Author: Cristobal Hiche

Herts Falcons sweep on Opening Day

Jarrod Pretorius marked his Herts Falcons debut with a home run (photo by Richard Lee

by Cris Hiche, Grovehill Ballpark, Hemel Hempstead

As the saying in sports goes, a new season brings new hope! Herts Falcons were looking for this after a challenging 2016 season. Their addition of Jarrod Pretorius, Miguel Hector, and the return of Cris Hiche were a good improvement. Furthermore the youngsters were a year older, stronger, and with a year experience in the NBL under their belts. This had the fans bullish for this season. But all is fine on paper but this Sunday was the opportunity to test the team against a strong, young Brighton Jets team.

Harry O’Brien and Matt Gilbert were the starting pitchers for the Jets and Falcons respectively on a pleasant day conducive to a good game of baseball. Matt took the mound and looked poised for a great start by getting ahead 1-2 to leadoff Jacob Dean. However Jacob was able to square a pitch inside to send it over the fence and put their team quickly ahead. Oh no! Fans were already thinking this might be a very looooooong season ahead. However Matt Gilbert was able to finish the inning with only one run on the scoreboard. Now he was hoping his teammates would pick him up…and they did by scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the 1st. With the score 2-1 for the Falcons, the 2nd and top of the 3rd inning went scoreless. In the bottom of the 3rd, Cris Hiche put the first big smiles for the fans by connecting a 2-run homer and putting the Falcons 4-1 ahead. Meanwhile, fans were starting to enjoy some fine pitching by Matt as he was controlling batters with wicked control, crucial K’s, and when needed some great plays like John Blose in left field with a diving catch near the left side fence risking his body to catch the ball. The offense was slowly increasing the gap, including a bomb by Jarrod Pretorius to leave the score 7-1 in the bottom of the 5th. By the end of the game, Falcons celebrated their 1st victory of the year with a final score of 8-1. Everybody played very well both defensively and offensively. Generally, the home runs take the spotlight but the player of the match needs to be Matt Gilbert who pitched a gem not seen in many years in British baseball. Complete game, 2 hits allowed, 7K, and using only 107 pitches to do the job!! That’s a challenge for any pitcher to beat this year!

The 2nd game was a different story. Young starting pitcher Will Zucker started for the Falcons and quickly allowing some walks and the Jets capitalising with some key hits. Will Zucker was struggling with his command and although post-match interviews has him quoted as “It just wasn’t my day…”, sources tell us he was suffering from a hand injury which would have certainly affected his performance. Regardless, the Jets took advantage and were 5 runs ahead by the middle of the 1st inning. Manager Lee Manning had to even bring Jarrod to finish the inning. It was now going to be a long day for the bullpen. On the other hand, Jacob Dean started the 2nd game for the Jets and after 3 innings he had allowed only 1 run. Brighton was playing a sound game and it was almost a flip from the 1st game. Both teams playing well but Brighton capitalising the little advantages given by Herts and in the 4th they scored another one to make it 6-1 in the middle of the 4th. But then Herts got a lucky break when Jacob Dean developed some sort of cramp which sidelined him from the game. The Jets had to use their bullpen with Dan Whitton taking the mound. He was also doing well but soon the Jets went to relief pitcher Connor O’Shaughnessy. With Connor’s fastball a few mph slower than Dan and Jacob, the Falcons hitters were able to make adjustments at the plate and start to put the ball in play. Timely hits, some lucky bounces, and a great “See-ya-later” by Darren Meintjes meant putting 2 runs in the bottom of the 4th and 6 in the bottom of the 5th. That offensive punch put the Falcons ahead 9-6 changed the whole momentum of the game. The Falcons added some insurance runs in the bottom of the 6th with the final score of 11-6 for the Falcons. Worthy mentions for Miguel Hector who went 2-2, 3R, and Moises Vasquez with some nice defensive gems and starting the 1st double play of the season. However the player of the match goes to Darren Meintjes who went 2-5,HR,3RBI at the plate and pitched 5IP, 1R, 6K. Outstanding performance!

The Falcons will be tested this upcoming weekend when travelling to Southampton to face the reigning champions Mustangs who split their first two games against the London Mets.

Follow the Falcons and show your support through Twitter and attending the next home games!!!

Falcons and Nationals keep fans on the edge of their seats in a thriller at Grovehill Ballpark

The Falcons came out of the dust as the winners, but the Nationals deserve a lot of credit for a fantastic game of baseball (photo by Richard Lee

written by Cristobal Hiche

BRILLIANT! That’s the only way to describe two well played games both of which were literally decided on the last pitch. More importantly, Falcons came away with two important wins, keeping them on top of the National Baseball League.

