Leaders flex some offensive muscle
14 January 2018
Collectively winning thirteen of their fourteen home games in Australian Baseball League Round Eight, the top three clubs are now well ensconced and effectively assured of a berth in the four-team Claxton Shield playoffs next month.
Brisbane Bandits (24-7) continued a seemingly inexorable push towards a third successive Claxton Shield with a thumping sweep of Melbourne Aces (12-20) – who have dropped seven on the trot but retain fourth ahead of Sydney Blue Sox (11-21), who dropped four of five in a closely-matched series to second-placed Perth Heat (22-10).
Always a dangerous offensive outfit, Canberra Cavalry (19-12) remains strong in third placing after its four-game whitewash of Adelaide Bite (7-25), which could yet have serious bearing on makeup of the final four.
A staggering total of 283 runs was amassed across the league in Round Eight, which comprised fourteen games if we include the two make-up fixtures in Brisbane and Perth. That average of over twenty runs per game included twelve double digit scores.
There were some extraordinary individual hitting accomplishments that highlighted Round Eight. For instance, Sydney slugger Connor MacDonald, Padres prospect Buddy Reed, former Major Leaguer Donald Lutz and Bandits veteran David Sutherland in four ABL games alone this weekend combined for a total of fourteen runs on sixteen hits, including twelve home runs (three each in one game) for eighteen RBIs. In four games alone.
Eighty-one (yes, 81) home runs were belted across the weekend of games, making a season total of something like 301 all up - with two rounds left to play. For all of last season – 40 home and away games – a total of 171 homers were struck. Although seeking to explain these numbers might be an interesting exercise for league pundits, what we can reasonably ascertain is that the long ball and the concept of “winningness” have a certain attractiveness for spectators. All three venues drew impressive crowds over the weekend – especially Canberra and Perth, the latter of which had 1965 in attendance on Saturday.
As it happens, those three venues are also the home grounds of the current top three clubs.
While the current top three teams will vie for finishing order at the top of the table, fourth-placing still remains open, with contenders in Sydney and Melbourne both looking to change their recent losing ways and produce the form of which they have shown they are eminently capable.
BRISBANE BANDITS versus MELBOURNE ACES
Brisbane won this series 5-0.
What shaped as a pitchers’ duel in GAME ONE turned out to be something quite different, with Michael Crouse and Craig Maddox both stroking RBI-singles for the visitors in the first before the Bandits exploded in the equaliser with a four-run blast orchestrated by five hits off Aces starter Mark Hamburger. While solo homers by Darryl George and Tyler Neslony gave Brisbane ace Ryan Bollinger something to reflect upon, Brisbane smacked a five-spot in the bottom of the second – including round-trippers by Adam Weisenburger, Daniel Nilsson and Chi-Sheng Lin. A David Sutherland bomb in the bottom of three spelled the end for Hamburger, who was relieved by Matt Marksberry. When Sutherland belted a second moon shot – in the bottom of five – it was a seven run break for the Bandits as hard-throwing Christian Meister was handed the ball for Melbourne. When Lin blasted another long ball in the fifth – this time a grand slam – the game was shaping as a rout. Relieving Bollinger in the sixth, Sam Holland tossed a scoreless frame before Ryan Ihle followed suit in the seventh and his side continued to deliver the offence against teenager Jamie Young. When Sutherland left the yard for a third time and pinch-hitter Jake Turcato repeated the dose, outfielder Nick Rossell was handed the pill for Melbourne, who were clearly looking to the remainder of a testing five-game series. The final 23-6 blowout in favour of Brisbane may was another ominous warning to all clubs in this league. Twenty-five hits to ten – including eight home runs - was a staggering offensive onslaught led by Sutherland (five RBIs) and Lin (six RBIs), while the Aces fell away after a promising start to the game.
