Herts Falcons sweep on Opening Day

Jarrod Pretorius marked his Herts Falcons debut with a home run (photo by Richard Lee richardleephotography.org)

by Cris Hiche, Grovehill Ballpark, Hemel Hempstead

As the saying in sports goes, a new season brings new hope! Herts Falcons were looking for this after a challenging 2016 season. Their addition of Jarrod Pretorius, Miguel Hector, and the return of Cris Hiche were a good improvement. Furthermore the youngsters were a year older, stronger, and with a year experience in the NBL under their belts. This had the fans bullish for this season. But all is fine on paper but this Sunday was the opportunity to test the team against a strong, young Brighton Jets team.

Harry O’Brien and Matt Gilbert were the starting pitchers for the Jets and Falcons respectively on a pleasant day conducive to a good game of baseball. Matt took the mound and looked poised for a great start by getting ahead 1-2 to leadoff Jacob Dean. However Jacob was able to square a pitch inside to send it over the fence and put their team quickly ahead. Oh no! Fans were already thinking this might be a very looooooong season ahead. However Matt Gilbert was able to finish the inning with only one run on the scoreboard. Now he was hoping his teammates would pick him up…and they did by scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the 1st. With the score 2-1 for the Falcons, the 2nd and top of the 3rd inning went scoreless. In the bottom of the 3rd, Cris Hiche put the first big smiles for the fans by connecting a 2-run homer and putting the Falcons 4-1 ahead. Meanwhile, fans were starting to enjoy some fine pitching by Matt as he was controlling batters with wicked control, crucial K’s, and when needed some great plays like John Blose in left field with a diving catch near the left side fence risking his body to catch the ball. The offense was slowly increasing the gap, including a bomb by Jarrod Pretorius to leave the score 7-1 in the bottom of the 5th. By the end of the game, Falcons celebrated their 1st victory of the year with a final score of 8-1. Everybody played very well both defensively and offensively. Generally, the home runs take the spotlight but the player of the match needs to be Matt Gilbert who pitched a gem not seen in many years in British baseball. Complete game, 2 hits allowed, 7K, and using only 107 pitches to do the job!! That’s a challenge for any pitcher to beat this year!

The 2nd game was a different story. Young starting pitcher Will Zucker started for the Falcons and quickly allowing some walks and the Jets capitalising with some key hits. Will Zucker was struggling with his command and although post-match interviews has him quoted as “It just wasn’t my day…”, sources tell us he was suffering from a hand injury which would have certainly affected his performance. Regardless, the Jets took advantage and were 5 runs ahead by the middle of the 1st inning. Manager Lee Manning had to even bring Jarrod to finish the inning. It was now going to be a long day for the bullpen. On the other hand, Jacob Dean started the 2nd game for the Jets and after 3 innings he had allowed only 1 run. Brighton was playing a sound game and it was almost a flip from the 1st game. Both teams playing well but Brighton capitalising the little advantages given by Herts and in the 4th they scored another one to make it 6-1 in the middle of the 4th. But then Herts got a lucky break when Jacob Dean developed some sort of cramp which sidelined him from the game. The Jets had to use their bullpen with Dan Whitton taking the mound. He was also doing well but soon the Jets went to relief pitcher Connor O’Shaughnessy. With Connor’s fastball a few mph slower than Dan and Jacob, the Falcons hitters were able to make adjustments at the plate and start to put the ball in play. Timely hits, some lucky bounces, and a great “See-ya-later” by Darren Meintjes meant putting 2 runs in the bottom of the 4th and 6 in the bottom of the 5th. That offensive punch put the Falcons ahead 9-6 changed the whole momentum of the game. The Falcons added some insurance runs in the bottom of the 6th with the final score of 11-6 for the Falcons. Worthy mentions for Miguel Hector who went 2-2, 3R, and Moises Vasquez with some nice defensive gems and starting the 1st double play of the season. However the player of the match goes to Darren Meintjes who went 2-5,HR,3RBI at the plate and pitched 5IP, 1R, 6K. Outstanding performance!

The Falcons will be tested this upcoming weekend when travelling to Southampton to face the reigning champions Mustangs who split their first two games against the London Mets.

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