NBL (Game1) Herts Falcons 3 Harlow Nationals 2 (click to view box scores)

The first game was an MLB classic with a pitching duel by veteran and All-Star Michael Osborn for Herts and Marty Cullen Jr.’s debut against the Falcons. It was not meant to be an easy task against a powerful Falcons lineup but Cullen Jr. managed to give up only 3 hits in 5 and two-third innings. Unfortunately for him, Osborn again grabbed the spotlight with another pitching gem, despite the Nationals taking a lead with an unearned run in the top of the 3rd inning after two unexpected errors by the Falcons defence. Herts reacted quickly in the bottom of the inning. Marty Jr. with 2 outs lost a bit of concentration and hit Cris Hiche. A wild pitch and an error by 2B Matt Gilbert extended the inning. With men on 1st and 3rd the always dangerous Jordan Farkas came to the plate and punished the Nats with a 2-run double to put the Falcons in the lead. The great pitching duel continued but Cullen Jr. made a small but costly mistake at the end. In the bottom of the 5th he walked Robbie Unsell to start the inning. Falcons needed the insurance run so they were aggressive with Robbie stealing second and then third base. Cullen Jr looked to end the inning by striking out Cris Hiche but with 2 outs Ryan Bird was able to bring the run home with a double. Harlow needed to react but with a man on 1st and 1 out, Osborn turned up the heat and struck out the next two batters. The Nationals were following Yogi Berra’s quote “it ain’t over till it’s over”, determined to try and get a lead in the last inning with the top of the batting order coming to the plate. Falcons looked poised to win with Roberto Almanzar on 1st base and having the always dangerous Maikel Azcuy hit a fly to CF to record the 2nd out. Unfortunately Osborn seemed to lose a bit of gas and although ahead in the count to both Edwin Acantara (1-2) and Jarrod Pretorius (0-2), allowed singles to load the bases. Credit must be given to the Falcons defence which was well positioned to make sure no runs were scored on Jarrod’s single even with Robbie Almanzar’s great speed and being in scoring position. Manager Lee Manning decided to call the bullpen and put flame-thrower Ryan Bird to close the game. The crowd went numb when Ryan walked Dan Parker on four straight pitches to bring the 2nd run home (the only earned run credited to Michael Osborn). A hit could potentially put Nats ahead. More importantly could Ryan find the strike zone? It was an intense moment for fans on both sides of the field. With the count 1-1, Matt Gilbert hit a laser beam towards 1st base and Herts’ hearts (no pun intended) stopped beating for a second. It was a potential bases-clearing double but Darrin Ward was able to catch the line drive, end the game, and make everyone’s heart beat again. A dramatic but well-deserved win for the Falcons.

NBL (Game1) Herts Falcons 8 Harlow Nationals 5 (click to view box scores)

Either Falcons players were still thinking and celebrating the victory of Game 1 or Nats were absolutely determined to reverse their faith, but 2 consecutive errors and a wild pitch opened the gate for the Nats to score 4 runs and could have been worst since they had 2 runners on base with only 1 out, but left them stranded. Given the result of the first game and Harlow having Matt Gilbert on the mound, this could potentially be enough for the visitors. However the instructions heard from Falcons dugout were to adopt the ‘one run at a time’ philosophy and it looked that way when in the bottom of the 1st with 2 outs, Cris Hiche and Ryan Bird were able to manufacture a run between them. Unfortunately, Maikel Azcuy had none of that and silenced the stadium with a blast to RF to keep the 4-run lead. Falcons responded in the bottom of the 3rd when after an 8-pitch battle, Cris Hiche hit a home run to centerfield to close down the score 5-2. Falcons made everything interesting again in the bottom of the 4th when they pulled a string of hits to manufacture two more runs and reduce the deficit down to 5-4. On the other hand, Jordan Farkas was able to settle down after the 1st inning and keep the dangerous Harlow Nationals bats quiet. On a hot day in Grovehill, both starting pitchers looked tired and both managers decided to go to the bullpen. Coincidentally, both brought the same relievers as in Game 1, Ryan Bird (Herts) and Robbie Almanzar (Nationals). In the bottom of the 6th Robbie Unsell again started the inning with a single and knowing how important it was to score at least 1 run, Phil Clark moved Robbie to 2nd with a sacrifice bunt. Cris Hiche was able to reach base on an infield single and all of a sudden the Nats went into a meltdown. Robbie balked bringing the tying run and destroying the potential double play. Then he hit Ryan to put him on base. Following that, Luis Goncalves made a throwing error sailing into right-field and this brought two more runs home. Several batters later Dave House hit a double with Jordan Farkas on third base. With 2 outs Luis Goncalves made another fielding error to bring Jordan home. Falcons had a 3-run lead with only 3 outs left and Ryan Bird on the mound. Game over, right? Well, in what is becoming a Herts tradition, it needed to end dramatically. Robbie Almanzar started the top of the 7th with a single and Ryan Bird walked Edwin Alcantara. The tying run was at the plate with the powerful and always dangerous Jarrod Pretorius stepping to the plate. Fortunately he flew out to centerfield to record the second out and Ryan was able to strike out Dan Parker to finish the game. Game over.

An ecstatic Lee Manning said after the game, “happy with the way we played today: solid defence and strong pitching again. Timely hitting helped us catch them in Game 2. My only concern is the amount of runners we left on base”. He also put emphasis on the quality of the games today and the pitching duel in Game 1 by adding “I must say that Marty Jr. did an amazing job in Game 1 to keep toe-to-toe with NBL legend Michael Osborn”.

These were quality games by both teams who showed great pitching, good defence, and some power hitting too. These games showed how close the league is and how a single fielding error, a bad pitch, or a bad inning can make a difference in the outcome of the game. The crowd responded with a record (or near-record) attendance and I think they left happy. There is another opportunity to come and support the Falcons this Sunday as they host the Bracknell Blazers and, with the summer finally here, pick up a nice sun-tan along the way!


