Home British baseball British Baseball Beat: NBL Specials and more

British Baseball Beat: NBL Specials and more

by Matt Smith

BBBIt was the first ‘Special Event’ of the 2011 National Baseball League season on Sunday. The concept was introduced last year as a way to bring all the top-tier clubs together as a showcase for the sport in Britain. 

With the NBL increasing from eight to ten teams this year, the ‘Special Event’ was spread over two venues this time: three nine-inning games at Herts and two at Richmond.

At Grovehill Ballpark, the home team Herts Falcons (2-6) were unable to build on the momentum gained from their double-win over the Croydon Pirates from the previous Sunday.  The London Mets (4-2) proved to be too strong for the Falcons, as explained by the Mets’ official scorer, Tanya Cramman:

“London Mets 14 Herts Falcons 3

After a scoreless first inning, London came out in the second to score 8 runs off 4 hits batting through their order, whilst Herts were unable to reply.  Herts centre fielder, Mahendra Prasad, played a solid defence in sometimes challenging winds making a difficult diving catch mid way through the game.  London welcomed their latest addition Erick Henson, who was solid behind the plate and got the job done with the bat scoring London’s opening run.  Darrin Ward took the loss with Zach Russel earning his second NBL win”.

The Mets remain in second place in Pool B, 1.5 games behind the Lakenheath Diamondbacks (7-2) after the Pool leaders stunned the Essex Arrows (2-9) with a ninth-inning rally to turn a 7-4 deficit into an 8-7 victory.  It was a heartbreaking loss for the Arrows, but they will take confidence from pushing the Diamondbacks all the way. 

Meanwhile the Southern Nationals (5-4) moved over .500 thanks to a hard-fought victory over the Mildenhall Bulldogs (3-6).  The Nationals appeared to be coasting to the win in the middle of the fifth inning when they led 10-1, but a six-run inning brought the Bulldogs back into it and the Nationals just managed to stay ahead to win 12-11.  Brendan Cunliffe starred for the Nationals, going 3-for-4 with a home run.

In the games at Richmond, the home town Flames met the Southampton Mustangs in a battle from the top of Pool A.  It appeared as though the Mustangs would have a two-game cushion at the top of the standings after they took a 4-0 lead; however the Flames levelled the game and then won it on a walk-off single by Marcus Simpson to leave the teams locked together on 9-2 records. 

The Croydon Pirates (2-9) responded to their two losses last Sunday by taking an 11-8 win against an admittedly depleted Bracknell Blazers (3-4) team.

There are four NBL double-headers scheduled for this weekend: Arrows @ Blazers, Mustangs @ Bulldogs, Flames at Nationals and Diamondbacks @ Falcons.

The fabulous four become a fearless three

Away from the National Baseball League, the main story was that the number of unbeaten teams reduced from four to three on Sunday.

In the AA Midlands, the MK Bucks won the first game of a double-header against the Nottingham Rebels to improve to 9-0, but the rapidly improving Rebels broke the Bucks’ unbeaten run in the second game with a memorable 6-3 victory.  Birmingham Maple Leafs swept a double-header over the Leicester Blue Sox to move within one game of the Bucks at the top of the AA Midlands, while the Rebels are in third with a highly creditable 5-5 record from their first ten games as a new team in the British Leagues.

That left the AAA North Liverpool Trojans and the two A South leaders, Southampton Mustangs II and Cambridge Royals, as the three teams still to face the disappointment of a defeat in 2011. 

All three managed to put off that moment for at least one more week. The Trojans’ (8-0) double-header against the Halton Jaguars was postponed due to a waterlogged field, while the A South teams continued their winning ways.  The Mustangs II (7-0) gained a 28-1 victory over Guildford Mavericks II and the Cambridge Royals (6-0) recorded an 18-3 win on the road against the Braintree Rays. 

However, only more inclement weather will stop the unbeaten three from becoming an unbeaten two on Sunday as the Mustangs II and Royals meet in Southampton in a battle between the A South Pool B and Pool A leaders respectively.  The Mustangs II will be favourites on home turf, but the Royals are sure to put up a strong fight in a high-stakes game.

Badgers back to winning ways, Herts Hawks break their duck

In the AAA South, the Bristol Badgers (11-1) responded to having their unbeaten start to the season broken the previous Sunday by picking up two wins away to the Oxford Kings (6-8).  The Essex Redbacks (9-5) made it four wins in a row by taking both games of a double-header at home to the Richmond Knights (2-10) to pull within three games of the division-leading Badgers.  The Knights have an immediate chance to gain revenge as they host the Redbacks this Sunday.  Bristol may also feel they have a point to prove as they face the team that took their unbeaten start away: the Windsor and Bracknell Bears.

In the AAA North, the Manchester A’s picked up what looks like two forfeit wins over the Menwith Hill Patriots.  The A’s and Trojans are scheduled to reignite their rivalry this Sunday at Allen Field in Manchester.

Staying in the north, Manchester Torrent took two wins against the Humber Pilots to improve to 5-3 on the season.  They are two games behind the AA-North division-leading Bolton Robots of Doom, with those two sides set to meet this Sunday in Bolton for a double-header.

In the AA- South, the Latin Boys made it four wins in a row with two victories over the Richmond Knights. Judging by the box scores, they were two weird and wonderful games as the Latin Boys scored 17 runs in both.  The first game was a comfortable win, the second was anything but.  Brentwood Stags are in second place behind the Latin Boys in Pool A after two victories over Croydon Pirates III, while the Guildford Mavericks secured two victories over Essex Redbacks II to keep up the pressure on the Sidewinders at the top of Pool B. 

