At the halfway stage of the 2013 single A season both the Eagles and Raptors are still in with a good chance of making the playoffs. The Raptors sit joint top of their group fighting for either an automatic buy through the first round or at least the first wildcard spot. The Eagles sit a game off the last wildcard spot with very winnable games to see out the end of the season hunting for playoffs. While the Raptors wanted to prove that the Eagle’s victory earlier in the season was a one-off, the Eagles were out to prove exactly the opposite. Winning this fixture was about pride, position and bragging rights.
Weather forecasts throughout the week had spelled that this fathers day fixture would not happen, but the British Summer did its part for once and remained dry meaning the game could go ahead as planned.
Both teams unsurprisingly delivered their strongest lineups with the Eagle’s bringing Andrew Slater to the mound while the Raptors turned to their young mainstay Zac Longboy. In a match between two of the biggest scoring teams of the season a high scoring game was assured….
The last thing anyone expected was for the game to start as a pitching duel. Zac closed out the Eagle’s offense in order for the first inning, and the Raptors could be forgiven for a wry grin appearing at that stage thinking they could crack open an early lead. Nothing of the sort ensued as the fired up Eagles defense turned the table on the usually dominant raptors offense who got the same treatment they had just given the nominal visitors. What’s more, the second and third innings were more of the same with only a run per inning being scored by the Raptors, who had not been held to that low a score over the opening three innings of any game this year. Whether a mixture of nerves, or Andrew Slater’s tantalising looping ball not being as easy to hit as it appeared, or a solid defense that were showing the tenacious attitude that had gotten the relatively inexperienced team to within one game off a wildcard position, no one’s bats were delivering much on either side.
The first score of the day came courtesy of Ken Pike [yours truly] who managed to get himself on base in the second inning and in usual fashion worked himself around the bags in short order to put himself in scoring position. A big pop by young Brodie Caress looked to clear both in and outfield, but Pike sensibly held up just off third for long enough to see it would be caught. He tagged up at manager (and then third basecoach) Arnie Longboy’s franticly shouted commands before taking off for home and opening the Raptors’ scoring account.
Some great plays, notably an awesome diving catch by Sony Llama at third, some well caught pop fly balls, and some sharp plays from the infield meant the Raptors defence stayed strong in the second inning. A dropped pickoff attempt at second even went their way as the runner attempting to capitalise by heading for third got picked off by the backup throw signalling that things were just not going the way of the Eagles.
Some light entertainment came half way through the game as one of the local youths attempting to do tricks on his moped just outside the field managed to overturn the bike on himself, raising rapturous applause from both benches interrupting Slater’s pitch and causing umpire Ben Marques (also chuckling at the youth’s misfortune) to offer a mulligan pitch.
As the innings stretched on and Zac Longboy’s dominance on the mound continued with a total of five strikeouts, closing out the Eagles for four consecutive innings. Meanwhile the Raptors drip-feed of scoring runs managed to prise the narrowest of margins out whilst taking their toll on Slater’s arm. A crushing homerun over left field for Jim Arnott spelled the beginning of the end for the Eagles, scoring himself and Jeff Whitter as part of a four run inning that put daylight between the two sides.
To stem the flow Eagles manager Duncan Hoyle took the mound, but the Raptors offense had already smelled blood. The fifth inning notched up another five runs with a triple for Theo Scheepers. Sony Llama added hitting to his dramatic performances of the day nailing a blast that bounced agonisingly off the fence a bare foot short of a second homerun of the day leaving him with just a double. While the Eagles clawed back three runs over two innings with ever present base stealing that the fast and determined side bring to every game, the Raptors brought in a further seven in the sixth. Zac Longboy made way for closer Will Zucker, whose dangerous sidearm curveball has been the woe of many a batter, shut down the seventh but for solitary eagles scorer. He also added to the score with a powerful shot down the line and a dash of youthful speed getting him a triple. The Eagles continued with fantastic tenacity throughout ensuring that it was never a done deal (both sides all too aware that comebacks were far from rare), but it was not to be enough on the day.
The final play of the game, with runners on first and third, Raptors catcher Pike threw a fake pickoff to Zac Longboy who had taken over at short instead of trying to gun down the steal attempt. Eagle Mike Cresswell was fooled into attempting to run home but instead found the ball beating him there on the short throw back. His attempt to run through the well armoured catcher who carried a 4 stone weight advantage didn’t go so well and he found himself hanging in Pike’s arms gazing longingly at the home plate…still a good yard away. The 15 run advantage was enough to bring the mercy rule into effect allowing the Raptors some solace over their previous defeat and Zac Longboy walking away with another addition to his rapidly growing collection of game balls adding weight to an early but loud call for MVP.
Raptor’s coach Arnold Longboy praised his team’s clinical performance: “I’m really proud of the team and how we executed on the field. We of course had great pitching but more importantly we had the fewest errors yet for the season. Combined with great cut off execution and fielding tactics we held an excellent Eagles hitting team to their lowest run production yet. Also one of the challenges I put to the team before the game started was to limit base running mistakes. In this regard we also shined and it made the difference in the early part of the game. If we continue in this fashion we should do well for the rest of the season.”
Eagles coach Duncan Hoyle meanwhile challenged his side to go on from the encouraging display to fight for a spot in the postseason: “I know the guys tried their guts out to beat the Raptors, and that is commendable, but ultimately we have proven we can get better results and we simply didn’t do that today. We know we can beat teams who are at the top of the tables, the Raptors included, and we need to get back into the groove of doing that for the last few games of the season so we have a real shot at the finals. We need to eliminate the errors that still plague us, as without that we won’t be able to stay in contention for the playoffs. I will be expecting everyone on the team to redouble their efforts, raise the bar several notches and make sure that whatever the post season brings we do it in a blaze of glory, not rueing what could have been had we applied ourselves fully.”
The record between the two teams now stands at 1-1 for the season. Raptors will point out a preseason win edging the stats in their favour, but with both teams in the hunt for playoffs, could a competetive decider be played under knock-out conditions? Wait and see what August brings.