Hung-Wen Chen (Brisbane) and Josh Tols (Melbourne) traded zeroes in the first of GAME TWO before Michael Crouse doubled, stole second and scored on an Allan de San Miguel single in the second – an inning that could have been far more productive but for some stellar Bandits outfield defence. Logan Wade homered to lead off the second and Andrew Campbell stroked an RBI-single, although Crouse tied the contest with a monster blast in the top of three. Loading the bases with none out in the equaliser, the Bandits plated two – for a narrow lead that was stretched further on an Aces error and a TJ Bennett sacrifice flyball. Campbell’s two-out double scored another couple, Lutz banged an RBI-double off the rightfield wall, Chih-Sheng Lin left the yard with a two-run blast and Bennett tugged a run-scoring double down the rightfield line to spell the end for Tols – who was relieved by Blake Cunningham with the game well gone for the Aces. A second homer to Wade gave the Bandits a ten-run lead after five and the home side sent Rhys Niit to the hill in the seventh after a strong outing by Chen (eight strikeouts for two earned runs). With Cunningham doing a solid job over two innings, the Aces plated two in the top of eight and Delmon Young launched a solo home run into the stratosphere in the ninth – but it was too little too late, and the Bandits posted a strong 12-5 result. Winning pitcher Chen was supported in spades by Wade (three hits – including two home runs – for three RBIs), Campbell (two hits and three RBIs) and Lin, while the Aces were best served in offence by Crouse, Craig Maddox, de San Miguel and Jarryd Dale. Official attendance: 1145
The first of a Saturday twin-bill, GAME THREE started positively for the Aces, when Darryl George singled and Delmon Young belted a two-run homer off Tim Atherton in the first – although the response came quickly as Chih-Sheng Lin went deep off Jon Kennedy in the equaliser. Ryan Dale whacked an opposite field home run for Melbourne in the third, followed by a booming round tripper by Donald Lutz to reduce the Aces lead to one in the seven-innings contest. Retiring six hitters in a row, Kennedy conceded a double to Carter Bell, who was left out there before Zac Treece was called from the Brisbane bullpen to replace Atherton after a solid five innings, despite the two long balls. Super-efficient over five – for five strikeouts and two earned runs – Kennedy handed the ball to Red Sox prospect Dan McGrath, who conceded a double to Lin before the weather closed in. Replacing McGrath after a lengthy storm delay, Sam Street gave up an RBI-single to Logan Wade before whiffing Aaron Whitefield with scores tied. Michael Crouse singled to lead off the seventh for Melbourne, stole second, advanced on an errant throw and scored on a Tyler Neslony single up the middle. Bandits pinch hitter Daniel Nilsson drew a walk in the bottom of the seventh and advanced on a sacrifice bunt before the Aces called upon Matt Marksberry – who fanned the dangerous David Sutherland before Andrew Campbell blasted a timely two-run shot over centrefield to deliver a thrilling 5-4 result to the Bandits. Ryan Searle carded the win for a Bandits outfit that owed plenty to Campbell and Lin in offence, while the Aces would be ruing letting this one slip after taming a vaunted Bandits offence for much of the contest. Official attendance: 850
Perhaps stung by the deflating loss earlier in the evening, Melbourne was off to a flier in GAME FOUR – rescheduled as another seven innings contest – when Delmon Young belted a two-run shot off Travis Blackley in the first, Allan de San Miguel tugged a two-out RBI single and the Dale brothers combined for a fourth run of the inning. Starting for Melbourne, Matt Larkins tossed a scoreless first before a monster TJ Bennett blast for the Bandits in the second, followed by an Aaron Whitefield RBI-single and an Adam Weisenburger bleeder that plated a third for the Bandits. When the Aces faltered in defence, Brisbane pounced for another two that handed them a lead – although a Darryl George sacrifice flyball in the third restored the balance in a seesawing affair. Whitefield went long to regain the lead for Brisbane – temporarily, at least, before Craig Maddox sent a laser over the rightfield wall for a gritty Melbourne club desperate for the win. Leading off the bottom of four for Brisbane, Dermot Fritsch doubled and advanced on a grounder before Donald Lutz was passed up and Aces management called fireballer Scott Shuman from the pen. A tricky ground ball and a Bennett RBI-single plated two for the Bandits before Logan Wade left the yard with a three-run shot and David Sutherland launched a solo missile into another post code. When Young left the yard again – this time a three-run blast off Matt Timms – the Aces were back within three when the game was called under curfew regulations with the Bandits running out a 12-9 winner in a slugfest. Official attendance: 850
Taking the GAME FIVE start in a somewhat unexpected strategy by the Aces, Mark Hamburger walked Andrew Campbell and Donald Lutz went deep over right-centre to hand the Bandits a two zip lead in the first. Brisbane starter Pat Young ran into strife in the second, when three hits, a walk and a wild pitch yielded three for the Aces and drew Justin Erasmus from the pen to mop up – but not before a fourth run crossed the plate. As they have done all season, the Bandits hitters responded to the challenge, with Lutz cracking his second home run and TJ Bennett driving in Chih-Sheng Lin before a two-run Adam Weisenburger single that brought Jackson Boyd from the Aces pen to replace Hamburger in a five-run Brisbane third. When Lin homered to lead off the fourth and Logan Wade followed suit with a solo bomb in a three-run frame, Brisbane held a six-run break that was shaved only marginally on a Ryan Dale sacrifice flyball. Replacing Boyd in the top of the sixth, Jack Enciondo conceded three more to a rampant Bandits offence, while Zac Treece was summoned to relieve Erasmus after a quality stint (four innings for one earned run). Delmon Young belted his fifth home run of the series and Christian Meister took the ball for the Aces – whose chances became ever more remote when Lutz cranked his third round-tripper of the game, this time off Blake Cunningham. While the Aces plated two in the bottom of the last, the Bandits were never really threatened in emerging a 15-8 winner to sweep the series. Erasmus earned the win in a shootout that produced thirty-two hits – with Lutz (three home runs for four RBIs) leading the way for a relentless Bandits offence, while Jarryd Dale (four hits), Delmon Young and Darryl George were productive for the Aces.