Herts Falcons make it 8 wins in a row. New generation of Falcons makes NBL debuts

Carlos Casal Jr (above) and Conner Brown (pictured below) made their NBL debuts for the Falcons

by Cristobal Hiche

On paper it was expected to be an easy outing for the league-leading Herts Falcons against the Essex Redbacks, for whom this is a first year in the NBL. But the games need to be played and underdogs can always sneak an unexpected victory. Well, it wasn’t the case. Falcons got two necessary victories to maintain their position at the top of the league. Herts looked very effective getting the necessary runs to get a comfortable lead and then relying on their solid pitching and defence to do the rest.

The first game saw Falcons winning it 6-2 suggesting a very close game. Indeed the score doesn’t lie however it never felt that way. Essex Redbacks could never really start a rally and put pressure on the Falcons. Herts looked to be in control during the entire game thanks to great pitching by Darrin Ward who pitched a complete game. Everybody was hitting well but special mention to John Blose who was on fire this Sunday and got the first big hit of the day with a deep double to left field. Falcons were hitting solid grounders and line drives but Redbacks played good defence to stop some of those laser beams. Herts took the opportunity to call up Herts Harriers/Ravens/GB players Carlos Casal Jr and Conner Brown for their first taste of the NBL with the Falcons. This was also the debut of Conner in the NBL. They took the opportunity and both played solid games both defensively and offensively.


The second game was more of the same. Falcons took an early lead with many multi-base hits which allowed to quickly put players in scoring position. Xavi Gonzalez started the game with a triple which set the tone for the game. Jordan Farkas pitched another solid 1-run complete game, mixing quite well between his fastball and his repertoire of breaking balls to keep the Redbacks at bay. Defensively they also took advantage of the fielding conditions. The outfield grass was quite long killing any ground ball hit to the outfield. Right fielder Carlos Velazco-Carus was aggressive charging each ball going his way and was able to make the out at first base on more than one occasion.

After the game Herts Falcons manager, Lee Manning, was happy about the victories and said: “We are happy that we have an 8-game winning streak going on and hope to extend it to a 10-game winning streak next week. The team played solid with good hitting by everyone and was happy to see many multi-base hits which hopefully can continue to do so next week”. He also said a few words about the players’ performances, “…everybody did great today. Both Darrin and Jordan pitched really well but I want to specially mention Carlos Jr and Conner, our U17 players, who did really well today. It’s not easy to step into the best team in the league and perform at the highest level of baseball in the UK. Thanks for coming down and helping us win two important games”.

The games didn’t really offer any highlights and at all times it looked like a Falcons team determined to win but not pushing too hard to avoid unnecessary injuries and stay healthy for the upcoming games. Pitching was great as usual, giving manager Lee Manning a welcoming dilemma. He has four excellent starters and of course only 2 games to play on a given weekend. However, let’s give credit to a Redbacks team who are finding their feet in the NBL and they never gave up. They finished strong and tried to close the gap, when many other teams would have given up being 10-1 behind. They even looked to make harder contact than much stronger NBL teams who have recently played against the Falcons.

Herts have a difficult weekend against the reigning champions Harlow Nationals. Last time they played Herts was able to sweep them convincingly. However Nationals will be determined to reverse history and more importantly make sure they don’t get into playoff troubles. Two losses might jeopardise their playoff chances. Meanwhile, Herts Falcons will try to extend their winning streak and ensure they stay on top of the league since the Mets and Mustangs are making sure they are still in the hunt for first place. So a perfect opportunity for baseball fans to come to Grovehill Ballpark in Hemel Hempstead this Sunday, 30 June, for what is expected to be another clash of the titans between two of the big guns in the league.


Bingo-Bango baseball takes Falcons top of the NBL

Jordan Farkas is putting up impressive pitching and batting numbers this season (photo by Will Baxter)

written by Cristobal Hiche

NBL (Game 1) Herts Falcons 9 Bracknell Blazers 1 (click to view box scores)

And they’re back! There are no words to describe the feeling of this weekend in which finally fans didn’t have to bite their fingernails. Herts Falcons finally looked like the hitting team of last year but even better, because the pitching was once again exceptional. It’s becoming a routine and this reporter might continue writing about other aspects of the game throughout the season, but the entire pitching staff has just been superb and carrying this team to the top position in the league. Game 1 was again dominated by Robbie Unsell who threw a complete 1-hitter game. The only run came by two errors in the bottom of the 2nd. After that, defence was perfect and Robbie was able to cruise to the end not allowing any walks throughout the game. Offence was back with two early runs in the top of the 1st and then slowly building the gap. Although Blazers were keeping it close not allowing runs in the 3rd and 4th inning (3-1), Falcons bats decided to wake up and score in the last 3 innings to win 9-1. It’s hard to say who had the best hitting performance of the game when everybody was hitting but Jordan Farkas continues to be ‘hot-like-a-jalapeno’ (going 3-5).

