Herts players thrown in at the deep end come through with flying colours

Another solid outing on the mound for Tom Everex-Armstrong

The Herts Ravens went into the game with second-placed Cambridge Royals knowing that they are out of the playoff race. In such circumstances MLB teams would usually sell their highly-paid star players and bring in younger talent from their lower league teams with a view to building for the future. In many ways the Ravens have adopted a similar approach from the very first pitch of the season back in April, but against the Royals this was even more obvious with four of the nine players in the starting line-up being call-ups from the club’s Single-A and Double-A League teams. Furthermore, three of the other five starting players were between 14 and 17 years of age.

This was the most difficult test possible and it is games like these that reveal the most about players. They have the easy option of letting their heads drop and accept defeat or alternatively they can fight for every inch. The Herts Ravens chose the latter and fans of Herts can be safe in the knowledge that players with very good potential and a lot of character are coming through the ranks.

They faced Royals’ starting pitcher Matt Maitland who has had 9 seasons in the National Baseball League with the Bracknell Blazers. Maitland was never going to allow many runs so the Ravens had to match him defensively if they were to stay in the game. That task fell largely on the shoulders of 14-year-old starting pitcher, Tom Everex-Armstrong, but he was also able to rely on the support of his teammates who conceded only 3 errors, which is a good number compared to the team’s average this season and given the fact that 4 of the 9 players were making their Triple-A League debut.

Everex-Armstrong was effective limiting the Royals to 2 runs on 4 hits through the first 5 innings. He was completing innings with around 15 pitches per inning and that allowed him to go deep into the game. In the sixth inning with the score tied 2-2, Cambridge had their leadoff batter on third base with one out representing the go-ahead run. Up stepped Doug Grabowski who apart from making the headlines with his pitching has also shown that he is a major threat with the bat having hit a home run in their previous game at Finsbury Park against the London Mets II. The Ravens decided to walk him intentionally. Everex-Armstrong needed to get the next batter out, ideally with a strikeout. He did his job and got the strikeout, but one of his pitches bounced on the ground going all the way to the backstop allowing the go-ahead run to come in. That was Everex-Armstrong’s last batter as he reached his 95th pitch which is a league limit for players under the age of 17. The Royals scored one more run in that inning to take a 4-2 lead.

It came down to the final inning. The Ravens needed 2 runs to tie the game and take it into extra innings, or 3 to win it. The lightning-fast Sony Lama beat out a ground ball to reach first. Two quick outs followed, but a double by Liam Green drove Lama home to make the score 4-3. With the powerful clean-up bat of John Kjorstad coming up next for Herts and the speedy Liam Green in scoring position, suddenly there was hope that they can cause a major upset. The Royals had to act and they did, bringing in Doug Grabowski and his 0.00 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 19 innings for the season. He closed the game with four pitches (fastball, fastball, changeup, fastball) striking out Kjorstad.

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Game two was not as tense, largely due to the Ravens defence which committed 7 errors. Herts kept pace in the first 3 innings when the score was 5-3, but disastrous fourth and fifth innings proved costly for Herts. The 19-4 score line was not pleasant to look at but that should not take away from the character shown by the team in the first game which had everyone on the edge of their seats right to the final pitch by Doug Grabowski.

The Ravens will end their 2013 season on Sunday, 25 August, with a home doubleheader against playoff contenders, London Mets II.

(Game 1) Cambridge Royals 4 Herts Ravens 3 (click to view box scores)

(Game 2) Cambridge Royals 18 Herts Ravens 4 (click to view box scores)