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3 SEPTEMBER: NORTHANTS CENTURIONS MAKE IT TO THE NATIONALS FROM SINGLE-A CENTRAL

09/06/2017, 4:45pm BST
By British Baseball Federation

St Crispins Park in Northampton looked in fine shape on Sunday morning 3 September to welcome the BBF’s Single-A Central Division runners-up, the Birmingham Outlaws, who were there for a winner-take-all playoff game against the league-winning Northants Centurions.

The prize was a place in the Single-A National Championships at Farnham Park on 16-17 September.  

Birmingham arrived as the Centurions had settled into batting practice and the hosts quickly cycled through the roster to give the field to the Outlaws.

Birmingham had brought a strong side for what has been a closely-contested battle all season, with the big bats of the Figeroa Brothers and Mike Rodgers strengthening the top of their order.  In addition, the team had brought along coaches from the Double-A Birmingham Bandits to ensure that the Outlaws gave this game their best shot.  

By contrast, the Centurions had suffered the late withdrawal of first baseman and Team Manager Stefan Meyern through injury, but their strength in depth meant that Northants could move South African batsman Allister Viljoen up from the bench.

As 12 o'clock drew near the teams exchanged line-ups, and after the home plate conference the game got under way.

GAME ON

Gareth Beeby was on the mound for Northants and opened by striking out Birmingham’s lead-off batter Adam Grogan.  But the Outlaws scored a pair of runs, driven in by Duncan Hoyle, before Beeby closed out the top of the first inning.

Birmingham starter Adam Grogan struggled badly in the bottom of the first inning, hitting three Centurion batters with pitches.  But Northants, perhaps trying too hard, only managed a single run thanks to two of their baserunners being caught stealing.

Gareth Beeby set down the Outlaws without scoring in the top of the second inning, striking out two.  

 

In the bottom half of the second, the Centurions came up with the first of two big innings that won them the game, as they batted around the order and put six runs across the plate.  Alex Barretto drove in two and Gavin Wilkinson had a bases-clearing double good for three RBIs.  At the end of the second inning the Centurions led 7-2.

But the Outlaws weren’t cowed and they added two runs in the top of the third inning to cut their deficit to 7-4, while excellent pitching from Birmingham reliever Alejandro Figaro kept the Centurions scoreless in the bottom of the third.  

In the top of the fourth inning, the top of the Birmingham order again showed its strength, as the Outlaws scored four times to take an 8-7 lead.

But the Centurions’ response was immediate in the bottom of the fourth.  Once again, the team batted around the order and this time put eight runs across the plate to pull away from their rivals.

Second baseman Louis Bojko and catcher Alex Barretto each had two RBIs, and the Centurions now had a 15-8 lead.  After Birmingham failed to score in the top of the fifth inning, Northants pushed across three more runs in the bottom half to stretch the lead to 18-8. 

The teams traded runs over the final four innings – Birmingham scored a pair in the sixth and eighth, and Northampton added a final run in the bottom of the eighth on a passed ball.  Birmingham relief pitcher Hamaad Arif pitched a solid last three innings, striking out five, to keep Northants in check.

But the Centurions had already sealed the game.

Gareth Beeby threw all nine innings for Northants, and an eye-watering 150 pitches, striking out seven and allowing 11 earned runs, but never letting the Outlaws mount a really big inning.

MILESTONES

Getting to the Single-A National Championship is another milestone for the recently-formed Northants Centurions, to add to their first-ever league title.

The adult baseball club has grown to 30 members, there is a softball section with another 30 members and a small youth programme is underway.  The club plans to deliver a schools programme this autumn.

The Centurions’ Single-A Central league title has come after just three seasons of BBF league baseball and the club may field two teams next year.

But first, there is the little matter of trying to win the Single-A National Championship.  The Centurions will go into the finals as the second seed, and will start with a game against the third-seeded Guildford Millers on 16 September.

Beyond that, the Cambridge Monarchs or the top-seeded Norwich Iceni will lie in wait.

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