A grand slam home run for Cris Hiche put the game beyond Bracknell (photo by Will Baxter)

NBL (Game 2) Herts Falcons 13 Bracknell Blazers 1 (click to view box scores)

Another outstanding performance by Mike Osborn on the mound

The question before Game 2 among fans, and in the press box, was to know if Falcons would carry with the momentum from Game 1 or if the bats would go to a ‘siesta’ (nap) as it has been the norm this year. Fortunately it was a ‘fiesta’ (party) rather than a ‘siesta’. The bats were in full swing and by the top of the 3rd it was already 5-0. On my pre-game interview with starting pitcher, Michael Osborn, he told me his arm wasn’t feeling great and you could see from the press box, he was moving his arm with some sort of discomfort in the dugout after the 1st. Well, that shows how great he has been this year because even not feeling 100% he managed to allow only 1 run in 5 innings, striking out 5 and keeping Blazers on bay. Like Game 1, everybody was hitting well and in typical Herts fashion slowly building a gap. However, Cristobal Hiche KO’d Blazers with a grand slam in the top of the 5th to seal the game and leave the score 10-1. It was a bomb to right field on a knuckleball that just danced around the middle of the plate. But they weren’t done and in the top of the 7th they scored another 3 runs even though Blazers decided to focus on auditioning new relievers. They went through 3 different pitchers in the 7th.

The manager for the Blazers was not available for comments after the game but Lee Manning was very happy after the game. He summarised the day by saying: “Defence played great bingo and offence brought the bango. All four pitchers hit their spots and kept Blazers at bay. Very happy with the results and we are hoping to keep the momentum going until the end of the season”. He also finished with the remark that “…finally it’s the first week we haven’t had a player injured”.

So far this report has been full of praise for the Falcons (deserved), but let’s not forget that Bracknell played well and are a talented team. They made a few errors and it looks like inexperience was a key in these games. With many GB juniors in their squad, it’s a team to look out for in the future and even for the rest of the season. Unfortunately they just faced an inspired Falcons team who are determined to take the top spot in the table.

Number 64 Ryan Bird was back and that had a positive on the rest of the batting lineup (photo by Will Baxter)

It’s no coincidence that besides the absence of Dave Tretheway and Dave Westfallen (DL), Falcons finally had a full squad. Having Ryan Bird back in the middle of the lineup is a big boost because it brings the big bat that’s needed. It also offers more protection for Jordan and Darrin who should see more fastballs. Also, this means the rest of the lineup is hitting more relaxed which in turn makes everybody more dangerous at the plate. The relaxed attitude seen from the press box throughout the day was even more visible than in previous weeks even though some players argued laughter brings wrinkles. This team is a bit odd because the more relaxed this team looks (to the point it looks they don’t even care about the score and who wins), the better they perform. That’s what was seen in 2012 and this is what was seen this Sunday. It’s exciting time for every fan and they’re showing it. The fans are even turning to away games to support Falcons and the team is really welcoming it. Keep the support and those who haven’t been able to go often, please do because you’ll see some great Bingo Bango baseball!!!


Mets unbeaten run ended by Falcons. The NBL race tightens.

Robbie Unsell about to unleash his breaking ball against the London Mets (photo by Joe Gray)

written by Cristobal Hiche

Déjà vu. That’s probably what every fan is thinking because for the 3rd weekend in a row both games have been decided in the last inning. This is becoming the trend but the good news for Herts fans is that the Falcons are coming on top and winning these close games.

Game 1 was almost a repeat of last week as Robbie Unsell was throwing another gem and keeping a shutout through the first six innings. Knowing pitcher Pietro Sollecito dominated Falcons last time, Mets manager Erick Hanson was smart to start him again. He was delivering, just allowing 2 runs in 6 innings. However, this time around, Pietro wasn’t getting the run support and ultimately ended up on the losing side. Jordan Farkas was on fire going 3-3 but Falcons couldn’t get more “insurance runs”. Mets hitters were determined not to remain scoreless and in the top of the 7th they managed to tie the score thanks to some timely hitting and an unusual error by the Herts defence which has been solid all year. The big difference seen this time was the determination of all Falcons players to come back and ensure that this game didn’t go to extra-innings and they didn’t disappoint. Dave House, who also was on fire at the plate, delivered a line drive, RBI and game-winning single to end the game and hand the first loss of the season for the Mets.

The second game was no different and Michael Osborn was throwing a nasty curveball and using his fastball to second guess each Mets player. Herts hitters were starting to show the solid hitting performance of last year and managed to score runs in the first 2 innings. However, Mets did some small adjustments and did quiet down the Falcons, but also with the help of the defence as Jonathon Cramman threw Cristobal Hiche out on a bang-bang play at home trying to score from 2nd on a single. On the other side, although pitcher Michael Osborn was pretty much single-handedly beating the Mets, it also got great defence behind. The highlight was an amazing diving catch by Dave House at third base after a laser beam to his left side. Going into the 6th the score was once again 2-0 for the Falcons and it looked like a repeat of the previous game, especially as the Mets finally managed to do some damage and score a run. Yet again Falcons showed that determination seen in the bottom of the 7th in game 1 to score 2 runs to try and close the game. Mets were not ready to give up and were able to manufacture a run with some hits and being aggressive on the bases. Unfortunately it was too little, too late and Falcons got the win with a final score of 4-2.

