Passions flare up as title race reaches boiling point

The Falcons vs Nationals showdown was billed as “the biggest game of the season so far”. There is absolutely no risk that the Advertising Standards Authority will be cautioning for overhyping Sunday’s NBL doubleheader as it most definitely lived up to the billing.

The game was in doubt right up until 2 hours before first pitch due to a waterlogged Grovehill Ballpark, but once it was given the go-ahead fans started streaming down to Grovehill Ballpark, some fans coming from as far as Oxford.

Among the many who came was the GB senior national team manager, Sam Dempster, who had the opportunity to assess several possible candidates for the GB Team which has a big year ahead including the European Championships and qualification for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

The Falcons started game one with 2011 NBL Best Pitcher, Robbie Unsell, who got out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the first without allowing any runs. But the Nationals were at it again taking a 3-0 lead in the second inning on a home run by Jarrod Pretorius. Their pitcher Roberto Almanzar was very effective in the first few innings not allowing any hits. The Herts batters eventually got into their usual rhythm which has devastated NBL opponents all season long. They tied the game 5-5 in the fourth inning and took a 9-5 lead going into the sixth. Jeff House was now on the mound for Herts and he had to come up against a Nationals lineup looking determined not to lose this game. They responded with a home run by Luis Goncalves which flew over the right field foul pole. Most of the Herts fans seated on the first base side thought that it was a foul ball, but umpires Hare and Dollin were unanimous in their decision confirming that it was a home run. Harlow followed that with a 3-run home run by Edwin Alcantara to tie the game 9-9 in dramatic fashion. Tensions were running high as Falcons players felt that Alcantara’s reaction as he trotted around the bases was disrespectful towards Herts. For a moment it seemed like the incident would end up in a bench-clearing brawl but both teams soon focused back on the game.

Into the top of the seventh inning the Nationals continued their relentless offence bringing 4 runs in. That 4-run lead was too much for Herts to claw back and the visitors recorded a dramatic come-from-behind win.

Harlow Nationals first baseman Jarrod Pretorius dives for a bullet down the first base line from a Herts Falcons bat (photo by British Baseball Magazine click image for more)

Darrin Ward started game two for the Falcons in his first game since his move back to Herts from the Essex Arrows. He was in commanding form changing speed and locating his pitches very effectively. By the third inning Herts had a 13-1 lead after bombarding the Nationals with hits including home runs for Ryan Bird, Cris Hiche and Mike Osborn. Into the 5th inning and with the score 13-3 the Nationals managed to avoid the mercy-rule coming into effect scoring 2 runs.

With the scoreboard operating staff having to attend an emergency, the lack of scoreboard updates gave the Nationals the impression that Herts had written them off and that they consider the game to be won. That seemed to spur the Nationals on. And they mounted a strong come back, but at the end the Falcons stayed in control and won the second game 15-10.

An exciting afternoon of baseball which had everything and the fans certainly enjoyed it. The scores mean that the NBL race is very finely poised with the promise of more encounters like this one to come between now and the postseason playoffs.

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