Herts history: Eagles sweep Raptors on derby day

The first was in 2007. The most recent was in 2016. A Herts derby is a big and a rare moment. And it consistently delivers on the drama.

The club’s expansion into north west London this season meant that two Single-A teams would enter the BBF leagues for the first time since 2016. That was the year the Hawks won it all and moved up to Double-A.  On the way, they beat the Raptors in the playoffs at Grovehill.

This year, the match-up was between the Raptors and the Eagles. Both sides are packed with rookies and young players, and had found wins hard to come by despite their improving performances. So there was a lot on the line.

Game 1 saw Paul Barton take to the pitching mound for the nominal home side, the Raptors. He was one of the few holdovers from that 2016 contest. And, as on that occasion, he started out well.

His first inning was scoreless. In centre-field, Dan Shaw confidently made two catches deep in the outfield in the first two at-bats – a baptism of fire in his first time playing the position. Two runners did get on, but a groundout ended the threat.

In the bottom half of the inning, Eagles’ starter Arnie Longboy matched up well. He struck out two after the lead-off man Antonio Laurenco got on. But back-to-back big hits from Laurence Currington and John Kjorstad brought in runs to give the Raptors an early lead.

They tacked on one more in the second, while holding the visitors scoreless. But the Eagles strung together some offense in the third to tie it up. Darren Priest got a hit and scored, while shortstop Rob Gibson got the second of his 4 hits on the day.

Raptors moved back ahead with Rene Aschmann joining Currington and Kjorstad in doing the damage. Lee Manning then came in to pitch in relief and helped shut things down.

Paul Barton pitching

The visitors’ defense helped keep things close. At second base, Andy Stratford made a good play on a ball to his right to secure the out at first. Catcher Adam Collins did a great job blocking balls, so that the foul territory (so much larger at Grovehill than at the Eagles’ home of Basing Hill) did not become a factor.

Entering the fifth and final inning, the Raptors led 7-6 and the Eagles needed to score to extend the game. Manning claimed his fourth and fifth strikeouts to start the frame and, with two outs, things looked bad for the Eagles.

But then they shuffled their deck.

Co-manager Longboy came in to pinch hit and was intentionally walked. The next sub was veteran Mike Wakelam, who returned to baseball only last week after a few years out.

He cracked a ground ball sharply through the left side, then Aspi Dimitrov kept it moving before Gibson drove in his fifth RBI of the day. In all, the Eagles brought home 5 and now led 11-6.

Wakelam took the ball as the closer. One run did make it in, on a pass ball, but a strikeout, and groundout and a tag-out – on an attempt to score on another pass ball — ended the game. An 11-8 Eagles victory, their second of the season and one which was hard-earned.

The second Herts derby of the year followed after a short lunchbreak, and pitted Mike Wakelam against the Raptors manager Matt Jackson as starting pitchers. Jackson struggled to find the zone at first, surrendering two walks, and Darren Priest and Louis Verman drove in runs to capitalise.

Rob Gibson at bat

But the Raptors defense helped out. Jack O’Brien showed quick thinking to secure an unassisted double play, tagging the runner after catching a liner from Arnie Longboy.

When the home side came to bat, Laurence Currington hit a triple to add to his impressive tally for the day. He scored on a pass ball, but catcher Rob Jones was able to make some amends for that by throwing out a runner at third to end the inning and keep the damage at one run.

Eagles then stretched out their lead, with Stratford, Lewis Harrison and Gibson all scoring to help them to an 8-3 advantage after two innings. Wakelam had struck out five already.

But Nico Durer then took the mound for the Raptors and settled things down. Over his three innings of work he struck out 7 and gave up only one run. It was an excellent final warm-up for his trip to Germany with the Great Britain Under-15s.

The complexion of the game had changed, but that meant the score changed little. Just 4 runs were shared out over the final four innings – Alex Paterson scoring two for the Raptors and Mohamed Abdule driving one in for the Eagles.

Fittingly, a strikeout was the final action and the Herts Eagles secured a 9-6 win and a sweep.

It had been a competitive and enjoyable day of baseball, with both sides enjoying the chance to banter with each other — while also trying hard to win!

The last time the Raptors and Eagles played league games against one another was in 2013 and they took one each of the two games. The Raptors will be aiming to take revenge when the reverse fixture is played next month at Basing Hill.