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Historic first for Herts is a highlight of Opening Day

Historic first for Herts is a highlight of Opening Day

The Herts Falcons chalked up an historic moment for the club on Sunday’s Opening Day, fielding two women players in the NBL side for the first time.

Jessica Vernon and Marianna Casal were on the team which took on the Essex Arrows at Grovehill to start the 2021 BBF season. Unfortunately, they were on the wrong end of two high-scoring defeats, but that couldn’t overshadow the importance of the moment.

Women’s baseball in the UK has made huge and sudden strides over the past 18 months, and Herts is delighted to be a part of that. The club is proud of its record in being open to all talents, and has featured several women players in its ranks over the years – but never at the top level. We are hopeful this can be another step forward, and our aim is to grow the game for all groups.

We think this might have been the first NBL team to feature two women players, and the first to have one of them pitch – but we can’t be certain of that. When Jess Vernon did take the mound, she was certainly highly effective – recording the only 1-2-3 inning for either side on the day.

Marianna Casal in action (pic: Tony Small)

Marianna Casal has been linked to Herts for many years through her family, as her father and brother have both played for the club. That deep connection runs from the first Herts Little League sides, where she was a singer, fan, mascot and then a player. She won a European Championship with the GB under-19 softball side in 2016.

Marianna as a junior Herts fan

Sharing the diamond with her brother and father on Sunday at Grovehill gave the day an extra-special element:

After so many years of being on the sidelines just watching how cool they are, I was excited that I’m a part of it now. They are such a huge part of why I am where I am now. I am truly grateful for all the opportunities that I am getting to progress in the sport that I love – and grateful to Falcons coach Cris Hiche for saying he wanted me on the team.”

In 2017, Jessica Vernon made her first appearance at Grovehill Ballpark. She played for Bracknell’s Single-A side against the Raptors. Since then she has had success in softball and competitive cheerleading, and back to baseball to become a leading light in the women’s game.

She is a founder member of Belles Baseball, who were the first women’s team to enter the Herts Spring League, and who will be part of the inaugural women’s league in 2021. The team was recently featured on BBC television and has been spreading the word about women’s baseball.

Jessica’s performance was rewarded with the BSUK Player of the Week award, which is based on nominations from the baseball community.

Jess Vernon pitching (pic: Tony Small)

The Falcons have seen a lot of change in the off-season and enter this year with fresh hopes. The games against the Arrows were competitive, but not perhaps classics of tight baseball. Game 1 ended 16-13 to the visitors, while game 2 stepped up another level into a football score, ending 24-23.

Marianna Casal said she had loved every single second of the experience, despite the results, and cannot wait for the rest of the season:

“Hearing men from the other team get surprised about what I can do was a lot of fun for me. It will be even more fun when no-one is surprised – when everyone just knows who they’re up against. I was shaking when I got on the field but after making my first play, I just reminded myself that I belong there.”

The new Herts recruits were welcomed by all their team mates. And huge credit goes to the visiting Essex Arrows too. Surprised as they might have been, witnesses at the ballpark say the Arrows offered the same respect to Casal and Vernon as to all the other players.

In a turbulent week for British baseball, these were the good memories and positive images people want to take forward. Amy Trask, who played for the Bracknell Blazers a decade ago in the NBL, said: “It’s great to see women in baseball doing amazing things, and all the support it’s getting.”

The highlight of the weekend elsewhere for Herts came at the first derby game of the year in Single A, where the Londoners were hosting the Eagles at Basing Hill. The visitors’ Alex Plehn – who joined the club last year but has never before played in a BBF league game — hit two home runs. The second of them, a 3-run homer, was key to a 6-5 victory in the second game. Rookie Tom Hill also delivered with his debut on the pitching mound before turning the game over to veteran Mike Wakelam.

The star of the first game, apart from that Plehn home run, was the fielding of Greg Bochan. The former Hawks boss was now manning the hot corner of third base for the Londoners, and made two quality plays before capping it all with a web gem, diving to his left to snare a hard hit ball before somehow making the throw across the diamond too. Londoners won this one 13-5.

