On a sunny day at Grovehill Ballpark, Game 1 of a double dip with the London Capitals was off to a good start for the Herts NBL side.
Despite taking place at Grovehill, the Falcons were the away team throughout the two-game set, as a result of scheduling difficulties with London’s home field. Led by CF Walter Bates, who went 6-7 on the day with 3 BB, the Falcons’ offense exploded for 17 hits. Adding to Bates’ dominance was C Conner Brown, who followed up Bates’ no-doubter HR in top of the 4th with a solo shot of his own. 3B Phil Clark added a solo shot and 1B Cris Hiche an RBI double to chase Capitals starter, Timmy Ssali after only 4 innings.
CF Walter Bates and C Conner Brown Hit Back-to-Back HR in the 4th.
On the mound for Herts, Zack Longboy was dominant early in his return from university in the U.S. Buoyed by strong run support, Longboy held the hot-hitting Capitals to three runs over the first six frames.
In the 7th however, a walk, HBP and another walk caused manager Cris Hiche to turn to young reliever Aaron Witter. With the Falcons up 10-3, the Capitals’ DH, Adam Gelman(who had already hit a two-run bomb in the bottom of the 2nd) dug in to face the young righty. With the bases loaded, Gelman hit a grand slam home run over left field, narrowing the score to 10-7. It was a brand new ballgame.
Back in the game, Capital’s manager turned to David Bedard who held the Falcon’s lineup in check over the last three innings of the game. Hiche on the other hand, went with closer Conner Brown for the potential 9-out save.
Both teams traded zeros until the bottom of the 9th, when the Capitals began to mount a comeback. With runners on, a double by Bedard pulled the score tied and a walk and a passed ball put the wining run only 90 feet away.
In a move that caught everyone in the ballpark by surprise, heavy-hitting 1B Ben Marcal laid down a squeeze bunt, scoring the winning run from third, and giving the Capitals an 11-10 walk off win.
“We played a great game in all aspects and we deserved the win,” said Manager Cris Hiche.”I made some errors in my managerial decisions which proved costly… but credit to the Capitals who fought back, got some very timely hits, and executed the squeeze play to perfection.”
Despite the swing in momentum, Falcons’ bats started hot again in Game 2. With singles from Bates, RF Tom Carson, and a double by 2B Moises Vasquez plating 3 runs in the top of the first.
The bottom of the 1st however, proved eventful as the Capitals’ bats sprang to life. When all was said and done, the London side had plated 8 runs and Herts starting pitcher Wade Lynch had been ejected from the game. Hiche came on to relieve, after Lynch recorded only 1 out in the first.
After the flurry of early runs, both sides traded goose eggs in the middle innings. It was a particularly masterful performance by Hiche, who took the ball reluctantly but finished with a dominant line of 5.2 innings pitched, zero earned runs, and only 3 hits allowed.
A late rally with another Brown laser shot over left (his second home run of the day), and a single from Witter plated two runs, bringing the score to 8-5. However, the Falcons’ hitters couldn’t capitalise with runners in scoring position (most notably a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the top of the 6th, and the game would end 8-5 to the Capitals.
“The Capitals started full blast [in Game 2], said Manager Hiche. “I think we were a bit down from the result of Game 1.. the Capitals took full advantage of it in the first inning and that made all the difference.” Hiche added, “The positive I take out, which I’m extremely happy to see, is that we never gave up and fought back until the end. This hasn’t happened [over] the last few years!”
The two loses, 11-10 and 8-5, to the Capitals bring the Falcons record to 4-8, which despite having 1 more win than the fourth place Essex Arrows, places Herts fifth in the NBL standings. However, despite the two losses, the Herts side played well throughout the day. Two stellar performances by Longboy and Hiche, as well as the flurry of offense all the way through the lineup (with standout performances from Bates and Brown) are definite positives for a team looking to improve in the second half of the season.
For the Falcons, a long road trip to Birmingham awaits, where the they will play a double-header versus the bottom-seeded Bandits on Sunday, 10 June.
Game 1: 11:30 a.m.
Game 2: 15:00 p.m.
Location: Birmingham Bandits Field, Marston Green CC, B37 7EL.