Opening Sunday was a welcome bright and warm April day as the Spartans welcomed the Tigers to Shildon. With the first pitch of the season a strike for the home team, delivered at noon by rookie Piotr Szczur, the day got off to a positive start. The first two batters were walked however, after two full counts and some patient plate work by Faranda & Boswell for Harrogate. David Criss grounded out on a 6-3 play to give the Spartans their first out of the season, Ian Porley & Mark Austins coupling up effectively at short and 1st.
With the next batter flying out to centre fielder Gus Taglio, this gave an opportunity for Faranda, who had advanced to third on the previous play, to tag up and get across the plate for the Tiger’s first run. Another batter was walked by Szczur, but then as he found his zone, he produced a great strikeout to retire the side and put the Spartans in to bat.
Taglio led off and was immediately walked with a HBP from Boswell on the mound. Spartan’s 2016 Rookie of the Year Martyn Hamilton grounded to short after seeing Taglio steal 2nd, but reached first with an error on the play. Alex Fisher doubled with great line drive to centre field, allowing the Spartans to take the upper hand with both Taglio and Hamilton scoring.
A strikeout, pop out in foul territory and tag out at home plate saw the Spartan inning quickly ended by Harrogate, but their second inning was over on a flash as they went three up three down, with two 1-3 play groundouts and a strikeout to Szczur.
9th in the line up, Austins grounded out for the Spartans in the bottom of the second, but Taglio got aboard again with a double after a smashed grounder to centre. He advanced to third on a wild pitch, then with Hamilton grounding to third baseman Kang, who moved away from the base to field the ball, Taglio watched the play unfold and as Kang threw to first, and sprinted across the plate to score Durham’s 3rd run. A strikeout for Boswell on Szczur brought the second inning to a close.
In the top of the third a walk, strikeout, single and another walk saw Harrogate load the bases, and as Szczur felt the pressure, another walk gave Harrogate a run, to make the score 3-2 to the Spartans. They were unable to capitalise any further though with Criss out at the plate on a single from Anctil, and a get-out-of-jail strikeout from Szczur to end the inning.
The Spartans were unable to make any further gains in the bottom of the third with Porley popping out to short, rookie Cameron Spencer striking out and Richardson grounding out to first.
Top of the fourth was a one man pitching game with the Spartans’ Szczur taking three strikeouts, but not before a couple of runs were added by Harrogate with some patient play from Kang, Faranda and Criss getting two across the plate to take the lead by a run, 4-3.
The Spartans looked shaky in response with the first two batters popping out, until a homer from Taglio to left field brought the scores even again. Next up, Hamilton singled, and with Fisher gaining a walk there was a chance of pulling ahead again as Szczur came to the plate. He grounded the ball and reached first base on an error by Cresswell, which allowed Hamilton to power around third and make it home for the lead run, 5-4. With Porley drawing another walk, the bases were loaded for Spencer to stretch the lead, but the Tigers also got out of jail with a fly out to second baseman Anctil, bringing the inning to a close.
The fifth inning was over very quickly, with both teams going three for three and no hits added, which set up the final, time-limited sixth inning as a last chance for Harrogate to save the game.
The first Tiger’s batter, Ferguson grounded out on a 1-3 play, and next up Faranda succumbed to a great play by 1st baseman Austins as he ran along the foul line away from the base for an over the shoulder catch, putting the Tigers under real pressure. Boswell and Criss fought back though and got to 1st and 2nd, putting them in a scoring position when Cresswell came to the plate. But in a carbon copy of the second out, Austins made another great catch along the foul line to end the inning and the game. Spartans victorious, 5-4.
In a much more one sided affair, the Tigers came back fighting after their narrow defeat in Game 1, to test Spartans pitcher Estile Peniche with some patient, determined batting. Tiger’s Faranda fell quickly on a 1-3 play, with Peniche and Hynd getting the first scalp, but some consistent single hits, and a double from Thomas saw them pile four runs on before Peniche struck out the last batter.
The Spartans could only answer by one run in the bottom of the first with Taglio crossing the plate on a passed ball after stealing his way to third, and with no other Spartan batters managing a hit, the inning ended 4-1.
Harrogate piled the pressure on with a two run homer from Boswell in the second inning, but the Spartan fielders mopped up the rest with some good connecting play between short stop Taglio, third baseman Cameron Spencer & Kier Hynd at 1st.
With only catcher Rob Warrilow able to get on board with a lead off double in the bottom of the second, no more runs were added as the Spartan bats struggled to make in roads into the Tigers lead.
The Tigers added another run in the top of the third, with Thomas walking and Anctil advancing him to second with a well placed sacrifice bunt down the first base line, then Yazici singling to left field, allowed Thomas across the plate. 7-1. A ground out and strikeout brought the Tigers inning to a close before the Spartans could answer back with just one run as Taglio who had stolen his way to third again, came home off a single from Hynd.
The momentum was well and truly with the Tigers as they added another three in the fourth after Boswell made it to first on a dropped third strike, and Criss blasted one to right field bringing Boswell around. Then Criss made it home after a Spartan error at second base allowed him to score from first. With Cresswell scoring on a single from Kang later in the inning, the score reached 10-2 before Ferguson grounded out on a 5-3 play to bring the top of the fourth to an end.
The Spartan inning was over quickly with a double play, Mustard popping one into the Tiger’s pitcher Faranda’s glove, who quickly turned and threw out Warrilow at first who was too far off the base to get back safely. With Hamilton grounding out later in the inning, the Spartans had no answer to the Tigers and the score remained 10-2.
The Tigers added another three in the fifth and with the Spartans only able to answer by one, the time limit and mercy rule both kicked in to end the game and hand the Tigers a dominating win.
Final score 13-3.