The other Single A team, the Raptors, travelled to the Redbacks. Despite some strong performances, the team of mainly novices could not overcome Essex who won 15-6 and 16-8. The Hawks lost 14-8 and 10-8 in Oxford in the Double A league.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this article, including Jess, Marianna, Tony Small, Amy Trask and Lee Manning.

Herts come up empty after last inning dramas

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.

Nico Durer at bat

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.

Co-manager and pitcher, Arnie Longboy

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”.

Witter pitching for the Londoners

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.

Back in time: Herts young players help mark the dawn of baseball

Among the events featured in this British summer of baseball was one to mark the game’s origins right here in England. Herts’ own Robert Gregory was on hand to witness the day, and sent this report:

On Sunday July 7th a Blue plaque unveiling event was held at Walton-on-Thames to commemorate the first recorded baseball game that was held there. It took place at Ashley Park, what is now Walton cricket ground, in September 1749.

On that day, the Prince of Wales took part. As part of this year’s festivities a demonstration game was played by players that are either on GB team rosters, or are selected for the national development programme.  This included players of various age groups, among them 5 from Herts teams – Josh Jones, Pedro Gomez-Jones, Jack O’Brien, Lucas Lebrato and Chris Gregory.

Herts’ Chris Gregory in action

The day began with a wet start with the teams “warming up’ in a constant drizzle. All eyes were on the weather forecast and just before the start of the game the weather obliged and cleared up.

Managed by GB head coach Liam Carroll the players were split into two teams — one ‘Team USA’ and one ‘Team GB’. The former Radio 1 DJ Mike Read made the introductions, the two teams took the field and the GB and USA National anthems were sung.

A good crowd took their positions and it was ‘Game on’. 

It was decided that the older players should pitch and catch at a suitable level to provide a balanced game for the range of ages of the players. Chris Gregory of the Herts Londoners pitched first for Team GB.

Some good fielding allowed GB to take a 2-0 lead after the first innings. Team USA then put in two strong innings scoring 6 runs in each, this included strong hits by the younger Herts players.

The game progressed with the crowd enjoying the experience and being provided details of finer points of the game from the announcer, Cris Knoblock. Some young children were keen to play and so soon were playing a game of there own.

The game looked over in the 6th (and final) inning as Team USA stretched out to an 8 run lead. But Team GB came charging back from 18-10 down to tie the game. A final hit deep to centre field by Herts’ Lucas Lebrato provided the winning runs, much to the delight of the crowd.

The players could then relax and enjoy the rest of the festivities with batting and pitching cages run by BaseballSoftballUK. There were also food stalls, entertainment and various performances on the stages. VIP guests enjoyed a buffet lunch in the marquee that was decorated with USA and GB flags and baseball items.

In the afternoon, the blue plaque was unveiled by the comedian Bobby Davro and his father Bill Nankeville, who was a national and record breaker on the track and a two-time Olympian. After that a softball game was held with the celebs and special guests. A great day for promoting baseball in the UK.

An historic adventure: the Herts Falcons in Europe

There were trophies, triumphs, blowouts and rainouts in Herts baseball club’s first ever experience of European competition. And the players and fans lapped it up.

The Herts Falcons, sponsored by Regin Products, took part in the European Federations Cup qualifier in Bulgaria, thanks to their position as runners-up in last year’s National Baseball League. In a history stretching back to 1996, Herts has never before been in Europe, so it was a big step forward.

Falcons, in new red uniform thanks to Regin

The first of five games in five days in Blagoevgrad was against the Polish side, UKS Deby Osielsko. They would go on to be the runner’s up in the tournament, and so provided stiff opposition.

Herts took an early lead, with Tetsuro Shinkawa writing his place in history by driving in the club’s first ever European runs. Miguel Sarmiento later hit Herts’ first ever European home run, as the Falcons rallied late in the game. Shortstop Carlos Casal Jr went 2-2 with two walks, but Osielsko won 18-8.

It had still been a solid start from the travelling Herts side. The sport of baseball is far more solidly established in Europe, with professional leagues in countries such as Austria, Italy and the Netherlands – so we knew the challenge would be tough.

Tetsuro Shinkawa

Herts were overpowered by Athletic Sofia from Bulgaria on Tuesday – despite a 3-for-3 day at the plate by Gary Davison – and by eventual Swedish tournament winners Solvesborg Firehawks on Thursday.

