By Ken Pike
Well that’s it, another season said and done for the Raptors. Time to pack our backs, go home for a long off-season and chill ou….wait…what? Finals? Funny guy, pull the other one. Oh, you’re serious? Well I never! The erstwhile ‘Craptors’ have shed the mantle of rubbishdom in exuberant style and made it to the post season. This is a team that three years ago struggled to get any wins and now they are through to Farnham Park! Not as a wildcard either, but as one of the top two seeds. Probably second, as the Marauders at the time of writing need 1 win from their last two. While Milton Keynes could give them a run for their money it would be a BIG upset were they to lose to the 2sox (and I mean no offense to Leicester who have played with heart and soul, but not the same level of success as the Marauders).
Either way that means a first round bye, home field advantage in the semi finals on September 7th. If they get to the finals they would also enjoy homefield advantage against any team except (possibly) the Marauders. Admittedly there were a couple of stumbles along the way. Mid season saw a run of two defeats to sister-team the Eagles (congrats to them for a very respectable four wins from the season) and pool rivals the MK Coyotes, while the end of the season saw them trip up again in the last two games against the Dukes and Tonbridge. But despite those blips they have also beaten each of the other pool leaders, and every second placed team bar the Dukes as well so they can go to Farnham confident of being capable of beating any team they face. Sadly they won’t have the air of impenetrability and momentum that they had mid-July though. That said, they should benefit from the return of their young pitchers Zac Longboy and Will Zucker whom they were deprived of for almost all of those four losses, and, subject-to-appeal the powerful bat of Glen Downer who could return from a long absence.
So who have been the standout performers that got the Raptors to this stage? First plaudits have to go to Arnie Longboy. The first Raptors coach to take the team to post season will put him in Herts history books, and his (usually) calm and considered leadership saw the team play with a competence and level-headedness that saw them come back from behind to win in style on several occasions. I believe it is his firm insistence on base running discipline that has led the Raptors to being the most offensively dominant team in the league despite not having any real power hitters to speak of.
As for play, starting from the mound and going round, the afore mentioned Zac and Will have been leading lights joined by Brodie Careess. The young trio have two wins a piece and truly demonstrated indomitable nerve and supreme skill in dispatching of side after side. Longboy leads the way between them on ERA but they have all been key to the Raptors success. That said they were joined at various stages by stand-ins Theo Scheepers and Jeff Whitter who also pipped a win to their names each (and in Whitter’s case two saves as well.)
Behind the plate Ken Pike received the vast majority of pitches in what was his first full season as a catcher. Being as I am the one writing this article I can hardly sing my own praises but I have been assured by Zac and Arnie that I did a good job of the issue. While I still have much to learn I am looking forward to continuing in what has been the position I have enjoyed by far the most, and taken to with relative comfort.
First base duties were initially taken on by Jeff Whitter and covered in his absences by Charlie Mayhew. Both performed outstandingly throughout the year being solid and generally error free despite some occasionally errant throws coming their way. Jeff’s amicable and calm nature made him one of the on-field captains helping to calm the team in times of frustration, while Charlie’s continual improvement saw a climax in the final game against Tonbridge where a series of amazing full-stretch catches helped to keep the game very close indeed.
Second and short were shared intermittently between the young pitchers, Theo Scheepers and coach Arnie, while by Sonam Lama, in his first year with the Raptors, demonstrated the kind of arm power capable of easily reaching first base and thereby cemented third base as his own. The coach again led the way from the front demonstrating the fewest errors per game for an infielder, and in fact one of the lowest numbers for the whole team. That said it will be fielding errors that he will want to cut out the most, preferably by post season but certainly by next year with nearly half of the team’s conceded runs coming un-earned.
Outfield was shared by Warwyk Byrne, Charlie Mayhew (when not at first), Mark Caress and Andy Bartram. Andy has made a solid case for rookie of the year (not just by virtue of being the only rookie on the team, but also by having the lowest error-per-game rating of any of the regular players. His assured glove, good arm, and fast pace to reach the ball made him a reliable and key player for left and centre.
Along the way there were notable performances by players who only joined for brief periods too. Matt Kiddie’s pitching against the 2sox at mid-season blew the side away and showed unbelievable pace, whilst two grand-slam homers from Ben Marques against the Mavericks helped to seal the game that confirmed the Raptors as Pool winners. Raptors Veteran Glen Downer was sadly occupied elsewhere for most of the season but managed to get in two games where he played solidly in the outfield. He is appealing for special dispensation to the commissioners to be allowed to join the team for post-season.
Defensively the Raptors were 5th in the league for runs conceded, but as for batting, well that’s where the stats really get interesting. While Arnie has not shared the statistics including the last two games, the production was spread throughout the team and at game 12 the numbers were as follows:
- Runs leader was Ken Pike (41), followed by Arnie (35) and Sonam (35).
- Hits went to Arnie (24) followed by Pike (20) and then Sonam and Brodie on a par (19).
- Home run leader by a mile is Ben Marques (2) followed by Jim Arnott (1).
- On Steals Ken Pike led by some distance (41) over Lama (25) and Arnie and Charlie (24 each).
- Base on balls leader was Charlie Mayhew (26) followed by Theo (22) and Arnie again (18).
- Arnie lead the way for AVG, SLG and OPS too but was closely followed in all three by a variety of people including his son Zac, while OBP leader Charlie Mayhew was clear of the rest of the field by some way.
While Arnie, Ken and Sony consistently led the line-ups between them, the whole team demonstrated consistency and ability at the plate averaging 24 points per game and having scored 46 runs more than any other team over the season. They had 7 games in which they scored 30 runs or more.
So in summary? Well the team will be relying on that offence to see them through at Farnham, but that being said the defence had consistently improved throughout the year and should they play to the kind of levels that saw them hold pool B leaders the Blackjacks to 12 or the Eagles and Archers to 4 and 6 respectively then they will be a real danger team. They have proven themselves fallible, but they have also proven that when they set their minds to it they are a force to be reckoned with, and they will surely be fired up to the max in Slough come September. Key warm-up friendlies, hopefully against higher division opposition such as the Hawks, will be key to preparing the team up for things to come. Meanwhile, we all cross our fingers and get our lucky charms at the ready and pray for a successful post season.
Please note, any players from teams not going to Farnham park, your assistance either as, experienced base coaches, bat men, general helpers and especially supporters will surely be massively appreciated and you will get to be a part of Herts Baseball history with the Falcons and Raptors both set to feature. Give Arnie and Lee a shout if you can help out in any way.