Single-A League Semi-Final, Farnham Park
Haverhill Blackjacks 10 Herts Raptors 6
Some of the Herts Raptors players were in tears on Saturday after a late Haverhill rally knocked them out in the semi-final. This was the first time that a Herts team had reached the semi-final stage of the Single-A League and the Raptors had one foot in the final with a 6-3 lead and just 3 innings left to play. Herts scouts were also monitoring developments in the other semi-final and the news filtering through was that the favourites, London Marauders, were about to get knocked out by the Richmond Dukes who had used their ace pitcher in the process, which meant he would not be able to pitch in the final. It seemed like all the pieces were falling into place to reward the Raptors with a trophy at the end of a season, which they put every last ounce of energy into. But the game of baseball can be very cruel sometimes.
The Raptors 15-men roster reported for duty bright and early on Saturday morning. Manager, Arnie Longboy, had the difficult job of deciding which 6 players will start on the bench and the unpleasant task of giving them the bad news. However, all of the players who were on the bench stayed professional and they did all the things which do not show up in the box scores but certainly contribute to the team’s performance. It was a privilege just to be part of the team and this was emphasised by the large number of players from the other Herts teams who had come to support the team.
The Raptors had waited for this day for more than a month and during that time they had planned and prepared meticulously. Herts fans outnumbered any of the other sets of supporters who had made the trip to Farnham Park in Slough, so they went into the game with optimism.
Arnie Longboy entrusted 16-year-old pitcher Will Zucker with the daunting task of starting on the mound with all the pressure of the occasion and elimination baseball. There was no margin for error and Zucker was outstanding. From the first to the 95th pitch of his outing, his sidearm delivery was effective against a powerful Haverhill lineup.
The Blackjacks took a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the second inning. The Raptors responded with 3 runs in that frame to make it 4-2 which included a 1-run double by first-baseman, Jeff Witter. In the third, Will Zucker lined a 2-out triple into right field and Theo Scheepers drove him in to make the score 6-3.
Haverhill hits and several defensive mishaps turned the game on its head. 3 runs came in to score. We were going into the final inning with the game tied 6-6. Will Zucker had reached his 95-pitch limit which applies to players under the age of 17 and had to be substituted. Relief pitchers Brodie Caress and Theo Scheepers tried to halt Haverhill’s momentum, but were not able to. 4 runs came in to score in the top of the seventh. It was going to take something special from the Raptors to come back in the bottom of the final inning. They put 2 runners on base, but were not able to pull the trigger.
Credit must be given to the Blackjacks who started the game losing a player during warm-up followed by another two players during the course of the game through injury, but kept going to the end to reach the final in their first year of existence.
The Raptors camp will feel down for a considerable period of time. At a time when they should be proud of their outstanding achievement, the feeling of coming so close but missing out will haunt them all winter, however the pain they are feeling now will spur them on when they report for Spring Training in 2014.