In between was the most dramatic game, against Atletico Alexandria. Herts led the Romanian side 3-0 going into the fifth inning, behind the superb pitching of Davison. Ryan Trask and Miguel Rodriguez had scored the runs.

Then Alexandria rallied to take the lead on a couple of Herts errors and wild pitches. They scored 5 from only 2 hits. But the Falcons were still in the game.

A cloudy day then brought rain which interrupted proceedings with Herts 6-3 down. Casal had come on to pitch in relief, and struck out three, and the Falcons hopes remained high. But the rain delay became a cancellation and the game was called. Herts were disappointed by a 6-3 loss.

It was frustrating as, inside the camp, the Falcons felt their performance had been their best as a team so far. Manager Cris Hiche put it simply: “We should have won it”. The team had been more relaxed and had more fun.

Parental advisory – Falcons “showering”

That strong team spirit showed in the way they washed away their disappointment. Stripped down to their underwear, the team sprinted from the dugout, through the rain, and slid across the outfield.

The moment was memorably caught on camera. It proved a success not only on Herts social media channels, but on a Facebook page covering baseball around the world – where it racked up more than 20,000 views.

On Friday, the Falcons ended on a high when they faced Utenos Titanai from Lithuania. Young Chris Gregory got the start on the mound and pitched a gem. He went the full eight innings, scattering 7 hits and striking out 7.

He was backed up by the bats, with Jarrod Pretorius going 3-for-4 and Tyler Badenhorst and Conner Brown both having a multi-hit game. It ended 13-2 to Herts and they claimed the fourth place trophy.

This had been an epic adventure, for these players and for the club as a whole. Herts veteran Lee Manning – who made some guest appearances as a reliever – said “We’ve left everything on the field every day. After 23 years, making it into Europe has taken us to the next level.”

Falcons’ manager Cris Hiche was proud of what the team had achieved, while club President Aspi Dimitrov hailed it as an historic week for the club.

Generous donations from players, supporters and from the Falcons sponsor Regin Products had made the trip possible. The reaction from the fans and families – and from the rest of British baseball – had made it worthwhile.

 

 

BBC presenters agree to face Herts youth stars

It was perhaps a foolhardy moment for two of the stalwarts of sports broadcasting in Hertfordshire. Or was it the moment an epic confrontation was set in train?

Geoff Doyle and Luke Ashmead of BBC 3 Counties Radio were just wrapping up their interview with Herts’ own Lee and Riley Manning – when the visiting father and son duo pulled out their trump card.

“I want to get you down to face our juniors”, says Lee, quickly but casually. “Yeah, yeah” came the swift reply.

Geoff and Luke manfully said they would show no mercy. But Riley piped up with what was described as “fighting talk” in response.

“We’d absolutely love to do that”, insisted the BBC men. Now we just need to set a date.

Lee Manning, Herts’ youth commissioner for 2019, had chatted with them both about the year ahead, the Herts Falcons’ foray into European competition, and the opportunities offered by the MLB London Series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

You can hear the whole thing here:

Of course, Geoff Doyle and Luke Ashmead are no strangers to Grovehill Ballpark. They came down in 2013 for a training session on a beautiful summer evening, and got to compete against one another at hitting.

When Lee and Riley dropped in to the studios this year, it was clear that the presenters remembered it well!

Luke quickly reminded Geoff that their previous experience of Herts baseball had included “me beating you in a batting competition”.

“I thought you might bring that one up”, he admitted after a brief pause. That’s how long baseball lives with you, and how much satisfaction it gives you when you get things right!

“It was such fun”, they agreed, saying anyone could try out the sport without any need to know the rules or the details.

You can listen to the original 2013 session here:

Stay tuned and we will keep you updated on when Geoff and Luke will be making their appearance at Grovehill to test their skills against our young stars.

You know they wouldn’t back out of it. Would they….?

 

 

Father-son duets do the double for Herts

At times, it looked as if the Herts Raptors would struggle to get a team together for Sunday’s trip to the Tonbridge Bobcats, as Father’s Day stripped away a few regulars from the line-up.

In the end, the 9 players they got together played one of their best all-around games of the season to secure a win. New father and son recruits were central to it, but more of them later.

