The Herts Eagles flew close to the blazing sun of national glory on Sunday — but were finally overcome by the eventual victors, the Oxford Kings, and by controversial umpiring. They were representing Herts baseball club as it hosted the National Finals for the first time ever. And hopes were high as the Eagles had been the club's most successful adult team, posting an 18-6 league record.
They lost their first match of the weekend 4-0 to the Liverpool Trojans, the champions of AAA in the north. The Eagles were let down by fielding errors — and only managed hits from Jon Lewys, and starting pitcher Darrin Ward. They also complained of some questionable umpiring. But they still had a second game to play. This was now do or die — they had to overcome Bracknell Inferno to survive, and were buoyed by the fact that they beaten them in a previous playoff round. The game started out as a tight contest, each team edging a run here and there, but Herts pitching was more disciplined and on more than one occasion the Eagles stranded base runners just as they were threatening to break out. In the sixth, Paul Auchterlounie scored on a pass ball to take a 4-2 lead, and that insurance run seemed to relax they Eagles. Finally, they racked up the score they had threatened all game — four runs crossed the plate in the seventh, leading to an 8-2 victory.
So, early Sunday morning, the Eagles took on the Oxford Kings for the right to face Liverpool in the final. The positive mood from the previous night's triumph was still evident, and it looked as if the Eagles would meet their destiny. Five runs in the second inning powered them into the lead. But soon after that, disaster would strike. With two men out in the fourth, but two base runners on, the Eagles manager Lee Manning hit an infield chopper. Louis Hare, running from second to third base, jumped out of the way of the ball and it was fielded neatly by the Oxford shortstop. His throw to first was just a little off target, and that meant the batter was safe and the two runners scored. Eagles had extended their lead.
Or so it seemed.
The umpire then declared that Hare was out for interference, ending the inning, and erasing both his and the preceding run. Manning went to ask for more details and to argue his case, but after a few moments he was ejected. The entire ball game was then put into dispute, and both teams left the field for what felt like an eternity while the decision was discussed. It was all to no avail, as no decision was reversed. The disappointment and sense of robbery clearly disrupted the Eagles. They gave away three runs, then two, then two more to finally go down 8-5.
The players were sad that such an excellent season ended in such a messy way. Most felt cheated, and robbed, though they wished their Oxford rivals all the best for the final. But as the gloom lifted the Eagles were justifiably proud of what they had done all year – which included two victories against those champion Oxford Kings. The Herts team will pose a serious threat to all their rivals next year.