Against all the odds, the Herts Falcons are through to the National Baseball League Final after a dramatic day of NBL Playoffs.
HERTS FALCONS 18 SOUTHAMPTON MUSTANGS 17
At the start of the day, not even the most optimistic Herts baseball fans would have expected the Falcons to pull it off. Their first hurdle was the Southampton Mustangs, a team that had the best record in the NBL Regular Season, but had to go through the Playoffs because of an off-the-field infringement. Hopes of an upset were dwindling early on as Southampton took a 9-2 lead after just two innings. Self-belief and energy levels can drain away very quickly from a team in such a predicament. Whether it was something that was said by the manager or a player, or perhaps the team is made up of players with superior inbuilt perseverance, the Falcons somehow managed to turn the game around. Their offence was alive again and they were getting productive at-bats from 1 to 9 in the batting order. It took a big collective effort to tie the game up first at 9-9 and then 13-13 before taking a 16-13 lead with just two innings left to play. There is always a risk of losing some of the momentum from the feeling of relief after coming back from the dead twice. The Mustangs struck back in the top of the final inning to take a 17-16 lead. The pressure was back on the Falcons. They had only three outs left and they needed to score in order to avoid elimination. 17-year-old Tyler Badenhorst was the lead-off batter. He is arguably one of the club’s most promising young talents but he has been on the disabled list in recent weeks which is why he was brought into the game from the bench. Heavy weight on young shoulders but he did what was required of him and got on base with a walk. Walter Bates and Moise Vasquez also walked. Southampton responded by getting two outs against the third and fourth batter in the Falcons batting order. There was no room for error now. With the bases loaded Dany Bueno was hit by a pitch and that brought in the tying run and a sigh of relief among Herts fans. It all came down to Phil Clark whose walk-off hit started Herts’ celebrations with a final score of 18-17.
The psychological pressure of trailing 9-2 in this game must have been enormous and after the game player-manager, Cris Hiche, felt that keeping the belief within the team was going to be critical. “We knew to expect a high-scoring game and I think that helped to maintain the belief in those difficult periods of the game when Southampton had a big lead” said Hiche.
HERTS FALCONS 5 LONDON CAPITALS 3
There was no time for celebrations or a breather. The London Capitals were waiting patiently, fresh and ready to face the Falcons for a place in the NBL Final. With their pitching staff depleted from the first game, player-manager, Cris Hiche, was the Herts starting pitcher. He has not had many pitching outings in his career prior to this season, but, with pitchers missing due to international call-ups and injuries, he has been converted into a pitcher and has proved to be one of the team’s most effective pitchers this season. Unlike the earlier high-scoring game, the pitchers were controlling this encounter from the start. Apart from the quality pitching, both teams showed good defence including a 6-4-3 double play turned by Carlos Casal Jr and Moise Vasquez. Carlos Casal also contributed with the bat as he and Dany Bueno drove in a run each to put Herts into a 2-1 lead. After five innings the Capitals tied the game up at 2-2.
In the top of the sixth inning the Falcons came up with a big 3-run inning, which included a sacrifice fly from Hector Miguel who was looking to redeem himself after being ejected in the first game. Capitals responded again but their rally was limited to one run thanks to a diving catch at the wall by left fielder, John Blose, for the final out of the inning stranding two runners who would have scored if it wasn’t for that spectacular play which prompted all his teammates to run to left field to congratulate him. With a 5-3 lead, Cris Hiche maintained his composure in the bottom of the final inning to shut down the side in order and start another field invasion by Herts players, coaches and fans.
“It’s a big relief to reach the Final” said Falcons catcher, Conner Brown, and added that “After some ups and downs this year, it’s nice to see the team come through today and hopefully get some recognition that we are a good team”.
Regardless of the outcome in the NBL Final, reaching it implies that the Falcons will be playing in Europe next year. This is the first time that a Herts team has managed to qualify for European Club Competitions. The players were not aware that they were also playing for a European place today and manager Cris Hiche gave them the news only after the final out.
The focus now turns to the Final against the London Mets. It will be a best-of-3 series with Game One on Saturday, 8 September, at Farnham Park in Slough. Cris Hiche was under no illusion about the size of the challenge ahead of them. He said: “The Mets are a good team, and we go in the Final as the underdogs, as evident from the regular season standings, but we enjoyed the battle today and hopefully we can do it again next weekend”. The only previous time that the Herts Falcons have reached the NBL Final was in 2012 when they lost to the Harlow Nationals in Game Seven. Follow Herts Baseball on Twitter for more information about the Final and build-up ahead of the games.