Sometimes, sport can be a thing of beauty and can raise you up. Sometimes, it can be agonising. This one was an agonising weekend for the Herts baseball club.
The Herts Raptors of the Single-A league travelled to the Essex Redbacks, missing some regulars because of injury and summer holidays. But they were also bolstered by a clutch of Great Britain Under-15 stars.
Josh Jones and Harry Quixley joined regulars Alex Paterson, Dan Moran and Nico Durer. They all recently took part in a successful tournament in Germany.
Herts were able to get a run across in the first frame, before Durer took the mound as starting pitcher. He had trouble throughout the game getting his strike zone to match up with that of the umpire, but battled hard.
He was backed up by some good plays in the field – from Moran at third base, and nice saves from Jones at first. Mantas Poderys at second base also fielded calmly.
John Kjorstad again swung a strong bat for Herts and they were able to take a lead into the final inning. But the Raptors have suffered a series of final inning setbacks this year and this was to be another. The Redbacks hitting and persistent larceny on the bases helped them come back to win 10-9.
Game 2 saw the Herts visitors keep their noses in front from the off. Better base-running and hitting gave them a good lead. Dan Shaw and Nico Durer got hits, and Moran was on the mound this time, pitching solidly.
But Essex chipped back into the Raptors lead, and their reliever Sean Briscomb was again able to shut down the offense, as in Game 1. It was to come down to the final inning again.
Manager Matt Jackson stepped up to take the responsibility of the last outs, and made good pitches. But the Redbacks loaded the bases and a whiff of confusion after the fly ball which led to the second out was enough for them to capitalise. This time it was 11-10.
Raptors again played with good spirit and improved even as the game went on. Redbacks have a great record this year and earned their wins, but Herts can take many good things from their performance.
Also in Single-A, the Herts Eagles hosted the league-leading London Musketeers, with nobody expecting a home win. But Herts veteran Arnie Longboy pitched a gem which saw the Eagles take an early lead. It was 2-0 in the third.
London fought back, as you would expect them to. They had a couple of big innings. But Herts tied it at 10-10 to take the game to extra innings.
Longboy pitched a 3-up, 3-down top of the frame and the game was poised for Herts to secure a famous shock victory.
Then came the real gut-punch.
Adam Porte and Lewis Harrison got on base. They were both hit by pitch, surely a sign that the Musketeers were wobbling. Next came a scorching hit from Jamie Lang, only recently recruited to the Eagles.
But instead of being the walk-off, winning hit, as it first appeared, it went straight to the first baseman. He caught it – one out – stepped on the bag for two, and alertly threw to the shortstop at second base to get the final runner. In a flash, the threat was over.
London managed to score a go-ahead run in the top of the next inning, before retiring the Eagles and taking an 11-10 win. Their relief and delight was clear. This game had been a huge leap forward for the Eagles compared with the last time they faced the Musketeers, in week 2 of the season.
Mike Wakelam got the ball for Game 2 and turned in another excellent pitching performance, but the offense could not back him up this time. It ended 12-4 to London.
Co-manager Aspi Dimitrov was impressed with his players: “Ordinarily, two defeats might be demoralising, but the margin and the close nature of the defeats against such a good side were a huge boost for the Eagles. It really shows the progress everyone has made”.
In Triple-A, the Herts Londoners were away at the Essex Redbacks. Like the Raptors, they had young talent to call on, with Chris Gregory and Aaron Witter among the pitchers in two close games.
Miguel Sarmiento continued to drive in runs, but Herts could not take the wins this time, going down 10-7 and 8-6 on a grey day.
The Herts Hawks made the long trip to the Bournemouth Bears to suffer a 16-2 defeat, while the Herts Falcons of the NBL saw their games rained off. There is a toss-up there as to who suffered the bigger agony.