A setback for injury-hit Falcons in NBL title race

Xavier Gonzalez (left) and Robbie Unsell sustained injuries in game one at the Essex Arrows (photo by Will Baxter)

written by Cristobal Hiche

It’s hard to fully describe these two games. They were very good, and more importantly, very close games. There was very good defence, good hitting, good pitching but nothing out of the ordinary. Giovanni’s triple for the Arrows was probably the only big hit of the day. John Bloise’s tremendous diving catch in CF was probably the only web gem of the day. There were just very few errors made by both teams but nothing that probably affected the games. If there’s a way to describe it, I would say they were “vanilla games” but probably the best vanilla you have ever eaten in your life! Why?

The answer is pretty simple. Two games that went to the wire will always be a good game to watch. In these types of games, players and managers are battling it out there and giving their 100% the entire game because there’s no chance to get relaxed since that can cost you dearly. Any small mistake can swing one way or the other and one pitch could make the difference.

The first game started with Arrows scoring a run in the 2nd but the Falcons were able to score a run in the next 3 innings. By the top of the 5th inning it was 3-1 for the Falcons but they could never mount a rally to give themselves some room to breathe. Barry Wiles was pitching a solid game. Although at times he would put a few men on base, Essex Arrows also couldn’t start a rally. By the 6th inning it was 4-2 and both teams were just trying to produce a run playing small ball and getting the fundamentals right because it was going to be a close game ‘til the end. However, Herts was able to score a few more in the 7th and was 6-2 for Herts in the bottom of the 7th. A Herts fan would have thought that was definitely enough to win it, but they would have been wrong. Essex managed to get some timely hits and make it 6-5 before Ryan Bird came to close the game. With a man on 3rd and 2 outs, an unrostered new Essex player had just entered the game and with limited baseball experience he had to face one of the fastest pitchers in the league. Somehow, and credit to him, he was able to put the ball in place with a slow chopper down the middle and in a rare error by the dynamic Xavi-Robbie duo, they both couldn’t get to the ball and make the final out. Game tied. The Falcons responded well by scoring 3 runs in extra innings and shutting down the Arrows in the bottom of the inning to seal a 9-6 win.

John Blose made the play of the day with a diving catch in centerfield

The bad news of that first game was the injuries to both Xavi (hamstring) and Robbie (ankle) which meant they both sat out the second game. Without their 1-2 batters and the defensive duo, Herts still went to battle and tried to get that 2nd win. Darrin Ward and and Lance Louw got into a pitching duel taking a 1-1 score into the bottom of the 6th. Arrows again were able to start a small rally and were able to score 3 runs in the bottom of the 6th to put a dagger into Herts. Herts showed some heart (pun intended) and looked to repeat the scenario from the first game. They scored a run and had runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs. A single would tie the game, but Lance Louw showed composure and struck out Carlos Velazco-Carus to end the game and give the victory to the Arrows.

Manager Lee Manning said after the game: “In the first game we played the way I expect us to play. Second game we didn’t hit the way I expected us to hit. Not taking anything away from Essex but we seem to be struggling with all these weeks off not playing.” Asked if the injuries could have affected the outcome of the second game, he added: “I think any team in the league would suffer if they lose their middle infielders, and in our case we feel our middle infielders are the best in the league, so their absence is bound to affect us. The guys that filled in did an amazing job but that meant we left holes in other parts of the field.” Essex Manager Steve Simmons summarised the day by saying: “I’m very pleased the way we played all day long. Unfortunately [in the first game] we ran out of pitching and they managed to score.” And then added “…[Second game] we played basics ball, we played fundamentals, ran the bases well, clutch hitting and didn’t make any critical errors.”

The season is getting quite interesting with all teams close together and the London Mets look like they are running away with it at the moment. This is the stage of the season where the fans can have a big impact. The Falcons are playing against a tough Southampton team at home next Sunday, May 26. An opportunity to come down to the ballpark and make some noise to try to grab two necessary wins against their immediate opponents.