We will start at the top of the first, when rookie Harvey Blenkarne led off with a hit to centre field. He advanced around the bases to score, as did manager Matt Jackson.

James Emblow at bat

Raptors loaded the bases, but some miscommunication about an infield fly ended the threat. Tonbridge struck back with two runs of their own, but in the second innings Herts were able to cash in more of their base-runners.

Doubles from Jackson and from Rob Jones helped bring in 5 runs this time, with the Bobcats getting only 1 in reply.

Herts veteran Arnie Longboy was on the mound for this one, and worked steadily in and around the strike zone. Andrew Sharp for Tonbridge picked up more strikeouts, but Longboy and his catcher, Ken Pike, kept the Bobcats swinging, and the defense backed them up.

Edward Liu, switched to first base for this game, was a rock, while Matt Jackson made excellent plays in a rare appearance at third base.

Shortstop Rob Jones – whose career highlight is probably a sliding infield catch at Tonbridge – made a sliding infield catch which was almost a carbon copy. He was able to dash in for a dying quail which had just enough to get past the pitcher, but not enough to reach anyone else.

Raptors led 10-4 after four innings. Solid, but far from decisive in Single-A. Whereas in the past, the team has sometimes lost a bit of focus at times like these, they stepped it up this time.

That father-son duo we mentioned earlier was Brian and Josh Morgan. Brian (senior) slipped smoothly into a job at second base, and got a hit every time he came up.

Josh (the younger) took time to warm up against the pitching. But when Herts needed the production to seal the game he hit a superb double to the outfield. He capped that with a steal of home, a cloud of dust as his exclamation point.

Herts scored 11 in the top of the fifth, with James Emblow contributing a double, a single and a run. It put a mercy rule win within sight. Tonbridge got runners on, and scored 2 as they loaded the bases.

But they ran out of outs. Matt Jackson made the final play from third to cap off a 21-6 victory and move his side to 5-2 on the season.

The Herts Hawks at Grovehill

Back at Grovehill, the Herts Hawks were hosting the Norwich Iceni, last year’s unbeaten champions in Single-A. Norwich had won the first encounter between the teams in Double-A this year, a rain soaked affair which went to extra innings.

The Hawks bats helped them jump out to an early lead, and pitcher Darrin Ward held the visitors to just one hit in the first two innings. Norwich did manage to rally.

But the Hawks showed their power to surge ahead. Ward and Andy Cornish both hit doubles, while there was a triple for Gilberto Medina. 10 runs in the fourth inning put Herts in control, with a 17-4 lead.

Manager Mike Cresswell got on base every time he came up while Drew Mayhew – playing his first Herts game for two and a half years, hit a double.

The Hawks celebrated a 20-5 mercy rule win and they are now 8-2 on the year.

At this game, the father-son combo was Louis Hare, who played a great game as ever, and Geoff, one of the country’s leading umpires. It seems you can play baseball and celebrate Father’s Day at the same time.

 

Battling the ‘Enfield hop’

London Capitals, 11 – Herts Falcons, 9

In a game where forfeit (and consequently the dashing of any playoff berth hopes) looked likely, the Herts Falcons battled adversity all day long in the Father’s Day matchup with the London Capitals.

Continue reading “Battling the ‘Enfield hop’”

Raptors burn Inferno to spark their season

Herts Raptors 25-14 Bracknell Inferno, April 23rd 2017 – by Rob Jones

This victory by the Raptors, on the Opening Day of the Single-A season, was the perfect illustration of old and new working together.

One of the crucial runs to seal the deal in the bottom of the seventh inning was scored by Darren Butterworth, who had never played a league baseball game before. And he was driven in by Arnie Longboy, who’s been with the club for nigh on a decade.

Substitute catcher Brad Charalambous at bat

Somewhere neatly between the two categories is the fact that the actual winning run was scored by Arnie’s daughter Theo, a European champion at softball with the GB team, but new to baseball.

The Raptors had started slowly in the sporadic sunshine at Grovehill, with Bracknell’s hard-throwing pitcher Bruce Webb getting the best of the early exchanges.  He racked up three strikeouts and just one walk in the first inning.

