Falcons split series with Blazers, playoff hopes teeter on knife edge

Jose Sosa came within two innings of securing a win in game one (photo by Paul Holdrick)

Report by Daniel Levitt

It seems as though time fast-forwards each week in this captivating playoff race the Herts Falcons find themselves in. This chapter of their season saw the Bracknall Blazers visit Grovehill Ballpark to settle a two-game series.

With the Blazers and Falcons sitting two and three games out of the fourth playoff spot at the start of the day respectively, no team could afford to lose both games with just eight games remaining in the season.

The Falcons welcomed back Abel Salas from a two-week absence due to illness, whom would provide them a much needed quality start in the second game, but it was Jose Sosa who took the mound in the opener.

Sosa, coming off his best start to date last week against the Southampton Mustangs, seemed to be in full control early, on the way to his second win in as many weeks.

Combining a heated fastball and nasty breaking ball, the Cuban found himself up 2-0 courtesy of some solid offensive production from his hitters after the three innings, however that was where it all turned south.

After giving up two runs in the top of the fourth, Sosa helped his team fight back with two runs of their own in the bottom half of the fifth, but it was in the sixth inning where Sosa lost his mojo and ultimately when the Falcons collapsed to a heartbreaking loss.

The Blazers crossed the plate a mammoth six times in the sixth to break the game wide open, chasing Sosa from the tie in the process.

Darrin Ward came in to pitch the seventh and surrendered just a single run, but it wasn’t enough as the Falcons handed the Blazers the first battle of the day as they fell 9-5.

Heading into the finale, the Falcons simply couldn’t afford another late game collapse, with their entire season depended on them not doing so.

With Abel Salas back on the mound the Falcons are a very dangerous opponent (photo by Paul Holdrick)

Game two was almost a mirror image of the opener as the Falcons jumped to an early, scoring four in the first and adding on another in the second to find themselves up 5-0 after three. The hosts would not score again, instead leaking runs gradually to set up a late-inning climax for the ages.

As the visitors found the scoreboard with two in the fourth and then another run in the sixth, the contest teetered on a knife edge heading into the final frame of the day, with the Falcons up barely by 5-3.

The Blazers added one run in the seventh, which left the deficit at just one run. Through some sterling defence and clutch pitching down the stretch by Salas, the Falcons split the two-game series and were able to avoid a disaster that would have surely ended any playoff hopes.

For Salas, it was a pitching performance that, if the Falcons go onto make the postseason, will be remembered long in the history of the organization. In his seven-inning complete game, Salas struck a startling 12 batters, while also walking twice and scoring a decisive run at the plate.

As it stands now, Herts stand three games behind the Southern Nationals for the fourth and final playoff spot and, with two games coming against the Nationals this Sunday, the Falcons have one last chance to make their move and resurrect their championship hopes.

A split next week will leave them with slimmest of chances of making the postseason, being swept will be catastrophic and will all but end any remaining hopes.