New look Raptors show their claws in season opener

written by Ken Pike

Theo Scheepers went 3-4, with 5 BB and 5R (photo by Rob Jones)

There is an old adage in competitive sports that goes along the lines that a season cannot be won in the first game. While that is certainly true, some common ways of describing opening fixtures include ‘rusty’, or ‘statements of intent’, and both of these were true of the Herts Raptors in their away fixture at Leicester 2Sox.

Preparations for the season were hardly ideal and the Raptors defence could be forgiven a few simple errors. Rain had prevented all but one HSL warm-up game, and the game that did go ahead had several first team members missing due to the Easter Weekend scheduling. A last minute friendly against the Herts Eagles – a sister team intended to be a training ground for newcomers – ended very one sided in the Raptor’s favour, and so the squad were largely untested against high calibre opposition. What’s more, no one knew what kind of opposition the Leicester were bringing to the single A league as they have only just this year moved over from the Midlands double A division.

As a result of this anticipation, and apprehension were both in high supply for Sunday’s visit to Western Park in Leicester. The top of the first inning looked to be going pair shaped with two outs and no runs on the board. However, the famous Herts 2-out drive kicked in and brought 7 runs across the plate. The batting abilities had clearly not been rain affected, and the new additions to the team all made a positive start alongside their more experienced team mates.

The bottom half of the inning however proved a different story. Young star pitcher Zack Longboy struggled to hit his usual devastating groove, and some sloppy fielding all round aggravated the issue allowing five 2Sox runners to get round the bags bringing it back to a 2 run game. This trend continued over the next two innings with Herts consistently batting in large additions to their score only to be pegged back in the bottom of the inning. Despite this, the small overall lead was growing and by the time veteran Raptor Jeff Witter came in to relieve the tiring young starter. The net difference at the turn of the fourth inning was four runs in the Raptors favour.

Raptors manager, Arnie Longboy, will be happy to start the seaosn with a win. (photo by Rob Jones)

Some individual great plays including a pair of difficult outfield stops from Warwick Byrne and Rob Jones and a diving grab behind his shoulder from catcher Ken Pike, along with Jeff’s assured pitching brought a confidence boost to the Raptors and a change of gear. A three up three down 6th inning blew the game wide open putting the Herts team in a commanding position – a mercy rule victory was a possibility with a big score and good defence in the seventh. Precisely that ensued with Herts beating up on the third pitcher to take to the mound for Leicester and ending the inning on a massive 42 run total and a lead well in excess of the 11 run mercy rule margin.

While the 2Sox made a spirited effort at a comeback in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases and scoring runners, it was ultimately not enough. The inning finished leaving the 2sox trailing by 22 runs.

It looks like Ken Pike will be spending more time behind the plate this season (photo by Rob Jones)

For a team with so many changes since last year there was much to be happy about. Having lost some big bats in the form of Gilberto Medina, Glen Downer, and John Kjorstad, worries about weak hitting proved to be unfounded. The newly promoted Sony Lama and Theo Scheepers had been known for strong batting and baserunning abilities on which they delivered perfectly. Returning Raptors veteran Jeff Witter got the game ball from coach Arnie Longboy for a calm and assured performance on the mound, while Ken Pike’s first full game at his newly discovered position of catching only allowed for three pass balls all game and held the Leicester running game in check.

A mighty 42 runs crossing the plate for the Raptors is certainly a statement of intent for a team that is tipped to top their group, and in fact puts them at the top of the league after week one, but conversely conceding 20 runs means work has to be done to prevent stronger opposition from derailing a playoff push. A first test of that will come with the very next game against the Old Timers where a Herts win will turn a whispered statement into an assured proclamation.

Starting Lineup:

Zack Longboy – P (swapped to 1st base in 4th inning)

Rob Jones – LF

Arnie Longboy – 2nd

Ken Pike – C

Sonam Lama – 3rd

Theo Scheepers – SS

Amit Odedra – CF

Jeff Witter – 1st (swapped to P in 4th inning)

Warwick Byrne – RF