Falcons manager Lee Manning said after the game: “Fantastic pitching, fantastic defence, good timely hitting again. Really happy for both wins”. He was really full of praise for both his starters (Robbie and Michael) and also had a few words for reliever Jordan Farkas: “In Game 1 when they tied up in the 7th inning, Jordan came in…I was really impressed with the way he managed to hold them, especially when I put them in a bad situation [with men in scoring position]”. On the other side of the field, manager Erick Hanson wasn’t happy about the losses but he had the following to say: “We knew coming to Herts we would have two tough games today, they came out and did the small things to win the games. Game 1 was a close game and could have gone either way”. Reflecting on the positives of the day he said: “We’ve been fortunate to be winning a lot so it’s nice to get these losses out of the way, regroup, and learn what we need to do in training to get better”.

The only bad news for the Falcons is that Dave Westfallen might have re-injured his knee and might be added to the now long list of players on the DL. Although this is another heavy loss, manager Lee Manning sees the positive side and said: “It’s a terrible loss but let’s hope it’s nothing serious and he can be ready for the playoffs. This being said, we now know we can call up AAA players and can perform to very high standards”.

I have been saying it for the last two weeks and I’ll repeat it again, this is quality baseball not only by the Falcons but by most teams in the NBL. Every game is going to be close with great pitching, good hitting, and fantastic defence. Just as an example, only 2 errors were made in the 2nd game by both teams combined! That’s MLB level right there. Just take a look at the box score and replace the Falcons name with the Yankees and you would think this box score was taken out from the MLB subway series (i.e. Yankees-Mets rivalry). So come down to the ballpark and check out the Falcons next time!


Mustangs and Falcons put on a show on par with MLB

Sunday's NBL clash proved to be a real battle (photo by Richard Lee)

written by Cristobal Hiche

NBL (Game 1) Herts Falcons 2 Southampton Mustangs 0 (click to view box scores)

If last week games were close, these games were literally down to the wire. Both games were decided in the last 2 innings. The first game was a pitching duel between injured Robbie Unsell and Gary Davison for Southampton Mustangs. The duel was so good that Robbie ended up with 10K and Gary with 5K. Clearly not much was happening on the field and solid defence on both sides kept more or less the bases empty. Both teams had a few men on base. While Mustangs tried playing small ball to advance the runners, Falcons were looking for line drives to spark a rally. In the bottom of the 6th, Falcons 2nd batter Phil Clark managed to walk and all indicated Falcons should try to play small ball and advance the runner. However the dilemma for manager Lee Manning was that the heart of the order (3rd-5th batter) was coming up. Ryan Bird solved this dilemma by hitting the 1st pitch deep into RF. A blast that put Herts 2-0 ahead and psychologically KO’ing Southampton. They couldn’t do anything on top of the 7th with Robbie striking out the last 2 batters. A solid, much-needed win for a Falcons that didn’t have the starting line-up. Dave House, Jordan Farkas, Dave Tretheway, and Xavi Gonzalez were all missing this afternoon. However, AAA call-ups Louie Hare and Mike Cattlemore, and the season debut of Kevin Niedringhaus and Felix Perez did a tremendous job to minimise the absence of the regular players.

Moments after the game-ending play of game two

NBL (Game 2) Herts Falcons 4 Southampton Mustangs 3 (click to view box scores)

The second game was no different. Mustangs were able to score 1 run in the top of the 1st and Falcons couldn’t get anything going in their favour. But in the bottom of the 3rd all of a sudden Falcons looked like the team we used to see last year. Everybody started to hit or being selective at the plate, drawing walks. The result was 4 runs in one inning which we haven’t seen since the game against Nationals a few months ago. Michael Osborn, who before this game had a lifetime record of 5-0 against Southampton, was keeping their bats quite with his nasty curveball. The curveball was impressive as seen from the press box but that meant that Michael’s arm was getting a bit tired and Mustangs managed to score a run thanks to a solo HR by Alberto Rodriguez. Falcons allowed the Mustangs to load the bases but Osborn used his remaining energy to induce ex-Falcons player Kimiyoshi Saionji to a pop-fly to end the inning. Manager Lee Manning took the right decision to bring Robbie Unsell who was sitting on the bench due to his injury to come and close the game. It was a gamble since Robbie had already pitched 7 innings and Mustangs knew what to look for. Southampton managed to have men on 1st and 3rd thanks to a dropped 3rd strike that Lee Manning couldn’t properly handle. The reason was that Lee had just come into the game due to (again!) a minor injury to starting catcher Dave Westfallen and Robbie’s slider was wicked all day long. Lee didn’t expect that big drop at the end of the pitch. However, in a very strange decision that will leave many Mustang fans puzzled, Justin Frosina who was 1-3 in the game, was sent to try the squeeze play not once, not twice, but 3 times and that meant he bunted foul with 2 strikes which is an automatic strikeout. And to add drama to this ending, another nasty slider meant Lee had to block the ball which escaped just a few feet down the 3rd base side. Alberto Rodriguez decided to take the risk and steal home and in a very close play at home he was tagged out by Robbie Unsell who went to cover the plate. Unfortunately he re-injured his ankle. This meant it wasn’t much of a victory celebration as all teammates went to home plate to check on him. He had to be carried off the field and in a class act, all Southampton players clapped to wish Robbie all the best in his recovery.