GAME ONE GAME TWO GAME THREE GAME FOUR GAME FIVE
PERTH HEAT versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX
Perth won this series 4-1.
Sydney starter Luke Wilkins was under the pump early in GAME ONE, when Garrett Whitley stroked an RBI-double and Robbie Glendinning left the yard with a two-run shot in the first. Mitch Edwards singled to score a first for Sydney in the second, and his side escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third. Solid through six, Alex Boshers was relieved by Dylan Thompson and the Sox broke out with a four-run seventh – including an Alex Howe homer, a Connor MacDonald RBI-single, an error and a timely ground ball by Michael Suchy. Facing a two-run deficit into the bottom of nine, the Heat landed runners on base – through a walk and a HPB – before Glendinning stroked an RBI-single and Luke Hughes scooted home on a defensive error. With the tie-breaker rule applied for extra innings, Sydney could muster just one run, on a single by Max Brennen – output that proved to be not quite enough as Chang-Sung Ko struggled with command, issuing a walk and successive HPBs that gleaned the two runs needed for an 8-7 Heat win. Nick Kennedy carded the win for Perth, who were out-hit ten to fifteen but took full toll of seven walks and four HPBs. Glendinning was a star with the bat for Perth, while Brennen (four hits and two RBIs), Chih-Hsien Chiang (three hits), Howe and Suchy delivered the bulk of the offence for Sydney, which missed a golden opportunity to make ladder inroads against Melbourne – which earlier dropped its game to Brisbane.
Although both sides had scoring opportunities early in GAME TWO, it was the Heat that scored first, when an Alex Hall double and a Matt Dixon single gleaned two in the bottom of the second off Blue Sox starter Craig Anderson - while Kyle Simon looked sharp for the home side. A fielding error and a Michael Suchy single with two out gave the Sox a sniff in the third, when a Lars Anderson single combined with a defensive error to level scores at two apiece. With Anderson and Simon both posting zeroes through the middle innings, it was not until the top of eight that Sydney plated two off Heat reliever Joe Van Meter – with two out – on a Zac Shepherd single and a Mitch Edwards double followed by RBI-singles to Max Brennen and Trent d’Antonio. The response was emphatic, however, as Sox reliever Jeremy Gendlek conceded a hit to Tim Kennelly and two passes to set the table for Matt Kennelly – who cleared the bases with a double into leftfield before Alex Hall grounded out for a fourth run of the inning. Calling Warwick Saupold from the pen to toss a scoreless ninth, Perth was untroubled in closing out the game 6-4. Although the Heat made an uncustomary five errors, they would be delighted with the Simon start (six innings for nine strike outs and no earned runs) and the timely hitting of Matt Kennelly and Hall - while d’Antonio, Edwards and Anderson were productive with the bat for the Blue Sox. Official attendance: 1522
Desperate for a win to remain in the race for fourth, Sydney was rocked early in GAME THREE when Ulrich Bojarski belted a solo home run off Matthew Rae in the second, while Heat starter Nick Veale appeared in early command. A wild pitch and a Garrett Whitley RBI-single stretched the Perth lead in the third, although the Blue Sox scrambled a run back before Jack Fraley homered for the Heat in the top of four. Facing a three-run deficit, Sydney hit back in the bottom of the frame, when Josh Strong singled and in-form slugger Connor MacDonald left the yard with a two-run blast. Bojarski doubled to score for Perth in the fifth, drawing Josh Guyer from the pen to replace Rae. Two walks and six hits – including a two-RBI Jesse Williams single – delivered seven runs for Perth in an extraordinary sixth innings, although the Sox again responded with three of their own on a Zac Shepherd homer. Luke Hughes homered in a three-run seventh inning for Perth before Brad Williams closed out the shortened game 15-6 in favour of the Heat. Official attendance: 1965
