The last time the Raptors faced Tonbridge in a BBF game it was the famous playoff victory of 2016. Some faces have changed since then, and the main aim for Herts this time around was to break a frustrating losing streak.
Confidence was high as the two teams met at Grovehill on Sunday, with the arrival of veteran John Kjorstad on the Herts roster off-setting the absence of some of this year’s new stars.
Raptors manager, Paul Barton, got the start on the mound on a day which saw sporadic rain showers break up the weeks of sunshine. It was a solid opening, with the visitors scoring just two.
The Herts bats replied by scoring three to take the lead, and the offense would be the saviour many times in this game. Not once were Herts held scoreless, and that would be crucial to the result.
After Tonbridge were shut out in the next couple of innings, the Raptors built a promising looking 8-2 lead. Ken Pike had himself a day in many ways, and his triple to lead off the third was just one part of that. He went 3-for-4 with the bat, driving in three.
In his role as catcher, he was also part of a double play and threw out two runners — both pretty rare plays in Single-A. Second baseman Arnold Longboy did an admirable job applying the tags on the two steals, while Paul Auchterlounie’s sharp fielding as relief pitcher helped to turn two.
But let’s get back to the top of the fifth inning, where it started to go sour for the Raptors. Barton’s pitching had perhaps not been at its sharpest, and he was starting to lose his battle with the tight strike zone.
Tonbridge were happy to take advantage and work walks. They scored eight runs in what felt like an interminable fifth inning, to roar back and take the lead 13-12.
When it was all over, Herts had given away an astonishing 30 base-on-balls. But it was that sort of day. The Bobcats walked 14 — and once Paul Barton handed over the ball to his relievers, they also had trouble throwing consistent strikes.
One Tonbridge hitter swung the bat just once all day, but scored four runs. So it wasn’t an entirely duff strategy.
However, it was Ken Pike who ultimately got the win as pitcher (see, I told you he had a day). Because, yes, win is what the Raptors did.
They struck back with 10 runs of their own in the bottom of the fifth to take a commanding lead which they would not surrender. Pike hit a double, and stole home. John Kjorstad drove in four as he went 4-for-5 on the day. Third baseman Tom Carson hit a pair of doubles, while Auchterlounie hit a triple.
Tonbridge did not give up without a fight, though, and narrowed the gap each inning. The feeling in the Herts dugout remained tense.
But on a day when pitching was not the dominant force, the Raptors were happy that they won the contest for number of hits — 23, compared with 15.
They even managed to end with a defensive flourish, shutting out Tonbridge in the top of the ninth to complete a 32-26 victory. The losing streak was broken. Complete with a forfeit from a previous week, the Herts side now move to 4-5 as they head into the last third of the season.
The Herts Falcons had a tougher time of it in their National League (NBL) double-header away to the London Capitals.
They travelled with a strong young side, and the first game was tied 1-1 going into the fourth inning with Ian Sales getting the RBI. Then a London home run opened the floodgates and they ran out 9-1 winners, with Herts unable to wake up their bats.
Game 2 also saw a close start – with the score 5-all in the fifth. Tyler Badenhorst and Zack Longboy shared the pitching duties,while Moises Vazquez drove in three. Again, London piled on, though, and secured a 14-6 victory.