The Herts Hawks glittering season was polished further on Sunday by a powerful batting display which took them through to the national finals. They will play in the semis at Farnham Park next weekend in search of the Single-A title.
The downside for the club was that their victims were the Herts Raptors, who saw their own remarkable season come to an end. They had beaten the defending champions, Tonbridge, in their wildcard playoff, but the Hawks had too much for them.
There were showers and clouds over Grovehill as the players prepared for this one. There were ceremonies and photos and good-natured joking. But the prize at stake made this serious for everyone.
The early stages of the game were tight. Co-manager Greg Bochan was on the mound for the home side, the Hawks, who went through the regular season undefeated. The Raptors lead-off man Michael Cresswell got aboard and manufactured an early run. But it was the only one.
The Hawks hit back with four runs, as they showed the power of their lineup. Hunter Devine scored first for them, after narrowly escaping a double play on the bases.
The Raptors defense limited the damage, and they uncorked their own offense in the shape of Matt Jackson. The centre fielder hit a triple, then came home on a pass ball, to cut the deficit.
The first rain delay soon interrupted proceedings. Showers would mix with downpours and only the odd burst of sunshine as the day went on.
When the game resumed the Raptors took the lead, going up 5-4 by the middle of the third. Their starting pitcher Paul Barton had been keeping the Hawks in check, striking out one and giving up only one walk.
But when Gilberto Medina unloaded on a fast ball which strayed too close to the heart of the plate, it was a sign of what the Hawks could do. The line drive went over the left field fence in a flash and Medina was greeted at home plate by his team-mates.
The Raptors were blanked for the first time in the top of the fourth, and by the end of the inning it was 10-5 to the Hawks. Matt Jackson — who also made a series of crucial catches during the game — then hit his second triple of the day.
The gap narrowed to 10-7, then stretched again to 13-7 with Jon Lewys, Jamie Warren and Greg Bochan piling up the hits.
Then the rain intervened for a longer delay. Players sheltered under umbrellas in the increasingly muddy dugouts, or under a gazebo which the manufacturer had probably intended to protect from the sun.
Even once the rain stopped, there was a further delay as both sides worked to clear water from the diamond without damaging the playing surface. An impressively careful operation scooped up the water with any available receptacle and cleared it away.
The Raptors seemed to come out cold from this second stoppage. They went down one-two-three in the inning, with Bochan picking up more strikeouts. He ended the day with 9, and only 2 walks.
The Hawks had made substitutions now, making use of the impressive depth of their bench, and they put the game away. Sonam Lama was 2-for-2 with a pair of runs, Tim Elkins and Matthew Gentry also scored.
The Raptors relief pitchers Jim Arnott and Aaron Witter weren’t able to close it down this time, and a big 12-run inning ended the contest.
Both sides agreed that the final scoreline of 25-7 failed to tell the true story of the ballgame. The Hawks put up the gaudy numbers — two dozen hits, 7 doubles, a home run – but for over 5 innings it was a close contest.
Hawks catcher Ken Pike said it had been a great game, and a shame they had to knock out a sister team. Co-manager Andrew Slater — who couldn’t be at the game — offered congratulations to his players on reaching the finals at Farnham Park for the second year in a row.
For the Raptors, Paul Barton felt the game had gone really well until the sixth inning, when the team was overpowered. Michael Cresswell added that it had been “the most enjoyable season ever”.
Herts Baseball President, Aspi Dimitrov, said it had been a great day for the club, and that everyone was proud of how far the Raptors had progressed against the odds. “We are now willing on the Hawks to go one better than last year, and win the title”.