The Herts U14 team went into the playoffs with only one win during the 2012 regular season and the odds stacked heavily against them. But this was the postseason and there was an extra belief that the team will be able to pull off an upset. Their opponents were the Forest Glade Redbacks, a team which had the upper hand having beaten Herts twice during the regular season.
The youngsters form Hertfordshire had a dream start. The first 6 batters reached base with 3 walks and 3 hits. The seventh batter was Alex Guthrie and he delivered a crushing blow with a 3-run home run over the left centerfield wall. This gave Herts a 7-0 lead. There were still no outs but Forest Glade’s pitcher managed to regain his composure and struck out the next 3 batters to end the inning.
Aspi Dimitrov who was standing in for manager Kent Peterson decided to change the Herts starting pitcher before he had even taken the mound in the bottom of the first. This was an unusual move. In MLB it is only likely to happen when the starting pitcher sustains an injury during warm-up.
“We have very little pitching depth and felt that with an early 7-0 lead we could win the game using relief pitchers in order to save our ace pitcher, Callum Vangundy, in the event that we win this first game and have to face the top seed London Mets” said Dimitrov. “It was a gamble which could improve our chances against the Mets dramatically, but it was risky as a loss in this first game would mean that there would be no game against the Mets and we would end up underutilising a key player.”
Another factor which played a part was that, despite being given the signal to start warming up partway through the top of the first inning, this was not the ideal preparation for Tom Jansson-Wright to jump on the mound at such short notice. On top of that he had to adapt to pitching from an artificial mound for the first time. The Redbacks responded with 11 runs in the bottom of the first inning. Alec Broadbent came in to pitch and struck out the final batter for the third out in that difficult first inning for Herts. Broadbent went on to give his team 3 and one-third innings of solid pitching allowing only 4 runs and striking out 5.
Herts needed a repeat of their explosive first inning, but the Redbacks pitching staff settled down and recorded 4 consecutive scoreless innings. Time was running out for the team from Hertfordshire. The team was trailing 15-7. The gamble didn’t pay off.
Broadbent was reaching his pitch count limit for the day and Callum Vangundy came in to pitch the last 2 innings of the game.
Despite walking four batters he got out of the jam with brilliant fielding to turn a double play at home and third base and then retired the last batter with a strikeout, without any runners crossing home plate.
This was the spark that the team needed going into the final inning. Herts were trailing by 8 runs which seemed like an insurmountable lead. Suddenly there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The first 4 batters, Drew Mayhew, Alec Broadbent, Tom Jansson-Wright and Callum Vangundy each reached base with a hit. The Rebacks managed to retire the next two batters. The score was now 15-10 but crucially there were 2 outs. Herts needed to score 5 more runs without giving up an out. Alex Guthrie was next up. He continued his exceptional day with his third extra-base hit of the game to drive in 2 more runs. He went 3-4 HR 2B(2) with 5 RBI. Tom Adams followed with a big 1-run triple to make the score 13-15.
THE CONTROVERSIAL PINCH HITTER
With the Herts U17 team having completed their game on the adjacent diamond, the Herts U14 team was reinforced with the arrival of 13-year-old Tom Everex-Armstrong whose impressive performances earned him a promotion to the U17 team this season but he was still eligible to play in the U14 league. Aspi Dimitrov called time to announce that Tom Everex-Armstrong will be the next batter pinch hitting in the ninth spot of the batting order. This energised the Herts bench and fans even more. Everyone was on their feet and comments like “here comes the cavalry” could be heard from the stands.
Before the game could resume, the Forest Glade coaching staff called time to make an official protest. Everex-Armstrong’s 6ft 1in muscular frame certainly didn’t seem that of an under-14 player so the Redbacks could be forgiven for being concerned, especially as they were aware that the player had played an U17 playoff game earlier in the day. The BBF Technical Commissioner, Blake Taylor, was called in to deal with the official protest. After checking the Herts roster registration forms and the player’s date of birth it was confirmed that the player is eligible to play at U14 level, so after a 15-minute delay, the drama could resume.
Tom Everex-Armstrong came up to bat with 2 outs and a runner on third base, but Herts was still trailing 15-12 and the tying run was on deck, so it was surprising to see the Redbacks deciding to walk him intentionally, which meant that Drew Mayhew could now come up to bat representing the tying run.
Mayhew worked a walk. The at bat included two wild pitches which allowed two runs to score and Mayhew even managed to advance to second on the ball 4 wild pitch and later to third base. The tying run was just 70ft away now. All eyes were on the next batter, Alec Broadbent. With two outs and two strikes against him he managed to put the ball in play and it was now all down to whether he can beat it out at first. He did, sliding into the base and driving Drew Mayhew home to tie the game. The next Herts batter struck out so they couldn’t take the lead but the team was still alive after an incredible 8-run final inning.
They now needed faultless defence, but credit goes to the Redbacks. It was their turn to bat under pressure and they delivered. A ground ball in the hole between shortstop and third base was enough to put the batter on first base representing the winning run. He was driven home by a hit from Adam which travelled all the way to the outfield fence to end the game.
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Herts coach, Aspi Dimitrov, was positive after the game despite a heartbreaking loss: “The gamble at the start of the game didn’t pay off, but we are very proud of the players for showing incredible character to come back and tie the game when everyone had written us off. Even multi-million dollar MLB players would find it difficult to keep their energy up faced with an 8-run deficit going into the final inning. All of our players who started on the bench managed to get into the game and they all contributed. We knew at the start of the season that this is a transitional year for a brand new generation of players in the U14 team but coach Kent Peterson and the rest of the coaching staff have put in a lot of work and this is starting to bear fruit. We are now looking forward to the Herts Futures Tournament on 22 September.”