Raptors roll over Redbacks to wrap season

Raptors shortstop Jamie Lang makes the catch for the final out of the final game of the 2014 season for the team

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
… gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here” – William Shakespeare

There was a special feeling in the air as the Herts Raptors gathered in a field in Essex for the rescheduled final game of their 2014 season. Partly it was an end of term relaxation, a looseness – but that brought confidence, too, that things could end on a high.

But the hometown Redbacks stood in the way of a win — and they had no intention of letting Herts spoil their own finale.

The Raptors started with intent. Joseph Osborne-Brade led off with a single, and stole second. Manager Geoff Thomas, starting at third base, would drive him home, before scoring himself. The entire Raptors line-up came to bat, but Essex held them to just 3 runs.

In the second, the Raptors went round again and this time they brought in 5. The game was starting to look like a traditional Single-A division run-fest, and Herts maybe thought it was going to be in their favour. Second baseman Charlie Day and shortstop Jamie Lang were among those getting in on the act with the bat.

But Essex hit back in the bottom of the second, scoring 4 runs of their own. And then, after Herts catcher Rob Jones cleared the loaded bases with a loud single into centre field in the top of the third, this game suddenly changed.

The score stood at 11-5 to the visitors, and when Essex pulled a hard-throwing reliever from their bag of tricks this became a pitchers’ duel. For the next five half-innings nobody scored. Starting pitcher Greg Bochan threw up zeroes on the board to match the new rival, with his defence helping out. Osborne-Brade ended the threat in the fifth inning with a trademark spectacular sliding catch at the foot of the fence in centre field.

Essex then started to chip into the lead, pulling a couple back in the sixth, then another with a lead-off home run in the seventh. But the Herts team were hanging in, too, even as they tried to work out their timing for the fiery reliever. First baseman Jeff Witter led off the sixth with a walk and scored with the help of a passed ball and a single from substitute Drew Mayhew. Manufactured runs kept Herts ahead.

And Witter was back in the frame when hero-time came. The top of the ninth, Herts still holding the lead but by just 13 runs to 10. The Redbacks had been edging closer all the time and could sense a come from behind win. But the doughty first baseman was hit by a pitch in his soft area, to ensure the crucial lead off man got aboard. He moved up to second before Glen Downer got on the same way. And when he scored, he was cheered loudly by the Herts bench.

The Redbacks pitcher was reaching into his last reserves and was sacrificing some control. By the time he had hit a third batter, three runs had scored and the wind was in Herts’ sails.

There were 6 runs in all and as Bochan took the mound, now guided by substitute catcher Kal Dimitrov, he was defending a 9 run lead. The first out was popped to the infield, the second was a grounder. And as the third Redback launched a high pop up to short left field the Raptors gathered a round to make the final out.

It was Jamie Lang, soft of hands, recently returned from a summer stint in the States, who took it in. And the win was complete.

The Raptors co-manager Geoff Thomas said: “It was a fantastic game and great to end the season on a high. I think we really showed what we were capable of and hopefully can carry this into next season”.

Herts had led this game from the start to the finish, and had dug deep instead of crumbling when the Redbacks made a spirited fightback. It was the third Raptors win of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better moment to give optimism for the future.