But catcher Paul Auchterlounie got the first Herts hit in the second inning, and scored the first run. He ended the day 2-for-2 with a walk.

Third-baseman Tom Carson — another debutant in the Raptors lineup — closely followed him, and outfielder Joseph Osborne-Brade hit a double.

The Raptors kept their lead as the game wore on — 7-4 after three, 15-9 after five — but could never blow it open. Bracknell kept hitting against both starting pitcher Paul Barton, and reliever Longboy. And the two defenses were pretty even.

The top of the Herts order kept on walking and scoring steadily, with Matt Jackson and Rob Jones having 7 of each between them.

First baseman Giuseppe Basilea – making the step up from under-17 baseball – had perhaps the standout defensive play for Herts, in the top of the sixth. He caught a sinking line drive and immediately saw a chance to double off the Bracknell runner at second who had strayed too far.

Giuseppe Basilea at first base

He actually threw to third, but it didn’t matter. Because that was followed by the second-best defensive play as Ben Sinclair — yep, you guessed it, another rookie — quickly made a strong and accurate throw to second to nab the runner.

Bracknell had stayed close until the late innings, when Webb had tired and the fresh new Herts recruits came in to help stretch the lead. The Raptors scored 5 in the bottom of the sixth and needed 4 in the bottom of the seventh to secure a walk-off via the mercy rule.

Longboy Sr. duly delivered with a hit to right field, and the team celebrated. Both Bracknell and Herts had turned in strong performances to start their 2017, and are looking forward to what’s ahead.

Depleted Falcons regress from run of good form

On a day where the Falcons could barely cobble together a 9-man side, Herts limped to a 10-4 loss against the first place London Mets.

Injuries to Conner Brown (tricep), Darren Meintjes (finger) and the absences of shortstop Louis Hare, second basemen Ian McCann and Moises Vasquez, and catcher Phil Clark meant that the Falcons were far from full strength.

Above: With regular catchers Conner Brown and Phil Clark sidelined due to injury and family commitments, Manager Lee Manning was forced to don the ‘tools of ignorance’ for Sunday’s game against the Mets.

So there the Falcons found themselves, down 5 starters, facing the NBL’s premier team.  The only potential saving grace? The schedule. Sunday would be a single 7-inning game matchup, and in baseball, especially 7-inning baseball, anything can happen.

The game started very promising with Mets starter Maxwell Tyler issuing leadoff walks to both Brown (playing as the designated hitter) and John Blose, before a 2-RBI single from Tyler Badenhorst broke open the scoring.

The lead however didn’t last long. In the bottom of 1st the Mets’ bats rallied for a barrage of 4 runs against the Falcons’ starter Zack Longboy. Throughout the game Longboy, who has pitched well in recent weeks, struggled to find his normal command on his fastball, forcing him to rely almost exclusively on his knuckleball. Although this kept hitters off balance from the 2nd-5th innings (1 earned run), it did lead to costly walks for Longboy.

After the 1st, Tyler settled down and carved up the Falcons lineup, going the next four innings without a run crossing the plate. After a smattering of runs (earned and unearned) across the middle innings, Tyler exited the game in the 5th with his team up 9-2.

Replacing him was Mets reliever Elijah Hackney-Rose, a familiar face for some Herts players who had played with him for Great Britain youth teams. And maybe this familiarity helped the Falcons as Brown (a catcher for Hackney-Rose on the GB side) opened with a hard hit single and the frame ended with 2 more Herts runs having crossed the plate.

However, the score wouldn’t get much closer than 9-4 as London rallied to score another run off of Longboy in the 6th drawing the game to its final score of 10-4. The result ends what has been a run of good form that the Falcons have put up against their recent opponents (splitting the last two doubleheaders), however Manning is confident that, with a full squad, the Falcons can stay competitive even against top teams like London.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Filling in With the rash of injuries and absences plaguing the Falcons, two players rostered in lower levels of the organization were called on to perform on Sunday. Aspi Dimitrov (who had been on brief hiatus) returned with consistent play in centerfield and even picked up a single in his last at-bat. Single A player Rodney Naghar also made an impact, showing good glove work at first base and hitting a double to left field.

