Falcons’ rally caps couldn’t get them the run they needed in the final inning (photo by Paul Holdrick)
Daniel Levitt, reporting from Grovehill Ballpark
The Herts Falcons took on the Southern Nationals in a double header on Sunday, in what was the most anticipated series of the season thus far. Heading into the two games, both teams stood on the cusp of the playoff spots.
Soaked in glorious sunshine, Grovehill Ballpark was once again drenched in perfect playing conditions. The Falcons knew they would have to be at their very best to topple the reigning champion Nationals.
The Nationals opened Game 1 with one run in the top half of the first without even registering a hit, but the Falcons quickly answered with a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning, when Phil Clarke scored on a Jose Sosa double, who was then thrown out at third stretching for a triple.
The Nationals slowly built a solid three run lead by tacking on a run in each of the next three innings. But as the home team has done all season long, Herts battled back and climbed within one run in the fifth inning.
Carlos Velzaco got things started with a lead-off walk and when Clarke also got a free pass, Sosa delivered his second hit and RBI of the game. Abel Salas then walked to load the bases for power-man Darrin Ward.
First baseman Ward displayed a mature approach at the plate by getting on base any way possible. Instead of swinging aimlessly, Ward managed to frustrate the pitcher enough to draw a hit-by-pitch and make it a 4-3 contest.
It looked as though the game was out of reach when Nationals’ Moses Vasquez launched a two-run home run in the top of the sixth to make it a 6-3 deficit, but the Falcons once again fought back.
They added an RBI single courtesy of Clarke in the bottom of the sixth and, when Salas launched his second solo home run of the season, the Falcons were suddenly just one run down again.
Despite having a runner in scoring position with two outs, the Falcons would fall just short however.
Falcons’ starting pitcher, Michael Osborne, was unlucky to be the losing pitcher, but a couple of critical errors by the Falcons led to the crucial runs being scored. Sosa completed an inning of work on the mound, striking out two in the process.
Game 2 saw Abel Salas take the mound for the Falcons, coming off a majestic outing a fortnight ago against the South London Pirates. In the win over the Pirates, Salas pitched a complete game giving up just the single run. This week was another solid performance, coming up just short against a tougher line up.
The final game of the day was a different story with the Falcons leading for most of the way and the Nationals this time staging the late comeback. Heading into the bottom of the fourth tied at two, the Falcons opened up some daylight between their pesky opponents.
Velazco drew his second lead-off walk of the game and Liam Green followed by being hit by a pitch, and when John Blose drew the second walk of the inning, it led to a bases loaded situation for starting pitcher Salas. Just as he did a fortnight ago against the Pirates, Salas helped his own cause by cashing in two runs with a double to deep centre field.
After the game Falcons manager, Lee Manning, said of Salas, “he just goes to work every time”.
“He is integral to our team and what Herts Baseball is all about. Especially with the younger guys, he’s a great role model”.
Salas’ efforts weren’t quite enough this time around, as the Nationals slugged their second home run of the game in the sixth inning to tie it up, and then scored the go-ahead run in the seventh. Salas struck out a season high fourteen batters in seven innings.
The Mexican won’t be too crestfallen as the Falcons sit just two games outside of the playoff spots, with the team heading into a three week break before their next game.
The Falcons’ next game is a double header away to the London Mets (7-5 ), who currently sit in third place. Join us in Finsbury Park for what promises to be a crunch series for the Herts Falcons.