Lee Manning said after the game: “Our pitching and defence were amazing today. We got some timely hitting but our hitting still needs to improve a bit.” Asked if it’s still a worry that Falcons are not scoring many runs, Falcons manager replied: “[Given the amount of injuries] I’m not too worried about the lack of hitting. Once we get our 9 starters I think our hitting will pick up. Now it’s a matter to win enough games to get us into the post-season. These 2 victories take us a bit closer to that goal.” On the other side of the field we were given a similar analysis: “[Both games] were hard fought. I think for both sides they were not bad games. These two low-scoring games went against expectations given the offensive power we both have shown in the past. We’re obviously not happy with the two losses and with the amount of runs that we scored”.

Both games were fantastic and as a reporter I will allow myself to give an opinion. Although I agree with both managers that these have been very good offensively teams in the past and the box scores for today clearly shows a lack of that, I think they were not just good games. I think they were MLB type games. I think this does not reflect that hitting was missing but rather that pitching has greatly improved. As a reporter who has covered many leagues around the world, it is always the case that pitching is always behind hitting. You just need to look no further than lower-tier leagues here in the UK where most games end up with 20+ runs. The average MLB game is only about 8 runs. Thus to me these games were better quality, still with some offensive action (2HR, one in each game by each team), close plays, close calls, and every single error by all those involved in the field can make a big difference. What does this mean? Better quality baseball in the UK and an open invitation to all fans to come down support Herts Falcons knowing you’ll have a great experience at the ballpark!


A setback for injury-hit Falcons in NBL title race

Xavier Gonzalez (left) and Robbie Unsell sustained injuries in game one at the Essex Arrows (photo by Will Baxter)

written by Cristobal Hiche

It’s hard to fully describe these two games. They were very good, and more importantly, very close games. There was very good defence, good hitting, good pitching but nothing out of the ordinary. Giovanni’s triple for the Arrows was probably the only big hit of the day. John Bloise’s tremendous diving catch in CF was probably the only web gem of the day. There were just very few errors made by both teams but nothing that probably affected the games. If there’s a way to describe it, I would say they were “vanilla games” but probably the best vanilla you have ever eaten in your life! Why?

The answer is pretty simple. Two games that went to the wire will always be a good game to watch. In these types of games, players and managers are battling it out there and giving their 100% the entire game because there’s no chance to get relaxed since that can cost you dearly. Any small mistake can swing one way or the other and one pitch could make the difference.

The first game started with Arrows scoring a run in the 2nd but the Falcons were able to score a run in the next 3 innings. By the top of the 5th inning it was 3-1 for the Falcons but they could never mount a rally to give themselves some room to breathe. Barry Wiles was pitching a solid game. Although at times he would put a few men on base, Essex Arrows also couldn’t start a rally. By the 6th inning it was 4-2 and both teams were just trying to produce a run playing small ball and getting the fundamentals right because it was going to be a close game ‘til the end. However, Herts was able to score a few more in the 7th and was 6-2 for Herts in the bottom of the 7th. A Herts fan would have thought that was definitely enough to win it, but they would have been wrong. Essex managed to get some timely hits and make it 6-5 before Ryan Bird came to close the game. With a man on 3rd and 2 outs, an unrostered new Essex player had just entered the game and with limited baseball experience he had to face one of the fastest pitchers in the league. Somehow, and credit to him, he was able to put the ball in place with a slow chopper down the middle and in a rare error by the dynamic Xavi-Robbie duo, they both couldn’t get to the ball and make the final out. Game tied. The Falcons responded well by scoring 3 runs in extra innings and shutting down the Arrows in the bottom of the inning to seal a 9-6 win.

John Blose made the play of the day with a diving catch in centerfield

The bad news of that first game was the injuries to both Xavi (hamstring) and Robbie (ankle) which meant they both sat out the second game. Without their 1-2 batters and the defensive duo, Herts still went to battle and tried to get that 2nd win. Darrin Ward and and Lance Louw got into a pitching duel taking a 1-1 score into the bottom of the 6th. Arrows again were able to start a small rally and were able to score 3 runs in the bottom of the 6th to put a dagger into Herts. Herts showed some heart (pun intended) and looked to repeat the scenario from the first game. They scored a run and had runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs. A single would tie the game, but Lance Louw showed composure and struck out Carlos Velazco-Carus to end the game and give the victory to the Arrows.

Manager Lee Manning said after the game: “In the first game we played the way I expect us to play. Second game we didn’t hit the way I expected us to hit. Not taking anything away from Essex but we seem to be struggling with all these weeks off not playing.” Asked if the injuries could have affected the outcome of the second game, he added: “I think any team in the league would suffer if they lose their middle infielders, and in our case we feel our middle infielders are the best in the league, so their absence is bound to affect us. The guys that filled in did an amazing job but that meant we left holes in other parts of the field.” Essex Manager Steve Simmons summarised the day by saying: “I’m very pleased the way we played all day long. Unfortunately [in the first game] we ran out of pitching and they managed to score.” And then added “…[Second game] we played basics ball, we played fundamentals, ran the bases well, clutch hitting and didn’t make any critical errors.”

The season is getting quite interesting with all teams close together and the London Mets look like they are running away with it at the moment. This is the stage of the season where the fans can have a big impact. The Falcons are playing against a tough Southampton team at home next Sunday, May 26. An opportunity to come down to the ballpark and make some noise to try to grab two necessary wins against their immediate opponents.


The NBL has a new leader. Title race wide open.

