The Herts Falcons (12-4) swept a double-header over the Southampton Mustangs (12-3) last Sunday, but it was the Harlow Nationals (13-4) that moved back to the top of the National Baseball League thanks to a sweep of their own over the Essex Arrows (7-11).
Full details can be found in the BBF website report.
Harlow had to work hard for their two wins, particularly in the opening game when starting pitcher Barry Wiles and the Arrows’ restricted them to just two runs.
Unfortunately for Phil Chesterton’s men, that proved to be one run too many as Roberto Almanzer once again pitched well for the Nationals in a 2-1 victory. The second game included a rare appearance on the mound for Will Lintern as the Nationals got the better of Matt Gilbert on this occasion for an 8-2 win to secure the sweep.
That was enough to put the Nationals on top of the NBL despite the Falcons’ own sweep over the previous league leaders. An 18-8 opening game win, ended early on a seven-run sixth inning, and a 9-2 win behind Darrin Ward made for a very successful day at Grovehil Ballpark for the home team. They trail the Nationals by half a game, having played one game less than their rivals.
After facing the Nationals and Arrows, the Falcons will have an equally tough assignment this Sunday as they welcome the London Mets (10-3) to Hemel Hempstead. The Mets took two victories over the Croydon Pirates (1-15) last weekend to move within one game of Harlow and they have four games in hand on the reigning champs. Meanwhile the Mustangs are hosting the Nationals in what is shaping up to be a cracking Sunday of NBL action.
In the other double-header from last Sunday, the Bracknell Blazers (2-12) earned a split with the Lakenheath Diamondbacks (5-8) courtesy of an extra-inning, walk-off win in the second game. GB Juniors Dexter Stewart and Guy Packham combined to bring the winning run home in a real confidence booster for the Blazers. They will look to build on that with a home double-header against the Pirates, while the Diamondbacks host the Arrows.
Triple-A: Badgers and Jaguars at the double
The Cambridge Royals (9-7) and London Metros (7-8) split their double-header at Coldham’s Common in Cambridge, with the home side taking the opener 8-6 and the visitors earning a split with a 6-1 win in the later game.
There was good play on show from both teams, although perhaps the most impressive feat of the afternoon was the restraint shown when a couple of cycling clowns (without the face paint and oversized shoes) decided to take a short-cut directly across the outfield during the sixth inning of the second game. The Royals and Metros collectively resisted the urge to chance their arms by taking pot-shots at the peddlers, although a repeat performance at a future game might lead to Cambridge turning it into a promotional event, with cries of ‘roll up, roll up’ and funfair music filling the air and the first ‘dead eye Dick’ winning a cuddly toy and one of the Royals’ very smart new caps.
Elsewhere, the Bristol Badgers (12-4) secured an impressive sweep over the Richmond Knights (11-7) for their sixth and seventh wins in a row, and the Latin Boys (7-8) and Essex Redbacks (13-5) took a win apiece from their double-header.
Thoughts are already turning to potential playoff spots in Triple-A. The play-off qualification in the South may well be revised owing to the Bracknell and Windsor Bears withdrawing from the competition. The initial format had the two Pool winners qualifying automatically for the National Baseball Championship, with the two teams with the next-best win-loss records competing in a play-off for the third Southern slot. Crucially, that meant those two teams could come from the same pool.
Each team’s 26-game regular season schedule is geared towards playing more games against the three teams in your own pool (six games against each, combined with two each against the four teams in the other Pool). As all of the games involving the Bears are going down as forfeit wins for the opposing team, that hands six wins apiece to each of the remaining Pool A teams, while the Pool B teams will only benefit from two forfeits.
If the season ended today, the second and third placed teams in Pool A would both qualify for the play-off game and that might remain the case if the Pool B teams keep taking wins off each other. Of course, the Badgers, Kings and Knights could all argue that they might have won their games against the Bears on the field and therefore to diminish the value of their victories isn’t fair. That’s a valid argument and really there is no ideal solution to the problem, so it will be interesting to see how it is resolved.
Whichever way they go, it will be a fiercely contested competition and some good teams will be left looking in at the play-offs from the outside.
The top two teams in the North will contest a one-game play-off for the final NBC spot. The 12-0 Liverpool Trojans seem a shoo-in for one of those spaces, with the Cartmel Valley Lions (8-4), Menwith Hill Patriots (7-5) and Halton Jaguars (5-7) looking the likeliest contenders for the other place. The Jags added two wins to their total in the only AAA-North action last weekend, condemning the Bolton Robots of Doom to an 0-12 record.
This Sunday, all eyes will be on Bootle Stadium where the extremely impressive Lions become the latest team to try and end the Trojans’ winning run. Liverpool swept a double-header between the two sides back on 6 May.
Double-A: Wins for Mavericks, Piranhas, Mammoths, Scorpions and Rebels
In the AA-South, the Guildford Mavericks (12-0) and Poole Piranhas (9-1) continued their formidable form last Sunday as they lead the way in Pool A. The Mavericks had the brooms out on the road in a double-header against Richmond Dragons (3-8), while the Piranhas eased their way to a shortened 24-1 win over the luck-less Brentwood Stags (0-8). Guildford are away to Daws Hill Spitfires (4-3) this Sunday, with the Piranhas taking on the Thames Valley Bisons (5-4).
In Pool B, the London Mammoths (5-3) celebrated a sweep in their home debut against the Essex Redbacks II (3-7), with both teams contributing to an enjoyable day of baseball at Finsbury Park. The Redbacks’ Arun Mandalia had the horrible misfortune to end the second game by giving up a bases-loaded walk, but both he and Matt Cartwright impressed on the mound throughout the 2-1 game. The Mammoths host the Pool B-leading Sidewinders (6-2) this Sunday, with Essex taking the Sunday off.
In the North, the only games recorded from last Sunday show the Hull Scorpions lifting themselves above .500 to a 7-5 record with two victories over the rookie Newton Aycliffe Spartans (0-12). The Spartans continue their search for their first league win in their debut year against the Oldham North Stars this Sunday, while there is a top of the table clash in the offing between the Sheffield Bladerunners and Harrogate Tigers.
In the Midlands, the Nottingham Rebels improved to 8-0 with their two latest wins coming at the expense of the second-placed MK Bucks (4-4). Meanwhile the Birmingham Maple Leafs (2-4) got their first two wins of the season on the board against old adversaries the Leicester Blue Sox (5-6). Birmingham will look to add another win to their tally this Sunday when they host the Bucks, while the Stourbridge Titans (0-5) have the tough task of taking on the Rebels.
Single-A: Archers on target again
In Single-A, the Essex Archers (7-0) edged a keenly contested game with the Old Timers (4-1) by a score of 18-13, lumbering the veterans with their first loss of the campaign. Tonbridge took a 9-0 victory over the Braintree Rays, while the Herts Raptors won the bragging rights in the intra-Herts game against the Eagles, much to manager Arnie Longboy’s delight.
This Sunday, the Raptors look to continue their winning form on the road against Tonbridge, Guildford Mavericks II host Hove Tuesday and Richmond Dukes welcome the London Marauders to Flood Field.