On target for a series sweep, Perth asserted immediate authority in GAME FOUR, with Garrett Whitley smacking a two-run homer in the first and Jake Fraley hitting an RBI-single in the second for a three-zip lead against Sydney starter Clayton Freimuth. Taking the start for the Heat, Matt Kennelly was dominant through the early innings while his side continued to stretch its lead with three in the fourth – on a bases-clearing Luke Hughes double – followed by a Ulrich Bojarski homer in the fifth. When Michael Hart and Bojarski both knocked in runs in the bottom of seven it was looking ugly for the Sox – who finally hit their offensive stride with the departure of Kennelly (seven scoreless innings for five hits and five strikeouts). Launching an offensive assault on Jake Bowey, the Sox sent fourteen hitters to the plate, with a lead-off walk, three errors and six hits – including a three-run double by Chih-Hsien Chiang – gleaning a remarkable nine runs to level the scores. Sydney defensive lapses proved damaging in the bottom of the frame, however, with an infield grounder helping wrest back the lead for Perth, whose Cameron Lamb stranded two runners on base in closing out the game 10-9 – in another shattering lost for a gutsy Blue Sox outfit that has yet to make inroads on the Aces lead in fourth placing. While Lamb was accorded the win for his cameo, Matt Kennelly was quite superb for the Heat, along with Hughes (three RBIs), Whitley (two), Bojarski (two) and Hart (two), while Chiang (three hits and three ribbies), Jacob Younis (three and one) and Connor MacDonald (two and one) led the Sydney offence against an opponent that gifted seven unearned runs but still managed to get home. Official attendance 1965
Still in search of a win that would close the gap on Melbourne Aces, Sydney started GAME FIVE brightly with a two-run first inning off Adam Millson, although the Heat responded with an RBI-single to Luke Hughes after Sox starter Vaughan Harris struggled for early command. Connor MacDonald homered to lead off the second for Sydney and Alex Hall replied with a shot of his own to keep the host club within a run – although the Sox increased the break when Lars Anderson singled, Zac Shepherd smacked a two-run bomb and MacDonald followed up with his second round-tripper for a four-run Sox lead that brought Dylan Thompson from the Heat bullpen. When Jacob Younis and Chih-Hsien Chiang hit RBI-singles, Shepherd doubled for another two and MacDonald forced a throwing error, it was a nine run break for the Blue Sox. Run-scoring singles by Heat young guns Robbie Glendinning and Ulrich Bojarski spelled the end for Harris, who was replaced by Jeremy Gendlek. When emerging superstar Jesse Williams belted a grand slam Perth was back in the contest, although the Sox hit back hard as Chiang belted a three-run homer in a four-run fourth that drew Daniel Schmidt from the Heat bullpen. On an incredible tear with the bat, MacDonald smoked his third home run of the game – this time a three-run blast in a seven run fourth for the Sox. Fifth innings homers to Michael and Hart and Tim Kennelly gave the Heat a sniff that sparked a seventh-innings outburst – a five-spot that brought the home side to within a run before Jake Bowey tied the ball game with a solo homer in the bottom of eight. Continuing to impress for the Blue Sox as he enjoys increasingly more game time, Mitch Edwards belted his first ABL homer - a timely solo shot off Heat ace Alex Boshers in the top of nine - and Chiang left the yard with a two-run laser for a 22-19 Sydney lead that was closed out by Luke Wilkins for the win. Just an insane game of baseball – twenty five hits to twenty one - that capped an extraordinary Round Eight! Official attendance: 765
GAME ONE GAME TWO GAME THREE GAME FOUR GAME FIVE
CANBERRA CAVALRY versus ADELAIDE BITE
Canberra won this series 4-0.
Doubles by Casey McElroy and Robbie Perkins combined with a GAME ONE error in the bottom of the first to deliver the Cavalry a two-run break against Greg Mosel, although the Bite hit back with a run in the third before a two-run fifth off Brian Grening – compliments of RBI-doubles by Darius Day and Rodrigo Ayarza. Although homers to Buddy Reed and McElroy gave Canberra the edge, Adelaide hit back with a two-run Angus Roeger bomb before the home side again tied the game up in the bottom of six. After applying the clamps in relief of Mosel, Matt Williams conceded two hits and a walk to load the bases in the bottom of seven – drawing Jackson Brebner-Russ from the pen in a tough situation that was exploited by Travis Witherspoon (two-RBI single) before walks and a pair of HPBs conspired for a five-run frame and a solid lead for the Cavalry. Replacing Grening in the eighth, Tayler Saucedo was taken deep by Roeger – for his second two-run shot of the game – although the Cavalry were hardly daunted, with David Kandilas stroking a double that was converted via a two-run shot by Jay Baum, followed by a Gabriel Arias RBI-single for a six run lead. Although Bas Nooij left the yard as the Bite tried to stay alive in the top of the ninth, the contest was well in hand for the Cavalry, who posted a 13-9 result. Grening carded the win for Canberra, which generated productive offence across eight players who all posted hits, while Ayarza (four knocks), Roeger (two home runs for four ribbies), Nooij, Kuan-Jen Chen and Tai-Shan Chang were standouts for Adelaide.
