The Herts Ravens (A) and Cardinals (AAA) fought to the last in playoff games which capped their excellent seasons. But ultimately they fell one step short of the finals they had been chasing. Both teams can be proud of their year, and of the games they played at its climax.
The Ravens had to navigate a wildcard game on Saturday, 9th September, after an unexpected BBF ruling removed their tied regular season game and replaced it with a loss. But when they faced the Cambridge Royals at home they overpowered them with an 18-1 win.
That meant a long road trip to Cardiff the next day to face the Merlins. That stacked the odds against them, and the absence of their star slugger Zak Beller and ace pitcher Nic Goetz — who took the win on Saturday – offered further challenges.
But Herts opened up strongly against the winners of the South West and Wales league. Sony Lama drove a hit to centre, stole a couple of bases, and came home on a passed ball. Greg Bochan drove in Eric Ferng and the visitors took a 2-0 lead.
Then when Cardiff’s leadoff man hit a fly ball to the outfield it ended in another big blow to Herts. It deflected off Lama’s glove as he chased into foul ground for the play, and opened a cut above his eye which required stitches at the local hospital. He has recovered well, but losing his arm and his bat from the lineup did not help the Ravens cause.
Andrew Slater’s deceptive curve kept the Merlins batters off balance and the first few innings were tight and low scoring. Norman Peng and Eddie Wang made good defensive plays.
After three, Cardiff had managed to edge ahead 3-2. But then they were able to surge ahead. Essentially, their batters figured out a solution before the Ravens were able to solve the Cardiff starter Eiki Ito, who issued 7 walks but also struck out 10.
After Cardiff jumped to an 8-2 lead, Herts’ defense dug deep to put a zero on the scoreboard. But in the end they could not hold off the home side. Oscar Landin and Jamie Cunningham continued the damage they had done all season and the Merlins won it 12-2 in six innings.
The Herts Cardinals also faced a long road trip, heading to Bournemouth to face the Bears. And they too started strong. They led 2-1 after four innings thanks to an Erik Gustafson RBI hit and a Will Davis home run. Tyler Cote was solid on the mound.
Bournemouth rallied in the bottom of the fifth to retake the lead, but the Cardinals bounced right back. Vytas Macenas cleared the loaded bases for 3 RBIs and the lead. The Bears had the final word, though, with two home runs helping them to a 9-5 lead which they would preserve to take the victory.
Cardinals manager Brian Dearing said it had been a fun and tough fight, with amazing efforts top to bottom from the team.
The playoff finals for the BBF’s A, AA and AAA leagues take place this Sunday at Farnham Park. Herts players can turn their attention to the post-season Hunlock Series which brings together all levels of the club in a fun tournament in October to wrap up the year.
Thanks to Iestyn Dallimore for the excellent photos of the Merlins-Ravens game. Google him and you will find many more!