The Herts Raptors kicked off their season in Single-A with a statement of intent. A tight game at Finsbury Park against the London Musketeers ended with a 7-3 win. While Single-A can often bring drama through high scores, drastic errors and marathon contests, this one was a more classic baseball contest.
Raptors’ rookie pitching ace Matt Corran was dealing from the every first moment of the game. The Musketeers lead-off man was struck out and Corran went on to sit down 14 more batters in a full 9 innings of work.
A converted cricketer, Matt was a regular at midweek training last year. He appeared in a few games at the tail end of the 2015 season and now promises to have a big influence on the Raptors prospects. He mixed in breaking balls with a powerful fastball, and located pitches perfectly.
This was not a tale of one man, though. The defence had to remain sharp behind the pitcher, and they did that. Second baseman Adam White dealt calmly with ground balls his way, and co-manager Michael Cresswell turned a crucial unassisted double play at first base to end a London threat in the seventh inning.
Musketeers have been getting stronger and stronger in recent years — reaching the national semi-finals in 2015. Herts knew they would have to take their chances if they were to prevail, and they did that in the top of the first as starting pitcher Lloyd Winters battled to find the low strike zone.
First Michael Cresswell and then Ken Pike got on base, and they both worked their way to home plate to score. Cresswell would be a constant threat all day, and he later tacked on an insurance run with a slide into a close play at home.
Winters soon settled into his usual assured stride, and Herts were held scoreless for the next two innings. He ended the day with 6 strikeouts, and reliever Billy Atkinson-Warne racked up another seven to complete an excellent day’s work for everyone who took the pitching mound.
The Raptors’ crucial burst of offense came in the top of the fifth. It was kick-started by a superb at-bat by Nick White. After years supporting his son through the Herts ranks, Nick had been pressed into service on Sunday hitting in the 9-hole. He watched balls, he took strikes, and he battled off pitches to keep alive to work a walk.
Cresswell followed behind, then Paul Barton got on. White scored before shortstop Rob Jones drove a ball to the outfield, bringing home two more runs to stretch the lead to 7-1.
There would be no more scoring until the bottom of the ninth, when the Musketeers faced a do or die challenge needing 6 to tie, 7 to win. The lead-off got on base and runners stole aggressively. Herts allowed the steals, but the London policy bore fruit quickly and one run scored to chip away at the lead.
Matt Corran bore down, though, and when a second runner scored it was at the cost of an out at first base, Corran fielding a comebacker and running it to the bag himself in a belt and braces approach. All it needed was a final strikeout and the victory was secure.
Back at Grovehill, the Herts Hawks were facing the Northants Centurions. The hosts — who were actually the visiting team for this occasion — powered through to another big win.
A home run by Jon Lewys was the obvious highlight, but he didn’t stop there — he also finished a double shy of the cycle. The Hawks doubles were provided by Hunter Devine and Ilya Dimitrov, who picked up 3 and 2 RBIs respectively.
Three pitchers combined to limit Northants to 10 runs, eight earned. Simon Langton struck out three and gave up just one run in his three innings of work.
The Hawks are now 3-0 on the season and already looking poised for another run at the playoffs. They travel to Milton Keynes Coyotes next week, who are 2-2 and will be looking to stop the Hawks momentum. The Raptors next opponent is the Essex Archers, who have won both of their opening games.