(This article was written by Michael Jones and first appeared on britishbaseball.org)
The Nottingham Rebels comprehensively swept aside the Herts Hawks in the second AA semi-final, showing the rest of the country what most of their fellow Midlands clubs had warned them – the Rebels are good.
The game was forced to be shortened to only a seven-inning match, bringing the potential slaughter rule forward to the fifth, following the rain that had delayed the Bucks-Piranhas semi-final, but the match was the fastest of the day, and perhaps the fastest of the summer, being completed in just 77 minutes.
All Star Louis Hare lined into a double-play in the first inning for the host Hawks at their Grovehill home, providing Rebels starter Richard Hu a great start in the Nottingham team’s first ever NBC appearance. In the bottom of the frame, three Rebels knocked in runs and Hu himself came round from first after an uncharacteristic overthrow from the much talked-about Herts catcher Andrew Fulford.
Zeros were traded in the second inning as the Hawks’ Nic Goetz found his rhythm, but Hu looked every part the pitcher that has delivered eight regular season wins during their pennant-winning summer.
To back his own cause, Hu drove in his second and third runs of the game with a triple to right field in the third and scored on Neil Eggleston’s single down the third base line to push the Nottingham side seven runs ahead. But that wouldn’t be the end of their offensive onslaught.
Sebastian O’Dell hit a two-run bomb to cap the nine-run inning as the Rebels batted round, with Oscar Martinez delivering a stand-up triple as the first mercy-rule result of the NBCs presented itself to the fans on the second diamond during the pleasant, if chilly, Saturday evening.
Tim Elkins scored Rod Naghar on a ground-out to second, but Hare went down swinging and Adam Taylor covered some great ground at third base to catch Jon Lewys after a big pop up. Twelve runs up, the Rebels were stealing this one away from the Hawks as they entered the bottom of the fourth.
Goetz was done for the day as Hare took on the pitching responsibilities for Herts, but even his big arm couldn’t prevent the Rebels from seeming to play softball, swinging for the fences. Hu and Taylor each singled, but pinch-hitter Duncan Clarke found Aspi Dimitrov’s glove on the full as the Herts Chairman doubled Hu off at second with the help of co-manager Andy Cornish.
Fulford could only pop up to start the fifth inning before Greg Kobel made a good scoop to help Shannon Henry turn the second out. For the Hawks to come back, Dimitrov would need to deliver something amazing.
Down 0-2, he fought two back, staying alive to work a walk – the least his and his club’s efforts deserved having saved the ground from drowning following the torrential rain that threatened to prevent the match being played. But Andrew Slater went down on strikes to hand the Nottingham ace another win in his outstanding season.
Hawks co-manager, Andy Cornish, was gracious in defeat: “The loss ends a good season for our team after several years of pain. It was not the best way to go out of the race and it hurts, but we lost to a good Nottingham team who very much deserved the win today.” Cornish added: “We wish the Rebels and the MK Bucks all the best in the final”.