It was an agonising end after a back and forth day of baseball battles, reports Rob Jones from Basing Hill Ballpark.
The Herts Eagles – one of the club’s two new teams – went in search of their first win of the season at home to the Bracknell Inferno. The visitors are putting together a strong year, including a win over the division-leading London Musketeers, but Herts pushed them all the way.
Alex Trautman was given the responsibility of starting on the mound for the Eagles, and he struck out the first two batters he faced. He held Bracknell scoreless for the first two frames, closing out the second with another strikeout when threats were on the bases.
Herts batters started strongly, too. Zack Longboy drove in a run with a double in the first, and Giacomo Zaffalon brought home two in the second.
Defence was solid, as the Eagles continued to improve in this, their first season. Adam Porte turned a double play, and Francois Earp hauled in outfield catches securely.
But walks, strong hits and aggressive stealing in the third inning helped Bracknell fight back. They scored 5 and chased Trautman. The Eagles’ heads didn’t drop though. Longboy led off the bottom of the third with a home run to right field, cutting the deficit immediately to 5-4.
Bracknell made a timely pitching change after surrendering back to back walks, and Herts could not build on their momentum. Jamie Lang went 2-for-2 and Porte got on base for a second time but the Eagles bats could not generate the offense they needed to come back. Game 1 ended 8-5 to the visitors.
Zack Longboy got the start in Game 2 of the double-header. He had already showed his quality, but Bracknell came out swinging and chalked up two early runs. Trevor Clissold and new recruit Yasu Ichige struck back immediately with hits which were converted into runs by Max Trautman and by Longboy, whose hit fell just inches shy of a second homer.
This time around, the Eagles were keeping their noses in front. The team is made up of a mixture of players entirely new to the sport, and a sprinkling of old hands, and the blend was working well. Debutant Lewis Harrison scored a run after being hit by a pitch. Herts still led 7-5 after four innings.
Again, the defense remained solid when it might otherwise have buckled. Mohamed Abdule caught a drive in centre field which had made the bench nervous; Kumail Jaffer, making his debut at second base, secured all three outs in one inning.
But as, perhaps, tiredness set in, the Eagles missed chances to get out of the fifth, and Bracknell were able to take the lead. They were able to score 3 runs on just one hit. They extended their lead to 9-7 in the top of the sixth and the stage was set. Herts had to score 2 to save the game, 3 to walk-off.
After two quick outs, Darren Priest came to the plate. He had garnered headlines in his guest appearance for the Herts Londoners last week, and made his presence felt this time, too. He worked a full count before getting a hit, then Arnie Longboy walked.
Up stepped Kumail Jaffer – without a hit yet in his young baseball career. He delivered in the clutch with a drive to right field that brought home both runners and sparked celebration on that nervous bench. The scores were even at 9-9.
Into extra innings. Yasu Ichige was pitching in relief and had been battling well to contain Bracknell. Priest, Longboy and Rob Jones made plays to back him up. But one double was the key hit for Bracknell as they took the lead.
The Inferno relief pitcher, who had helped close out the first game, now did the honours again. The top of the Herts order couldn’t make another rally, and a groundout ended it. 12-9 to Bracknell.
The Eagles have shown consistent improvement over the first few weeks of the season, moving from blowouts to a narrow, extra innings defeat. Every player could look back on a highlight from the games, and they look forward to the next outing.