And finally, Herts Hawks got rid of the ‘0’ in their win column while splitting a double-header with Kent Mariners.  The Hawks will look to add another win to their total this Sunday against the Mavericks.

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Joe Gray June 9, 2011 - 9:00 am

It’s a shame there wasn’t more notice of the venue choice, to give the more clubs a chance to promote the “Special Events” in their respective local areas, as the action on the old diamond at Herts would have been a really good advert for the game to newcomers. I scored both 9-inning games on that field, and both were rammed with excitement.

The moment of the game in the Essex versus Lakenheath contest, for me, came when Luke Foley (a blossoming NBL talent and regular commenter on BaseballGB) crushed a fly ball all the way out towards the fence. The Arrows’ bench seemed confident that it was on a trajectory to become a two-run homer, but a change of wind mid-flight dragged the ball down onto the top of the outfield wall, a collision that did nothing more to the fence than cause it to emit a humble ping, but wiped two bases of the hit. Watching this all unfold, I thought that Essex’s pitcher, the experienced and highly proficient Matt Gilbert, would surely have his head in his hands in reaction to this dent in his ambitions for the win. Instead, though, he was the player leading the taunting of Foley. “WTP,” he exclaimed: “Warning track power!” Foley’s response was to hit the deck for some press-ups, being careful – of course – to make sure his cleats were in permanent contact with second base. Second to Foley’s double in the “moment of the game” rankings was a third-time-lucky pick-off from Matt Gilbert. The runner at first was determined that he was not going to lessen the lead he was taking, despite Gilbert nearly having him picked off twice, but was probably regretting this bravado when Rich Chesterton smartly applied the tag to get the-out on Gilbert’s third attempt. This, and several other pick-offs and other base-path outs, explained why the D’Backs converted their first 10 hits of the game into only 3 runs.

For the highlight in the following game, between the Southern Nationals and the Mildenhall Bulldogs, I had to wait right till the end. The Southern Nationals held the slenderest of leads (12–11) and needed two outs in the bottom of the ninth, with a runner on first. I had battled through the on-and-off rain and constant wind for over 8 hours, and I really thought that my age-worn Young’s umbrella – just like the brewery it advertised – was going to get carried away to Bedford. Nats’ catcher Will Lintern, who is as professional a player as you will find in amateur baseball, made some comment like “let’s turn two and get out of here”. It had rained so much that my capillaries were saturated, and I did not share Lintern’s confidence, having not seen a double-play all day. But the very next pitch, delivered by the skilled home-grown youngster Jamie Ratcliff, yielded an infield grounder. Jason Holowaty, fielding at second in his first game (I think) since playing against South Korea in the 2009 World Cup, snagged the ball, scampered over to the bag, and made a perfect throw to Brendan Cunliffe at first to end the game. A loud yelp of glee from the very likeable Dominican centre-fielder Edwin Alcantara summed up how all the Nationals must have been feeling.

In a game that was defined by the construction of big innings by both teams, every run counted. For instance, a solo effort by Dan Parker, another highly talented home-grown youngster on the Nationals’ roster, gave his team an insurance run late in the game that proved to be crucial. I’m not talking about a home run, though. Parker led the inning off by getting on base, and while the following batters were making consecutive outs, he stole second and then advanced to third and then home on two wild pitches. The youngster from Humberside is the latest in the line of family members to make an impact on senior British domestic baseball. His grandfather, Frank Parker Sr, and father, Frank Parker Jr, were both extremely skilled players of their respective eras.

Michael Jones June 9, 2011 - 9:54 am

Already seven weeks through the season in AAA – by my calculations only another nine weeks remaining. If Bristol continue their tear up the ranks we might see teams mathematically eliminated before the London Tournament.

That said, lots to scrap for this season and it’s going to be very interesting in the run for the other playoff berth(s).


Joe Gray June 9, 2011 - 10:28 am

Does anyone have any ideas when we can start syaing “berth” or berths” rather than “berth(s)”?

Luke Foley June 9, 2011 - 2:52 pm

Nice article Joe! I really felt when Matt and I teamed up for that pickoff at 2nd in the 9th for the 1st out that we were gonna get the groundball needed for the double play to win the game…

I was a bit gutted about the wall ball, I’m still looking for my first NBL homer after hitting 3 in my last season in AAA. Hopefully after my university exams are over I can start hitting the gym this summer to push that ball the extra 6 inches it needed!

Joe Gray June 9, 2011 - 3:04 pm

I like it when I get the credit without doing any work. The article is all Matt Smith’s handiwork. But I will admit that my comment is on the lengthier side.

Just don’t bulk up so much you lose your range at short!



Matt Smith June 9, 2011 - 8:45 pm

Thanks all.

Thanks for your additional round-up Joe, sounds like a great day. As you noted, it’s a shame Herts weren’t really given the chance to build it up a bit more.

Good point on playoff berth(s)?! Hopefully we’ll get the full postseason structure published soon so that we all know where we stand.

Matthew Crawshaw June 10, 2011 - 7:18 am

This weekend Leicester Blue Sox celebrate their 5th anniversary.

Let’s hope the weather holds up!


Matt Smith June 10, 2011 - 8:06 am

Hope you have a great day Matthew.

Michael Jones June 13, 2011 - 11:43 pm

No AAA baseball down south this weekend because of the weather, but the second team managed to get a couple of games in despite the rain. Match report for the AA South Redbacks II-Piranhas match is here from Adam Commons:



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