Within a whisker

Theo Scheepers had to fight off some nasty pitches from former Herts player, the legendary Paul Raybould

This was a proper game of baseball, with twists and turns and big hits and injuries, and a dramatic walk-off hit. Sadly for Herts, it ended in defeat. But this was the closest the Raptors had come to the big W this year.

The Raptors actually played two games against the Old Timers on Sunday, July 24th, one the scheduled game and one a make-up from a rained out fixture earlier in the year. There was no hint of rain this time — in fact Grovehill was even quite warm in the sunshine. It was the second game which was the classic, but the first one almost matched it.

On the mound, Andrew Slater was taking on the former Herts legend Paul Raybould, and the early exchanges were tight. The visiting Old Timers put up 3, then were shut down in the second inning. The home side squeezed in 1 run in the first, but smashed 4 to take the lead. The big moment came when, leading off the fourth for the Raptors, John Kjorstad deposited a pitch way over the left field fence for a spectacular home run. The side’s first homer of the year helped them establish a 9-8 lead.

But as has been the frustrating pattern this season, a big inning undid a lot of the good work. A handful of walks but also a string of tight singles helped the Old Timers bat around. They scored 12 runs and buried the game. Little League star Jose Morillo came in to pitch and closed out the inning, but there was no way back. The final score was 27-9, not a reflection of how tight the first half of the game had been. Slater and Chris Deacon each scored two runs, while Senna Ashida got on base 3 out of the 4 times he came to the plate.

Rob Jones began the second game on the mound, his debut as a starter. Two walks from the first three batters showed a little tension, but the Raptors defense did its job to get the lower order hitters and hold the Old Timers — now the home side — to 6 runs. By the top of the third it was 9-3 to the Old Timers but rather than be downcast the Raptors fought back. Kjorstad got two hits in the inning, and Theo Scheepers started his sparkling game with a hit and a run. After three innings, it was tied 10-10.

Raptors chose this unfortunate moment to go down 1-2-3, giving the Old Timers a chance to surge ahead. Scheepers had taken over on the mound and also took time to settle in. Raybould got the veterans started with a walk and two steals before scoring. The next three batters also scored, but then the defense stepped up. Ken Pike fielded a fly ball at third; Chris Deacon juggled a ground ball and made the out at first; then Pike finished it all with a neat play of a ground ball.

Old Timers reliever Tony Smyth
Old Timers releiver Tony Smyth

Herts stayed focused and re-took the lead, only for the Old Timers to tie it again with a single run. That meant it was 15-15 going into the top of the seventh and final inning. It started promisingly. Kjorstad reached with a single, Senna Ashida followed with another walk. Two men on, nobody out. But things can change fast in baseball, and as Jose Morillo struck out, Kjorstad tried to steal third. Not only was he gunned down but he sprained his ankle on the play and is doubtful for the remaining games. Now it was two down and advantage to the Old Timers.  Jones got aboard again, but had no escape when Andrew Slater’s ground ball was neatly fielded by the shortstop and he was forced at second.

Herts had to have a clean inning if they were to take the game to extra innings.But the first batter reached on a single and was gifted second by an overthrow. Once the Old Timers’ clean-up hitter worked a walk, the signs were ominous. And, indeed, a single through the left side of the infield brought home the winning run.

It was deflating for a Herts team which had worked so hard and made so many good plays. But the Old Timers are the total opposite of the Raptors. They are veterans who maybe don’t run so fast any more, but have played the game for years, and made only one mental mistake in the entire game. Herts are young, mainly rookies with potential and rough edges, and they can take confidence for the next game.

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