Herts game two starter Robbie Unsell pitched a gem allowing only 2 earned runs

written by Cristobal Hiche

A Herts fanatic would try to find many excuses to justify two painful losses suffered this Saturday afternoon in Finsbury Park against the London Mets. The fact is London Mets won two hard fought games with determination.

They led every inning in both games besides the 1st inning of the 1st game because Falcons scored 2 runs in top of the 1st and looked poised for another high scoring Falcons victory. However Mets fought back in the bottom of that opening inning, tied the game, and slowly but surely kept scoring thanks to timely hitting throughout the game. By the 3rd inning it was 8-2 for the Mets. Offensively Herts looked nothing like previous outings but they looked to make a comeback in the 5th with 2 runs. Mets had none of that and scored 5 runs in the bottom of the inning. Herts wouldn’t give up scoring another 3 in the 6th, yet Mets made sure not to give a window of opportunity to mount a rally, and scored another 3 runs in the bottom of the 6th to leave the score 16-7 (final score). Mets manager Erick Henson said: “The Herts team is always a great opponent. We just hit the ball really well. I need to look the stats with more detail but it felt that with even 2 outs and men on base, we were able to bring them in”.

Click to view game 1 stats

The 2nd game was quite the opposite with great pitching from Robbie Unsell and Pietro Sollecito. Although Robbie pitched a great complete game (7 innings) and gave up only 2 earned runs, it was Mets veteran Pietro who stole the show. Not having overpowering pitches and facing the best offensive team in the league, Pietro not only kept Falcons bats quiet but was throwing a perfect game until the top of the 5th and pitched a shutout until the top of the 7th. Up to this point, he just worked both sides of the plate, hitting the corners, and making sure Herts batters hit the pitches he wanted them to hit. Like any great pitching performance, defence also played its part making great catches to some solid hitting by Falcons players.

With the score 4-0 in the top of the 7th and the top of the order coming up, Herts took the approach to score at least 1 run to avoid the shutout for the 1st time in 2 years. This gave them the focus to be aggressive at the plate and on the bases. Before you knew it, it was 4-2 with man on 3rd and 2nd base with 1 out. Herts manager Lee Manning put pinch-hitter Ben Marques for Darrin Ward and Mets manager Erick Henson made the tough decision keeping Pietro on the mound with a reliever ready in the bullpen. Pietro didn’t disappoint his manager and induced the next 2 batters to hit fly balls and keep the runners on base. Great ending for a great game.

Click to view game 2 stats

It’s an unusual outcome for the Falcons who got swept for the 1st time in 2 years and didn’t look sharp all day long. As usual, it’s hard to tell if the loss was a product of the Falcons poor performance or Mets just playing better. Probably it was a combination of both. As manager Lee Manning mentioned in the post-game conference, “We hit very poorly. We didn’t field properly. Our pitching was good”. Regardless, expect 2 very good games next time they meet as the Falcons look to avenge these losses and the Mets try to confirm they didn’t get the Falcons on a poor day but rather they’re the team to beat this year.

These two wins for the Mets take them to the top of the NBL standings with a perfect 4-0 record, while the Falcons (5-3) are now in third place, a game back on the new leaders. Herts rest next week. They return to league action on 19 May as they travel across the county border to play against rivals Essex Arrows (2-4).

Team W L Pct GB GP RF RA
Mets 4 0 1.000 4 39 16
Mustangs 5 1 0.833 6 46 26
Falcons 5 3 0.625 1 8 70 39
Blazers 3 3 0.500 2 6 51 36
Diamondbacks 3 3 0.500 2 6 24 40
Nationals 2 4 0.333 3 6 44 43
Arrows 2 4 0.333 3 6 34 36
Pirates 2 4 0.333 3 6 30 60
Redbacks 2 6 0.250 4 8 41 83



Perfect Falcons travel to Harlow to sweep the Nationals

Cristobal Hiche hit the first Falcons home run of the 2013 season in the first game of the day (photo by Will Baxter)

written by Cris Hiche

The 9-0 in the 1st inning of the first game and 14-0 by the 2nd inning summarises the difference Falcons showed against the 2-time NBL champions Harlow Nationals throughout the day. A lot can be said about the game and both teams will draw their own conclusions. The fact is Falcons did everything perfect. Pitching was great, hitting was great, defence was great, and running was great. With such a high score, there’s bound to be great highlights and there were. Cris Hiche blasted the first home run of the season for the Falcons to right field. The defensive and impressive duo of Robbie Unsell (2B) and Xavi Gonzales (SS) was up to the highest level once again. John Bloise (LF), Barry Wiles (3B), Phil Clark (1B), and Dave House (C) were solid. However, Dave Tretheway (RF) stole the show with a tremendous diving catch.

It is important to note that Nationals looked awful out there and they’ll be the first to admit it. They committed an unusual amount of easy errors from experienced players and their bats were too quiet. Credit to winning pitcher Jordan Farkas, who although didn’t have the velocity of previous outings, managed to control the game. Nevertheless, Nationals is always a dangerous team and was able to score some runs to end up with a more “decent” final score of 16-8 for the Falcons. Pitcher Jordan Farkas said after the game: “My arm was dead since the first inning and didn’t have the speed. So I used my control to outsmart the always dangerous Nationals lineup. I got the run support which is always great for a pitcher.”