David Kandilas opened GAME TWO proceedings for Canberra with a flourish, swatting a solo homer off Ryo Koura in the bottom of the first. While Frank Gailey kept tabs on the Bite hitters, his side surged ahead when Casey McElroy smacked an RBI-double and Kandilas clubbed another bomb – this time a two-run shot in the third. Racking up the strikeouts for Canberra, Gailey remained well in command while Nick Hutchings relieved Koura as both clubs struggled for offensive production. Outstanding over seven innings for two hits, eleven strikeouts and no runs, Gailey was relieved by Tyler Herr, while the Bite looked to Loek van Mil to keep them in the contest. Singles to Kandilas and Jay Baum set the table for Cameron Warner – who doubled to score both and hand the Cavalry a six zip lead that was protected by Michael Click in closing out the game 6-0 against an Adelaide opponent that could muster just three hits in a tight defensive game by both sides. Winning pitcher Gailey was accorded terrific offensive support by Kandilas (three hits – including two home runs – for three RBIs), Baum (three hits) and Warner (one and two, with a walk), while Stephen Lohr (two hits, including a double) was the best of a subdued Adelaide side. Official attendance: 1138
Adelaide was off to a bright start in GAME THREE, with a two-run Tai-Shan Chang single in the first before Buddy Reed homered for Canberra in the equaliser. Although Stephen Lohr responded with a solo shot in the top of the second, the Cavalry were on the march – and Gabriel Arias took Bite starter Steven Chambers for a base-clearing double in the second, followed by a two-RBI David Kandilas double in the third. While Lake Bachar applied the clamps to the Adelaide offence, Canberra surged even further ahead by blasting six off Wilson Lee – including a bases-clearing double by Kandilas and a two-run Cameron Warner bomb for a nine run lead. Replacing Bachar after five solid innings for Canberra, Grant Piccoli was challenged by a Bite offence that exploded for a four-run sixth – including a two-run Kuan-Jen Chen double. While the Cavalry scored in the equaliser, Adelaide was not to be denied – as Angus Roeger swatted a solo home run and Karl Hoschke took Tom Holland deep with a three-run blast in the seventh. Relieving Holland, Dan Lietz ran into strife in the eighth, when Jordan McArdle singled and Roeger blasted his second round-tripper to level scores at thirteen apiece. The sixth hurler to be used by the Bite in this contest, Loek van Mil conceded a rare couple of runs in the bottom of eight – on a sacrifice fly and a Robbie Perkins RBI-single – before Michael Click withstood a late challenge and closed out the game 15-14 in favour of the Cavalry. Official attendance: 1412
Gunning for the sweep against a highly competitive Adelaide, Canberra oped GAME FOUR scoring with a Buddy Reed lead-off homer off Bite starter Nick Hutchings in the first – the start of an avalanche that included follow-up bombs by Jay Baum and Robbie Perkins for a four-run first. A second Reed shot in the second, this time a two-run blast, drew Chris Powell to the hill for the Bite, who posted their first run in the third – a solo Stephen Lohr blast off Steven Kent. Continuing to generate the offence, Canberra went further ahead with a six-spot in the bottom of four – including a solo homer by Travis Witherspoon and productive hitting conversion from Baum, Robbie Perkins, Boss Moanaroa, Cameron Warner and Jake Amos. While Kent continued to hold sway for Canberra on the hill, Reed – who was having a freakish game - added a third home run in a four-run Cavalry fifth that drew Wilson Lee from the Adelaide pen. A three-run David Kandilas blast stretched the Cavalry lead to eighteen after six innings before Kent (nine strike outs, four hits and one earned run) was relieved by Sean Guinard after an outstanding seven-innings stint. While Lohr went long for the second time, Adelaide was a bruised and beaten outfit when time was called with Canberra a 19-2 winner. Kent carded the win for Canberra, which amassed a staggering twenty-two hits to seven, with stellar contributions by Reed (five hits – including three home runs – for four RBIs), Baum (four hits, including a home run, for four RBIs), McElroy (four hits) and Robbie Perkins (three hits for three ribbies – including a home run), while Lohr (two home runs) played a lone starring role for the Bite. Official attendance: 878