Bottom of the 9th and the Raptors have a lead…not a massive one, but a healthy one, writes Ken Pike. A good bit of defence is all they need for a win, but when the first batter gets on base, hearts jump from chest to throat. If you are having a mild sense of deja vu reading this, it’s because the small but devout group of Raptors fans have seen precisely that same scenario go horribly wrong twice in the past 4 games, including once against the same Braintree Rays team trying to fight their way back into this game. With two down, a well delivered pitch is struck hard. Up in the air, deep, over the head of young centre fielder Senna Ashida….
Ah but what is a plot twist without a story line…
It all started at high noon when the Raptors took the field to bat and posted a healthy score, immediately followed by a stingy piece of defending led by 13-year-old prodigy Zack Longboy who had just returned from baseball training camp. The money spent by his Dad (and Raptors catcher) Arnie looked a good investment as solid pitching only let in one runs despite some wobbly early fielding.
The next three innings, however, went from good to gold as Zack locked out a Braintree side who looked puzzled at their lack of hitting. Steady returns from Raptors players at bat steadily increased the lead.
Manager Ken Pike, returning to stand in for the absent John Kjorstad, had to pull the impressive Zack Longboy from the mound in the 5th inning due to his limited pitch-count due to his age, and he threw a self-confessed complete wobbly. Pike promptly took himself off the mound for Andrew Slater to take charge, but not before letting in 5 runs. Thankfully Slater’s calm command of the mound quickly saw out the inning.
The impressive defence continued with excellent backtracking catches from Senna Ashida, an excellent double play from short stop Chris Deacon — and even a couple of decent catches from Ken Pike to make up for his pitching. The hitting meanwhile, which was lacking the triple big gun threat of John Kjorstad, Glen Downer and Theo Scheepers was undeterred and managed to pop single after single to get the scores consistently rolling in.
That’s where we return to the final inning. Andrew Slater still on the mound, but with a heavy pitch count, and having seen the rotation of Rays a couple times round already. The Rays are feeling confident, with loud voicing of ‘we were here last week and did it then’ being audible across the field, and a Raptors team that had enjoyed similar positions and found wanting.
I am afraid that I am hazy on the details as it all became a blur. Two batters reached base, I remember that. I remember getting one out myself, but I honestly can’t even tell you how. But what I can remember is the final play. With two down a well delivered pitch is struck hard. Up in the air, deep, over the head of young centre fielder Senna Ashida…. he back tracks, following the ball the whole way. His glove hand reaches back over his shoulder as the whole team stands stock still watching (except for his left fielder running to cover… another father son combo) and the ball comes down from high.
Straight in to the glove.
At this point, a much harder fought game than the Raptor’s only other victory ended. Players literally jumped for joy, fell to their knees and cheered. This was not the respectful victory celebration of the first win against an opponent that received a drubbing. This was the jubilant celebration of knowing that every last ball had been fought for and ultimately won. Every inning had been a well matched contest, and for once, the Raptors defence had not given up that one big inning. For once, the offence had not fallen quiet at the vital crunch-point. For once, they had come out tops against a well matched team in a hard game.
With two wins on the board and the final match against a team they know they can beat, having done it only a few short weeks ago in Tonbridge, the Raptors are looking to finish the last two games on a real high before entering the post-season friendliness of the Hunlock series. Though it does leave a small and slightly tangy food for thought..what if they had converted the close losses against the Old Timers and last weeks game against Braintree? They would be looking at 6 wins instead of 3…and that’s playoff hunt territory…