SUNDAY 17 SEPTEMBER
Three excellent and dramatic finals were played today at Farnham Park as National Champions for 2017 were crowned in the British Baseball Federation’s Triple-A, Double-A and Single-A divisions.
The first game to get under way, at 11.00 am on a cool and cloudy morning, was the Double-A final between the Leicester Blue Sox and Tonbridge, both teams that had won the Single-A National Championship in recent seasons. This turned out to be a tense and well-pitched game that was in doubt until Leicester scored four runs in a bizarre top of the ninth inning to turn a 5-4 lead into a much more comfortable 9-4 advantage. It’s not often that one player can be said to win a baseball game single-handed, but in this case the evidence was pretty clear. Read the report below to find out why the MVP award could only have gone to Leicester’s Rikson Martina.
DOUBLE-A CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
Leicester Blue Sox 9, Tonbridge 4
This final was in doubt until Leicester pulled away in what became a nightmare top of the ninth inning for Tonbridge, but in truth, this game was the Rikson Martina show.
The mercurial Leicester star, who was a live-wire catcher in Saturday’s semi-final win over the Latin Boys, took the mound in this game and threw the full nine innings and 139 pitches, giving up only three hits and five walks while striking out five. Tonbridge had baserunners in seven of the nine innings, but Martina used his curve ball to good effect and got 13 infield ground outs.
“I didn’t want to go more than 140 pitches,” Martina said after the game. “And I beat it by one!”
But that was only half of Martina’s contribution; the rest came with the bat.
Martina had four hits in five trips to the plate, including a triple, a double and three RBIs, plus two stolen bases and two runs scored.
If Tonbridge never see Rikson Martina again, it will probably be too soon.
Neither side scored during the first three innings, and to begin with, it was Tonbridge starter Cristian Secareanu who held down the Blue Sox. But Secareanu had pitched the full game during Tonbridge’s semi-final win on Saturday, and he left the mound with one out in the Leicester third inning, replaced by Sorin Puiu.
Puiu finished off the third inning without difficulty, but ran into trouble in the top of the fourth as Leicester opened the scoring with three runs. Rikson Martina’s triple was the big blow, but three Tonbridge errors helped the Blue Sox cause.
Leicester stretched the lead to 4-0 with a run in the top of the fifth inning. Rob Seward singled, stole second, and came in, inedvitably, on Rikson Martina’s double.
But in the bottom of the fifth the Tonbridge offense finally got going and cut the deficit to 4-3 on singles by Matt Styles and Laurence Hodgkins plus two Leicester errors.
Over the next three eventful innings, each team had plenty of chances but could only add one run each, and so Leicester held a slender 5-4 lead when they came to bat in the top of the ninth inning, knowing that Tonbridge would have the final turn at the plate.
But everything that could go wrong for Tonbridge did so in a long and painful half-inning. Leicester had three hits, and none of them left the infield. Sorin Puiu committed a balk that sparked a long argument that got Tonbridge Manager Amanda Murphy ejected. There was also a hit-by-pitch and a throwing error by Puiu when he had a Leicester runner dead to rights between second and third. The result of all this mayhem was four big runs for Leicester that took the wind out of the Tonbridge sails.
A tiring – and no wonder – Rikson Martina walked pinch-hitter Gen Edwards to open the bottom of the ninth inning, and Ben Carter followed with a single. But Leicester’s good fortune continued. Laurence Hodgkins hit a soft liner to Giedrius Janulevicius at third, and even though Janulevicius threw the ball into right field trying to double off Gen Edwards, Leicester got the out anyway when the ball was returned because Edwards had never tagged up.
When Martin Barker hit a one-hopper back to Martina, Rikson held the ball for a second in silent celebration, then fired to first to end the game and cue the real celebrations, with Leicester players forming a mass on the mound.
“We definitely played to our strengths,” Leicester Manager Alan Edington said afterwards, “and micro-managing the players today gave them the freedom to do this. Cool heads prevailed – at least most of the time! And Rikson Martina telling me he wanted to pitch the whole game made things easier – I just had to let him do it!”
SATURDAY 16 SEPTEMBER
Semi-final games in the BBF’s Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A National Championships started at 9.30 this morning and finished in the cold, dark and damp, well after 7.00 pm. But we now know who will play the finals on Sunday.
Six semi-finals were played on the two baseball diamonds at Farnham Park today in weather which was mostly cold and cloudy, but with a few fleeting glimpses of the sun and one short but vicious rain and hailstorm -- weather more suited to March than mid-September.
Leicester Blue Sox 17, Latin Boys 3 (7 innings)
The Latin Boys probably came into this game as favourites, and at the end of three innings they only trailed 3-2.
The threat of a big inning by Leicester in the top of the third was averted when the Latin Boys brought in Yefri Aguilar to replace starter Alex Lopez with one out and the bases loaded, and Aguilar struck out Scott McMillan and Chris Mee to end the threat.
But that was really the end of the road for the Latin Boys, as Leicester scored six runs in the top of the fourth inning and steadily pulled away for a mercy rule win after seven innings, scoring three more in the top of the fifth, two in the sixth and a final three in the seventh.
Catcher Rik Martina had a single, a double and three walks for Leicester while Rob Seward and Andy Davidson each had three hits.
But the main reason for Leicester’s unexpectedly easy win was pitcher Justinas Raupenas, who pitched the full seven innings, struck out 13 Latin Boys and gave up only four hits and four walks. The Latin Boys had at least one baserunner in every inning but the sixth, but Raupenas came up with big pitches when he needed them, ending five of the seven innings on strikeouts.
Long before the end, it was clear that the Blue Sox
would be at Farnham Park on Sunday.