by Cristobal Hiche
On paper it was expected to be an easy outing for the league-leading Herts Falcons against the Essex Redbacks, for whom this is a first year in the NBL. But the games need to be played and underdogs can always sneak an unexpected victory. Well, it wasn’t the case. Falcons got two necessary victories to maintain their position at the top of the league. Herts looked very effective getting the necessary runs to get a comfortable lead and then relying on their solid pitching and defence to do the rest.
The first game saw Falcons winning it 6-2 suggesting a very close game. Indeed the score doesn’t lie however it never felt that way. Essex Redbacks could never really start a rally and put pressure on the Falcons. Herts looked to be in control during the entire game thanks to great pitching by Darrin Ward who pitched a complete game. Everybody was hitting well but special mention to John Blose who was on fire this Sunday and got the first big hit of the day with a deep double to left field. Falcons were hitting solid grounders and line drives but Redbacks played good defence to stop some of those laser beams. Herts took the opportunity to call up Herts Harriers/Ravens/GB players Carlos Casal Jr and Conner Brown for their first taste of the NBL with the Falcons. This was also the debut of Conner in the NBL. They took the opportunity and both played solid games both defensively and offensively.
The second game was more of the same. Falcons took an early lead with many multi-base hits which allowed to quickly put players in scoring position. Xavi Gonzalez started the game with a triple which set the tone for the game. Jordan Farkas pitched another solid 1-run complete game, mixing quite well between his fastball and his repertoire of breaking balls to keep the Redbacks at bay. Defensively they also took advantage of the fielding conditions. The outfield grass was quite long killing any ground ball hit to the outfield. Right fielder Carlos Velazco-Carus was aggressive charging each ball going his way and was able to make the out at first base on more than one occasion.
After the game Herts Falcons manager, Lee Manning, was happy about the victories and said: “We are happy that we have an 8-game winning streak going on and hope to extend it to a 10-game winning streak next week. The team played solid with good hitting by everyone and was happy to see many multi-base hits which hopefully can continue to do so next week”. He also said a few words about the players’ performances, “…everybody did great today. Both Darrin and Jordan pitched really well but I want to specially mention Carlos Jr and Conner, our U17 players, who did really well today. It’s not easy to step into the best team in the league and perform at the highest level of baseball in the UK. Thanks for coming down and helping us win two important games”.
The games didn’t really offer any highlights and at all times it looked like a Falcons team determined to win but not pushing too hard to avoid unnecessary injuries and stay healthy for the upcoming games. Pitching was great as usual, giving manager Lee Manning a welcoming dilemma. He has four excellent starters and of course only 2 games to play on a given weekend. However, let’s give credit to a Redbacks team who are finding their feet in the NBL and they never gave up. They finished strong and tried to close the gap, when many other teams would have given up being 10-1 behind. They even looked to make harder contact than much stronger NBL teams who have recently played against the Falcons.
Herts have a difficult weekend against the reigning champions Harlow Nationals. Last time they played Herts was able to sweep them convincingly. However Nationals will be determined to reverse history and more importantly make sure they don’t get into playoff troubles. Two losses might jeopardise their playoff chances. Meanwhile, Herts Falcons will try to extend their winning streak and ensure they stay on top of the league since the Mets and Mustangs are making sure they are still in the hunt for first place. So a perfect opportunity for baseball fans to come to Grovehill Ballpark in Hemel Hempstead this Sunday, 30 June, for what is expected to be another clash of the titans between two of the big guns in the league.