Hawks go the distance for a close finish

The Herts Hawks were faced with their longest road trip of the season, and maybe (hopefully!) their toughest weather conditions when they travelled the 120 miles to Norwich, writes Jamie Lang.

The Iceni were coming in to the matchup riding a 19 game winning streak. In 2017, Norwich had repeated the Hawks’ 2016 feat of winning the Single-A title with an undefeated season — so the first contest between these teams in Double-A was always going to be special.

11 Hawks, as well as two very dedicated fans, had made the journey, and they immediately knew they would need to adjust to the conditions when they were greeted with weather more suited to rugby than baseball.

Herts pitcher Darrin Ward (library photo)

 Soaked through and shivering before a pitch had even been thrown, the Hawks knew that it would be a challenging day, and it proved so when Norwich held them scoreless in the top of the first inning. Hawks’ star pitcher Darrin Ward was working in unfamiliar surroundings with no mound to pitch from, and it may have contributed as Norwich plated 3 runs in their half of the inning.

 The game settled down a little from there. After several players used the changing room hand dryer in an attempt to stave off frostbite, Herts got on the board in the top of the third with a double from manager Mike Cresswell.

They then went on to tie the game at 3 in the top of the fourth on an infield single from catcher, Hunter Devine. Originally called out by the infield umpire, Norwich’s first baseman sportingly admitted that his foot was off the bag when he caught the ball, and the correct call was eventually made.

 Players from both teams employed many different methods to try and keep warm and dry, and Greg Bochan’s balaclava clearly wasn’t inhibiting his vision as he made several nice plays at third base to keep the game close. The Hawks finally took their first lead of the game in the sixth inning, a 2-run double from Darrin Ward giving them a 6-5 lead in the middle of the sixth.

Norwich would again rally back though, and they were leading 8-6 after seven innings before substitute left fielder Jamie Lang tied it up with a single in the eighth.

 At this point the tension began to rise, and the inexperience of Norwich’s umpire may have started to show, with both teams feeling like they deserved more strikes than they were being given. Needing a run in the top of the ninth to extend the game, Herts struck three times to take a 2-run lead; two of the three runs scoring on a hit from shortstop Mike Cattermole.

A sense of the murky, wet conditions

The Hawks looked to close it out in the bottom of the ninth, but unfortunately it was not to be as Norwich tied the game. They had an opportunity to win it with a man on third and 2 outs, but Cattermole was involved again, catching a sharp line drive at shortstop to end the inning.

 After some debate about potentially ending the game as a tie, considering the weather and the long journey home for the Hawks, it was decided that they hadn’t come all this way for a tie, and to the 10th it would go.

With the Norwich pitcher clearly struggling with both the conditions and an injured hamstring, Herts were able to capitalise, plating 4 runs and again looking to close out the game and stop the Iceni win streak at 19. Starting pitcher Darrin Ward was still on the mound, but an inspired performance from Norwich led to a final comeback and an eventual 16-15 win on a walk-off infield single.

 A game which at times had become heated ended with both teams exchanging handshakes as soon as the winning run had scored. Both teams had given it their all, and unfortunately this time the Hawks came out on the losing end. A long journey and the cold and rain had not ended as hoped, but such is baseball, and such is life.

Norwich Iceni called it “a hell of a game”, and paid tribute to the performance of their visitors. The Hawks’ Manager Mike Cresswell offered congratulations on the win, adding:“The loss hurts but we continue. We go again and we go again winning.”

The Hawks, now with a 2-1 record, will return home to Grovehill next week for a double header against the Bracknell Inferno.