The Herts Hawks went on a mission at RAF Daws Hill and they executed it with military precision. They went into the doubleheader at the Daws Hill Spitfires knowing that anything less than two wins would push them into third or even fourth place in the standings giving them the toughest possible route through the playoffs and losing home field advantage. There was no room for error.
The visitors from Hertfordshire took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Aspi Dimitrov and Louis Hare got on base with singles and Jon Lewys forced an error from the Spitfires defence to bring both of them home. Daws Hill responded by loading the bases with 1 out but probably felt disappointed that they could only bring one run home in that inning. Starting pitcher and Co-Manager, Greg Bochan, was now in the zone and he allowed only 1 hit and no runs over the next 3 innings. In the fourth inning Herts took control adding 4 more runs to make the score 6-1. There was a glimmer of hope for the Spitfires when they scored 3 runs in the fifth inning reducing the deficit to 7-4. Their rally was ended as catcher Andrew Fulford started firing bullets to gun down two Daws Hill runners at first and second base.
A software error while scoring the game left the Hawks under the impression that they were in the seventh and final inning of that first game when they had only played six, so the hosts were a little baffled to see the visitors leave their bench area for celebratory hugs and high-fives on the infield. Minor errors like this can sometimes put a major jinx on a team as they can spur an opponent into action, but the Hawks added 3 more runs to record a 10-4 win.
The final out came after the umpire judged that a runner had obstructed shortstop Louis Hare from making a routine throw for the final out and that was the right decision, but in a tense game with so much to lose it must have been hard to take for the home team and a number of their players vented their frustration by confronting the umpire. The confrontation became so fiery that there was a real concern that the players may lose control, but the umpire showed a lot of character and managed the situation very professionally. Credit also goes to one or two of the Daws Hill players who took control of the situation with some very stern words aimed at the players who had completely lost their heads. The incident proved to be very costly for the Spitfires as their first baseman and shortstop were ejected. In the AA League the umpires are usually affiliated with the home team so ejecting 2 players in such an important game must have taken a lot of courage but it was the right decision.
The Spitfires were still in with a chance of overtaking Herts in the standings and finishing second if they could win game two by more than 6 runs and if London lose in Southampton, so the Hawks’ mission was far from completed.
Herts seemed to lose some of their game 1-focus following the angry confrontation between the two games and started game two slowly. At the same time the home team responded positively. They were missing their ace pitcher, Chad Munger, who is one of the most feared starters in the AA league so Jeff Stolz was back on the mound for game 2 having started game 1. He was very effective retiring the visitors quickly in the first two innings. Herts finally regained focus in the third with 3 runs after hits from Jonathan Lewys and Aspi Dimitrov. Dimitrov hit 2-for-2 in the second game and 5-for-6 over the two games which pushed his season batting average to .714.
The Hawks didn’t look back after that. Starting pitcher Nick Russell was having yet another outstanding outing. He pitched a complete game shutout allowing only 3 hits. Offensively the team was also starting to bring some power with extra-base hits from Seth Lipstock (1-4 2B), Andy Cornish (1-2 2B RBI)and Andrew Fulford (1-3 3B SF 4RBI). The game ended with a convincing 11-0 win for Herts.
With an 11-4 win-loss record this puts them tied in first place with the Sidewinders (11-4) but the league’s tie-break rules mean that the Sidewinders will be seeded above the Hawks in the playoffs due to the Sidewinders conceding fewer runs in the head-to-head between the two teams in the two regular season games (conceeded runs: Sidewinders 8 Herts 10).
London Mammoths (11-5) won their game at Southampton which means they finish in third place and will face the Poole Piranhas (14-1). Daws Hill (9-6) will have the unenviable task of facing the unbeaten Guildford Mavericks (16-0).
The win secures home field advantage for Herts in the first round of the AA playoffs which will be played this weekend. Their opponents will be either Thames Valley Bisons, Southampton Mustangs, Croydon Pirates or the Latin Tigers. It will all be made clear shortly as the league needs to make a ruling on the situation at Thames Valley and the effect on the standings from the games which could not be completed due to the rainouts earlier in the season. hertsbaseball.com will keep you updated as soon as the BBF makes an announcement.