It was the latest match-up in this old, celebrated fixture. These two teams, local rivals, fought for glory. It was top-of-the-table against bottom-of-the-table. Neutrals sided with the plucky underdogs – could they defy the odds? It was an hour and a half of intense action, back and forth, no quarter given. But, in the last seconds of the game, the favourites were beaten, by a margin of one.
Yes, the FA Cup Final was a cracking game. But earlier, 15 miles away from Wembley, Grovehill Ballpark witnessed the Giants taking on the Dodgers once again.
We kicked off with practice, focusing on hitting and pitching, together with some infield drills. A smaller group of potential pitchers developed their accuracy on the mound. This year’s effort to entrust pitching duties to the players rather than the coaches seems to be the right call.
The under-14s and under-17s had practice sessions, so we had the use of the new diamond, with the fence pegged out barely beyond the adults’ infield. Aspi manned the public address system, and called out the lineups for us. A huddle comprising the cream of the Herts coaching staff stood watching from the pavilion, joined today by Sam Dempster, Head Coach of the Great Britain national squad. Lesser teams might have been daunted by the pressure. But not our under-11s.
The Dodgers were the visitors today, and first up at bat. Ben Jupp was on the mound. William Morillo got the ball rolling with a single, and before long the Dodgers had two runs on the board after a few fielding errors. Lucas Lebrato hit a line drive for a double to bring home Noah Haines for the third run. But with two runners in scoring position the Giants were able to get the third out to keep the score at 3-0.
In reply, with Lucas Lebrato pitching, the Giants picked up their first run when Ben Jupp singled to bring home Christian Lynch. Lewis Auchterlounie repeated the trick, and Noah Lynch hit another single to load the bases with no outs. The Dodgers were relieved to strike out the next three batters, and the score was 3-2 to the Dodgers at the bottom of the first.
The second inning was scoreless for both teams. Jupp pitched a no-hit second inning for the Giants – two strike-outs and a 4-3 groundout. In similar form, Lebrato allowed only one single in disposing of the Giants.
For the third inning, Christian Lynch took over the pitching role for the Giants. Noah Haines reached first on an error, and Lucas Lebrato continued his good form with the bat, with another double, although he was forced out after he and Noah both tried to occupy third base at the same time. Jonathan Wakelam was the victim of a 1-3 groundout, although Noah Haines made it home on the throw. The Dodgers were retired with a 4-2 lead, though, as Alex Troutman struck out looking, leaving runners on first and third.
The Giants quickly loaded the bases, with a couple of errors and a single from Alex Jones. Christian Lynch then hit a two-RBI single, and Nicholas Durer hit a line drive single to bring Alex Jones home. Ben Jupp then fired a ball to the fence for a double and two further runs. That was the maximum five runs for the inning, and 7-4 to the Giants after three.
Nicholas Durer now came in as pitcher. Joe Gipple and Lucas Lebrato both secured RBIs with singles, to bring the score to 7-6. With two outs, and runners on first and second, Lenny Flavin came to the plate, and hit a fly ball up to Oliver Durer at third base. Oliver dropped it, but kept his head, grabbed the ball from the dirt, and tagged Lucas out at third. And that was the ballgame.
Practice over for the under-17s and under-14s, we had been joined by a trio of older brothers. Callum Vangundy cheered on Rory as he batted. Jose Morillo shouted encouragement at William, and Ben Jones offered ‘advice’ to his little brother Alex. Watching the five to ten year-olds giving it their all, Sam Dempster seemed impressed. As he commented, “everyone starts here”.