Tak-ing off  The Falcons bid farewell to one of their more consistent performers on Sunday as the beloved Takaya Miki played in his final NBL game before leaving for a university placement in Japan. Miki has been a defensive stopper for Herts this year, consistently filling a corner outfield spot, and his bat had heated up in recent weeks. He will be greatly missed by his teammates and Manager who wish only the best for him and his future.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Falcons have a two-game home stand on July 31st against the 2nd place Southampton Mustangs (21-3). First pitch for Game 1 is at 12 PM and Game 2 is scheduled to begin at 3 PM

 

 

Falcons playing spoiler, pick up win

On Sunday’s triple-header affair at Grovehill Ballpark, it was almost as if the weather was tied to the Falcons emotions.

The day started (early) with intermittent rain in the morning as the Falcons took on the 5th place Brighton Jets. Tyler Badenhorst was on the mound for the for the Falcons, facing Jamie Ratcliff of the Jets. After two rain delays, a particularly strong bout of rain forced the umpires to call the game with Jets in the lead. The minimum number of innings (4) had been played however, and the Jets walked away with a 5-1 victory.

After a long break, which saw the London Capitals defeat the Jets, the sun returned just in time for the Falcons second game of the day. With the sun there also came a boost in morale: just one week previous, the Falcons had played two tough games against the Capitals and only narrowly lost them both. 

Above: As the weather improved, so too did the Falcon’s performance.

Zack Longboy started on the mound for the Falcons, throwing a complete game and picking up the 10-8 win. The Herts bats looked alive as the team peppered hits off of London’s starter Maxime Flayol and relief pitcher Yusuke Ueno.

Herts led, albeit by a tight margin, for most of the game even stretching the lead to 3 runs in the 5th inning. A late home run gave the struggling Capitals a glimmer of hope, but leading 10-8, Herts Manager Lee Manning left Longboy out to finish the game and the Falcons shut the door.

The 10-8 victory over the 3rd place London Capitals marks the Falcons’ third win of the year, moving them into 6th place and ahead of the South London Pirates. While it is mathematically improbable that the Falcons could sneak into the playoffs, over the next six weeks they will be playing the role of spoiler as they match up against the NBL’s top dogs.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Zack Longboy’s dual threat performance When asked for his player of the game, Manager Manning lauded Zack Longboy’s performance both on the mound and at the plate. He went “5 for 6 [at the plate] and pitched beautifully, working his way out of jams like a seasoned pro,” Manning said. “He gets better every time [and] I have the joy of watching him play.” His performance against the Capitals was Longboy’s first career complete game in the NBL and second career win. And, of his five hits, two came with the bases loaded. 

More debuts Two more players made their Falcons debut on Sunday. Ian McCann played second base and came on in relief of Badenhorst in Game 1. In Game 2, Aaron Witter, a 14-year-old regular for the Herts Raptors, also got a cup of coffee with the NBL squad as he came off the bench to play right field. Witter’s experience is indicative of the fact that “Herts project youth is starting to pay off,” as Manning said, after the game. “The Capitals are a great team and our youngest player (14-year-old Aaron Witter) got the final out.” (Witter secured a fly ball to end the game.)

Execution, execution, execution Three critical runs of the 10 that the Falcon’s scored came via the suicide squeeze – Manning deploying an aggressive style with runners on third base. Although prior to Sunday, Louis Hare had never laid down a bunt in game, two of these squeezes involved him on the bunting end. A fourth squeeze was also put into motion, although a pick play to third by the Capitals pitcher left Matt Gilbert to improvise. When the dust cleared Gilbert had scored, leaving many rushing to check the record books on the oldest player to ever steal home.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW

Interference? Late in Game 2, a Capital’s runner scrambled from second to third, dislodging the Falcon’s shortstop in the process. As Louis Hare was in the process of fielding a ground ball, the runner was called out for interference, ending the inning. The Capital’s first base coach reacted strongly to the call, getting in the umpires face and causing a loud confrontation. Subsequently, the player was ejected and play continued without further interruption.

WHAT’S NEXT

On Sunday July 17th, the Falcons will take on the 4th place Essex Arrows (12-12) at Town Mead Ballpark. First pitch for Game 1 is 12:00 PM and Game 2 is scheduled to begin at 3:00 PM.