The Herts Hawks built an early 5-1 lead in their playoff game at home to the Bournemouth Bears on Sunday (August 12th) – but the ultimate victory was anything but routine.
This was the Hawks’ second year in the Double-A league after storming to the Single-A title in 2016. Bournemouth were new boys to the league, and had never faced Herts.
Darrin Ward was on the pitching mound on a cloudy and cool day at Grovehill, which was interrupted by showers. He went along steadily for five innings as the Hawks scored 5 runs to back him up.
But Bournemouth’s starter was also showing his mettle, and in the fifth the visitors battled back to get their bats going too. They pushed across some runs, and took advantage of a brief mental lapse from the Hawks to score again. It was now 5-4.
Herts responded with a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth, and centre fielder Kimi Saionji led off the bottom half with a double to left field. Right fielder Hunter Devine followed him onto the bases, and then manager Michael Cresswell.
But, frustratingly, they would leave them loaded. Bournemouth induced two pop-outs and a K from the meat of the order.
And in the top of the seventh, with two outs, the Bears finally tied the game at 5-apiece.
The Hawks’ defence had been playing smartly, always retiring the lead runner, and making good throws. Greg Bochan was a rock at third, Louis Hare at short. But Herts had to score to get back on the front foot.
In the bottom of the eighth, Saionji again got it started with a single. Then Devine drove a triple deep into the right field corner to bring him home and retake the lead. He came across to score on a pass ball.
Jon Lewys tried to tack on one more, racing from second on a drive to right by Ward. But the Bears were quick enough and accurate enough and cut him down at the plate.
So Herts were defending a 7-5 lead going into the ninth. A chance to close it out. Bournemouth’s first hit boomed to the fence in left field. Another runner got on. Herts got one out.
Then things threatened to really turn sour. Bournemouth found the gaps. Herts fielders bobbled the ball. The Bears sniffed an opening and not only levelled but took the lead, 9-7. What is more, Herts catcher Bryn Coughlan hurt his knee as he scrambled to catch a foul pop-up.
There was a delay while medical help was sought, and he was helped from the field. When it was over, Herts faced the challenge of saving the game.
Greg Bochan led off with a single. Then substitute Antony Lavender – who had been called suddenly into action – made an immediate mark with a double to right field.
Kimi Saionji brought home the first of the runners, then Devine struck again.
The game was tied. Saionji was on third.
At the plate stood first baseman, Michael Cresswell, first year manager of the Hawks. He wasn’t going to pass up this moment.
Cresswell slapped a pitch down the third base line, and — leaping onto the plate to score– Saionji ended the game. It was 10-9 to the Hawks.
Bournemouth Bears had been superb, and battled hard. They played with a smile and a cheer and graciously checked in on the injured Herts catcher.
But the day belonged to Herts. Ward took the complete game win, Cresswell the walkoff. But the entire team had contributed.
The Hawks travel to face the East London Latin Boys next, and will take heart from being the only team to beat them in the regular season.