This was another tight and evenly-balanced contest between the Herts Raptors and one of the leading Single-A teams, the London Musketeers. The problem was, that it was only tight for an inning and two thirds.
Then, on a damp and gloomy day at Grovehill, the visitors powered into a lead which they would not surrender. By the end, the sun had come out. But it wasn’t much relief for Herts.
Co-manager Michael Cresswell started on the mound and began with a scoreless inning. The first batter forced a tremendous play from young shortstop Aaron Witter, who made a backhand stop deep in the hole and then made a strong throw to first. The next Musketeer popped up to third base, and then a lineout ended the threat.
But it was London’s pitcher, Billy Atkinson-Warne, who was the dominant force. His first inning was marred only by a walk to left fielder Adam White. Of the first seven batters he faced, Atkinson-Warne struck out six.
Hitting in the nine hole, Rob Jones was the first Raptor to put a ball in play. Even then, the ground ball forced out Michelle Johnson, who had worked a walk, at second base. But a steal and a pass ball meant that Mike Cresswell could then drive in the run and put Herts on the board.
But here’s the rub. By that point the Raptors were already 18 runs behind.
With two out in the top of the second, the Musketeers had scored five. After quick outs in the third, they then piled on for 13 more. They hit confidently and hit it hard. But it was a day when a series of Herts infielders were unable to apply the necessary finishing touch and secure the out that was needed.
The rain which had dampened the start of the game became more heavy and forced a long suspension, which did little to revive the Raptors. Cresswell handed over pitching duties to Paul Barton, who later gave the ball to Witter.
Between them, they limited the damage. London scored only three runs in each of the next innings. That left Herts needing an astonishing rally to prevent a slaughter rule defeat in five innings.
Barton got the first hit of the game to lead off the fifth and came round to score. Boruch Boudilovsky turned his walk into a run. But as Herts appeared to be enjoying their success against the relief pitcher Lloyd Winters, a base-running mix up led to a double play at second and it was, in effect, all over.
Musketeers ran out 24-4 winners in the end, and extended their lead at the top of Pool B in Single-A. They won their season series over Herts 2-1.
The Raptors will sweep Haverhill, but the other two series against Essex Archers and Old Timers could be decisive for any prospect of playoff baseball. Essex are first up, visiting Grovehill on Sunday 17th July.