After a solid start to the season at Grovehill, the Herts Raptors took their season on the road in the past two weeks, writes Rob Jones. They were disappointed by the results, coming up short on long trips to Kent and to Norfolk.
This Sunday saw a visit to the Norwich Iceni, who are playing their first season in the BBF leagues. The team was undefeated so far in Single-A, and clearly posed a strong challenge.
A few Raptors players made the trip a day early, to settle in and sample the Norwich nightlife. Some Iceni players graciously helped them do that, and clearly a fine time was had by all. So what would Sunday bring?
Herts set themselves up well in the first inning, with runners on the corners and one out. But slick handling of an infield grounder meant the runner on third got tagged out, and a fly-out ended the threat.
The second inning was a similar picture – good contact but no runs. Steve Patmore got the first of two hits on the day before being stranded on the bases, and Giuseppe Basilea’s giant drive was caught on the warning track.
But Herts were holding their own defensively. Norwich scored only one run in the first. Matt Jackson made an astonishing running catch in centre field.
In the second, an unassisted double play from third baseman Ben Sinclair limited the damage with the bases loaded. He snared a hard hit liner and stepped on the bag. Again, Norwich scored only one.
As the game went on, second baseman James Emblow and first baseman Basilea were the defensive stars for the Raptors. They combined for a series of crucial plays.
But, come the third inning, Herts could not hold back their hosts any more. The Iceni put 12 runs on the board with booming hits to the outfield. In fact, even their infield mishits did not hurt them, as they were always half a step faster than the Herts infield.
For Norwich, Adam Ray went 4-for-4 with a double, while Tom Thornhill drove in 3.
It ended in a mercy rule victory for Norwich, 16-1. Manager and starting pitcher Paul Barton scored the only Herts run of the game, driven in by Steve Patmore.
A week earlier in Kent, a somewhat depleted Raptors squad had made a good start against the Mariners. The two teams had met in the Herts Spring League, with the Raptors coming off best on that occasion.
Kent were 1-2 going into this game — including a loss to the Norwich Iceni – and the teams appeared evenly matched.
Raptors capitalised on a series of first inning walks issued by the Mariners starting pitcher. Catcher Rob Jones got the first hit, driving in 2 runs, and in all the Raptors scored 6 to jump out in front.
But the Mariners came back strongly, tying the game up by the end of the third. Jose Valero was their offensive powerhouse on the day, going 4-for-6, with 3 RBIs. David Ratcliff hit a double and got the win in relief.
After the see-saw opening innings, the game did settle down into an even and quality contest. It went all nine innings before Kent claimed a 19-13 win, and the score for the final five innings was a tight 6-4.
Left fielder Michael Johnson got 3 RBIs for Herts, while Darren Butterworth went 3-for-5 with the bat as well as striking out two in his pitching debut. James Emblow and Giuseppe Basilea could again be pleased with their performance in the field.
Acting manager for the day, Rob Jones, doffed his cap to Kent. “It all came together for them today, and we just couldn’t pull it back. Some of our guys did great work though, and that helps us a lot going forward.”
The road trip drops the Raptors back to 2-4 on the season so far. They return to Grovehill this weekend to take on the Cambridge Royals.