margins were often close. Chris Deacon at second base made one fantastic stop on a ball which looked sure to go through the gap, but his quick throw found stand-in first baseman Rob Jones still heading back to the bag after chasing the same ball. What could have been a blinding play turned into just another base hit. When the inning was finally over – with two of the outs fielded by Ken Pike himself from the mound – there were 14 runs on the board.
Raptors looked to hit back quickly. Jones got aboard and stole second, was batted round to third, and scored the first run on a Bryan Drummond RBI. The bases were getting busy. But again fate was unkind – with one out, the bases loaded, but only two runs having crossed the plate, a double play snuffed out the inning. The Dragons continued to make good progress, even once the Herts work had tightened up. So Pike handed pitching duties over to Jim Arnott, who promptly fired out the batter in front of him with three pitches, ending the inning. He would return to throw up more zeroes and keep the Raptors in the game.
> But the bats never came alive enough to suggest there would be the big rally that was needed to get back in the game. Tom Green got aboard, and Steve Patmore added to his excellent work behind the plate by getting a hit, but not enough could be strung together. Raptors went into the bottom of the seventh needing what felt like a squillion runs to keep the game alive, but didn’t come close. In the end they went down 24-4, a score which would look very different without that 14-run first inning.
So a game which had seemed to offer an opportunity for “as-live training” turned out just that way. That was disappointing for the Raptors, who will still try to push on and add to their wins total. But the game was played in a good spirit, and featured some excellent plays. Raptors had also been let down by their umpire so Ali Hall – the freshest of newcomers to the game – valiantly umpired several innings, as did Jon Gamble and the ever dependable Marty Cullen Jr. The Herts Raptors move on with Bracknell and the Old Timers still offering hope of further triumphs, both big and small.
Photos by www.HP2photographic.com