Herts pitcher Darrin Ward was in control in game two (photo by Project COBB Photography

And if you thought the second game would be much closer and hard-fought, well it wasn’t. It was a deja-vu with again solid defence, running, hitting and pitching by the Falcons. The player of the match was without a doubt pitcher Darrin Ward who with his vast experience shutdown their lineup once again. It was so one-sided that by the bottom of the 7th it was still 8-0 with 2 outs and no man on base. ‘Wardie’ relaxed a bit and walked the next batter. Of course baseball is about momentum and the Nationals used that little window of opportunity to score one run to spoil Darrin Ward’s perfect day and avoid a shutdown (Final score 8-1).

Some of the highlights of the game were some good defensive plays by several Nationals players (trying to stop the numerous Falcons hits) and as imagined, little can be said of the Falcons defence because they were barely challenged. Yet the only time the Nationals could have done something with man on second and one out with a deep fly ball to center, a ‘textbook, MLB style’ 8-6-5 relay was performed to execute the double play and finish the inning. Cris Hiche mentioned after the game: “I really enjoyed that double play. It was beautiful all the way and I love throwing people out like that. I enjoyed it more than the HR in the first game.” Manager Lee Manning summarised the day: “Two great games and is fantastic to sweep the Nationals. Our team played excellent in every aspect of the game and this gives us confidence that we can achieve our goal this year.”

With the next games on Saturday 4th of May at Finsbury Park against the London Mets, I really encourage all adults and youth players of the Herts family and those from other organisations to come watch two great teams battle each other and see these exciting Falcons try to make it 7-1 for the season.


Falcons bounce back after dramatic walk-off loss

Falcons player-manager, Lee Manning, came up big with a 3-run double in game two (photo by Will Baxter)

written by Cristobal Hiche

The weather was perfect for some great baseball if it wasn’t for some strong winds from right to left field which effectively killed the “long ball” from the game. This set the tone for the first game in which solid pitching by Jordan Farkas (Herts) and Ryan (Diamondbacks), kept batters at bay with few hits and no runs scored by either team in the first 4 innings. Added to that was the fact that both teams weren’t efficient and both teams left too many men on base. In fact, Herts had men on 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the first inning but the heart of the order couldn’t bring the runners home. Lakenheath also had the bases loaded with 1 out in the bottom of the 3rd but ended up empty.

Both teams realised this game was going to go down to the wire and a small mistake could prove costly. Also, both teams realised they needed to manufacture runs and switched strategies by playing small ball. Sacrifice and drag bunts were attempted but a great play by third baseman James Brooks prevented Herts left fielder John Blose reaching base on a great surprise bunt down the line.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the 5th when Xavier Gonzales made an error on a very routine ground ball. The ball made an unusual bounce due to poor ground conditions and Xavi couldn’t do anything about it. Tough luck but this sparked the Dbacks to go on and score 3 runs. Herts felt the blow and quickly bounced back to tie the game at 3-3 in the top of the 6th inning. All looked like it was going to extra innings with quick two outs in the bottom of the 7thinning, but Jordan Farkas’ pitch count was rising and he gave up the first and only walk of the game for him, which at the end of the day proved to be costly. Matt Mulvaney, who was already 2-3 in the game, hit a timely line drive for a double in the gap in left-centerfield. The runner was held at 3rd base, but Shawn Benton became the hero with a single up the middle, which neither Robbie Unsell (2B) nor Xavier Gonzalez (SS) could reach. Walk-off single – game over.

This was truly a MLB-type game, with solid pitching, changing strategies by both teams, and with a nail biting finish which unfortunately didn’t go the way the Falcons wanted. “We left too many guys on base and we didn’t give Jordan the run support his pitching deserved” said Falcons manager, Lee Manning, after the game.

Click to view game 1 box scores

Given the disappointment by the Herts players and believing they should have won the first game, they were hungry to respond in the second game. They came out of the dugout with determination and in the top of the first they scored 5 runs. The highlight of this inning was a great 3-run bases-clearing-double by Lee Manning, proving the manager still has the skills to play at the top level. This proved to be enough as Darrin Ward again pitched a solid game, managing the game and his pitching repertoire to keep the Diamondbacks’ bats quiet. It was only in the 3rd inning that the heart of the Dbacks batting order managed to string a few singles together and scored two runs. With 2 outs and a man on first and third, Matt Mulvaney who was 3-4 with that great double in the first game, came up to the plate with the potential tying run. However, Ward won the battle and Matt hit a ground ball to second for a routine 4-3 play. Herts managed to get an insurance run in the 5th and sealed the game with additional 3 runs in the top of the 7th.

Click to view game 2 box scores

Herts Falcons Manager, Lee Manning, felt that the team responded well after the difficult loss in the first game.  He said: “we quickly picked ourselves up and exploded on the ball. Wardy (Darrin Ward) coasted through the game and we never looked back.” Manning added that “It’s always hard to travel to Lakenheath with the extra players they have for their home games. The wind played its part and affected both teams. Losing the way we did in game 1 was hard for the boys to take but we showed spirit to get ahead early in game 2 and stay there.”

Standout Herts players:

Robbie Unsell: 3-5, 1R, 2RBI, 3BB, 3SB, 1K

Darrin Ward: 7IP, 2R, 2ER, 3SO, 3BB

Xavier Gonzales: 3-6, 4R, 2 doubles, 2BB, 1SB