Going into this weekend, the last remaining questionÂ in terms ofÂ qualification for the National Finals in the NBL was the second-place spot in the NBL North, but the Liverpool TrojansÂ forfeited their games againstÂ the Menwith Hill Patriots,Â meaning thatÂ the Patriots’ cushion for that qualifying berthÂ has grown toÂ 6.5 games. Manchester had a weekend off and so remain on top with a 13-2 record.
Assuming there are no more forfeits (and the reason I say that is because teams get docked wins from their season total as a punishment for forfeiting games), the best Liverpool can now finish is 9-13, while the worst Menwith Hill can do is 8-14, so the Patriots’ magic number for qualifying is 2 (or, if you prefer, 2 is the Trojans’ tragic number).
In the NBL South, the Richmond Flames’ double-header against the London Mets was postponed, meaning that the games between the Croydon Pirates and the Bracknell Blazers at Roundshaw were the only ones played in the top tier; that is where I spent my Sunday.Â Owing toÂ the mid-season break, I hadn’t seen aÂ seemed sphereÂ thrown in four weeks,Â butÂ the baseball god(s) eased me back into the game with a feast fit for any lover of the sport.
TheÂ Blazers plated the first run of the game in the bottom of the 5thÂ (note that they were technically the home side although the game took place at Croydon’s ground). AÂ scoreless 6th meant that Croydon needed to score to keep the game alive in the top of the 7th. The Pirates strung together two hits and a base on balls to load the sacks with one out. Pinch hitting, Alex McGregor was then kind enough toÂ connect forÂ a potential double-play ballÂ and set in motionÂ what is possibly myÂ favourite play in the sport: with one down and runners on first and third, and optionally on second too, the fielding teamÂ attempts toÂ turn a double-play to end the inning on a force out and thus prevent the run that crosses the plate from third counting. If one run has a major bearing on the course of the game, thenÂ it can beÂ great to watch this play unfold.
Returning to the game, McGregor hustled down the line and beat the throw, meaning that the game was tied 1-1, and it stayed that way going into the bottom of the 7th. Fittingly, this tense match was won on another great play, a squeeze bunt, with Bracknell’s Mike Cattermole scoring the run off the bat of Paul Vernon (out of retirement for the game).
It’s a rarityÂ to have such a low-scoring game in this country, andÂ so contests likeÂ this one should be savoured.Â As if the aforementioned baseballÂ god(s)Â neededÂ toÂ remind meÂ of this, the next game was radically different. Croydon had scored just 44Â runs in their first 17Â games of the season but managed to add 28 more to that total in their 18th game, on 20 hits (and ensure that these teams split the series for the third time in as many double-headers).Â Bracknell managedÂ eight runs of their own, on 12 hits, and early on the contest was shaping up to be just as close as game one. Both teams scored two runs in the first and three runs in the second, and things swung Bracknell’s way in the third withÂ Ryan Trask’sÂ solo home run (number four of the year, which is good for the joint lead in the category) giving his side a slender advantage. Croydon opened up a gap with a four-run 4th inning, but Bracknell answered with another run in the bottom of that inning to reduce the margin to two. It was only after that point that Croydon started to ease to victory.
The batting performance of the day belonged to Croydon’s Ty Touchstone, who went 6-for-7 with two doubles, a triple, and three walks. The winning pitcher in game one was Henry Collins (7 innings, 1 earned run, 5 hits, 4 walks, and 7 strike-outs). Kieran Clackett got the loss (6 innings, 1 earned run, 2 hits, 5 walks, 10 strike-outs). Jared Uys got the win and Cattermole the loss in game two.
To finish with a statistical oddity, Croydon took their total number of left fielders this season to 17, which is just under one new player at the position per game.