Double delight for Herts youngsters in the NBL quarter-finals

U14 Herts Cardinals in action at last season's playoffs. Picture (c) Richard Lee
U14 Herts Cardinals in action at last season's playoffs. Picture (c) Richard Lee

There was a double celebration for Herts Baseball Club as its U14 and U12 teams secured a place in this Saturday’s National Baseball Championship semi-finals.

Three teams went into the U14 Wild Card Playoff contest which was held at Grovehill Ballpark in Hemel Hempstead.

The winner was to be decided in a round-robin tournament format, and first up were the Herts Cardinals and the Brentwood Junior Bucks.

Shane Richards started on the mound for Herts and he produced a solid performance, pitching three no-hit innings and striking out five.

There was an initial period of pitcher and catcher trying to get into a rhythm and Brentwood took advantage of a number of walks.

Going into the fourth inning, Herts had a 10-6 lead – helped by a three-run home run by Richards who went 4-for-4 with five RBI in the game.

Richards reached his regulation pitch limit and he was relieved in the fourth inning by Mikey Sylvester who pitched excellent two innings, allowing only one run on one hit and striking out five.

That enabled Herts to build a commanding lead and win the game 19-8.

Sylvester’s pitching performance was matched by his batting as he went 3-for-3 which included a double, four runs and two stolen bases.

Ben Hitch (2-3, RBI), Ryan Pocock (1-1, R) and Kento Sasaki (1-3, 2RBI) also had a good game at the plate.

The Cardinals then knew that a win in the final game against the Redbacks would secure a place in the semi-finals for the first time since 2011.

The Redbacks were not out of it, however, and a win with a sufficient run-difference would be enough for them.

KSasaki was Herts’ starting pitcher and he was on fine from the very first pitch, recording three strikeouts in the first inning.

Another two Redbacks struck-out in the second inning, but Sasaki seemed to be troubled by his arm.

Manager Jake Caress decided to take him out of the game as a precaution, and Theo Longboy took Sasaki’s place on the mound in the pressure-cooker situation of a deciding playoff game.

The main problem for most of the teams was walking too many batters, but Longboy remained composed all the way to the end of the game.

Going into the final inning, the Redbacks had a 13-10 lead and they struck out the first two Herts batters.

Ryan Pocock singled and was driven home by Longboy’s base-hit. With runners on first and second, up stepped Richards to drive the ball deep down the right field line for a walk-off 3-run home run to the delight of the Herts fans.

They can now look forward to a semi-final clash against the reigning national champions and top seeds, the London Mets, on Saturday at Farnham Park in Slough.

Meanwhile, the BBF has added the U12 division to the National Baseball Championships for the first time this year.

LYBL, London Mets and London Sports had already booked their semi-final places, but there was one last place available and the Herts All Stars and Brentwood Bucks met in a double-header to determine who would take it.

Just 24 hours before these vital games, Herts received a blow with ace pitcher Aaron Witter out of the game due to illness.

However, the rest of the team knuckled down and produced an excellent performance.

They clinched a 12-5 win in the first game, followed by a 13-6 win in the second. This sends them into the U12 semi-final where they will face the top seed, LYBL Bulldogs.