Blue Sox regroup: Heat still a chance

Kingsley Collins

3 January 2016

 

With three rounds and a dozen regular season games for each club to play, the Australian Baseball League ladder is finely balanced, although the top two retain a break that will be difficult to peg back.

 

After dropping its first two Round Eleven games, Sydney Blue Sox (22-22) recovered to now share third with Adelaide Bite (22-22), while second-placed Canberra Cavalry (25-19) was taken to a series split by Perth Heat (20-24), which remains well in contention for another post-season.

 

League-leading Brisbane Bandits (27-17) won the series but was seriously challenged by a new-look Melbourne Aces (16-28), which can still provide nuisance value despite its lowly position.  

 

 

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND ELEVEN

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus PERTH HEAT (Narrabundah)

 

With seventy-one runs scored over four games, this series seriously tested the pitching depth of both clubs. After the Cavalry won the opener easily and pinched the second game in heroic fashion, the Heat showed real character in outplaying the host club in the Saturday and Sunday games to keep their post-seasons aspirations alive. This series was a 2-2 split.

 

The Cavalry exploded in the bottom of the first, blasting seven runs off hapless Heat starter Daniel Schmidt in GAME ONE – compliments largely of a two-run Bryan Pounds single and a Ryan Miller grand slam – before Perth hit back with two in the second and three in the third, not enough to save Schmidt, who was relieved after three with eight earned runs against his name. While Canberra starter Brian Grening was not at his best, he was accorded further offensive support when Jack Murphy left the yard for two in the fourth off Heat reliever Josh Silvi. Tad Gold tripled to score for Perth in the sixth, although the response was prompt – and decisive – when Canberra bludgeoned another five off Silvi in the bottom of six, including two-run homers by Pounds and Miller, who had an extraordinary game with the bat for three hits (including two home runs) for six ribbies. Perth shortstop Sam Kennelly homered off Aaron J Thompson in the eighth, but it was a bridge too far for his side as Canberra emerged a 16-7 winner despite being matched on hitting production.

 

Needing a win to ignite their sputtering season, Perth Heat started brightly in GAME TWO, plating a run in the first off Cavalry starter Louis Cohen – who extricated himself from a bases loaded situation but conceded a second run in the top of four – while Edwin Carl was in control for the Heat until Boss Moanaroa and Jack Murphy hit back to back bombs to square the ledger. Hits to Robbie Perkins and Aaron Sayers drove three more across the plate to spell the end for Carl – who was replaced by Scott Mitchinson in the bottom of five. Phil Kish relieved Cohen after a solid six innings and he was under siege when Allan de San Miguel swatted a solo bomb backed up by a four-run eighth as the Heat offence came alive against left-armer Aaron M Thompson - who struggled for control in conceding a further run. de San Miguel doubled for two more off Michael Click before Correlle Prime singled to deliver Perth a two-run lead. Not quite enough, as it transpired, as Jason Leblebijian homered in the bottom of nine for Canberra, Cord Sandberg singled to set the table and Jack Murphy whacked a two-run bomb to give his side a stunning walk-off 9-7 win.

 

A delayed start to GAME THREE saw two of the league’s form hurlers going head to head – in Steven Kent (Canberra) and Nick Veale (Perth) – and it was the Heat who asserted their authority in no uncertain manner with a largely-unearned seven-run second innings on six hits, a balk and a passed ball before Aaron James Thompson relieved Kent to mercifully end the innings. While the Cavalry scrambled one back in the equaliser, Michael Benjamin smacked a two-run shot off Thompson in the fifth to stretch the Heat lead to eight – a break that was shaved by three when David Harris doubled and Jason Leblebijian, Jack Murphy and Cord Sandburg each drove in a run to spell the end for Veale. A solo homer by Allan de San Miguel in the top of six was matched with a comparable blow by Cavalry catcher Ryan Miller, although the Heat offence was relentless in driving home two more in the top of seven. While Aaron Sayers smacked a solo home run in the bottom of eight, the Heat had the contest well in hand as they went on to post a 12-7 result after a slugfest that produced a combined thirty hits – with Veale carding his fifth win and Kent just his second loss for the Cavalry.

 

Perth was off to a blistering start in GAME FOUR, chasing Canberra starter Scott Cone from the hill with eight runs against his name in the third – including four in a massive second frame on two walks and three hits. Despite issuing some early passes, Tom Bailey held sway for the Heat until Cord Sandburg singled and Ryan Miller left the yard to score a couple for Canberra in the fourth, while Cavalry reliever Rafael Fernandes stemmed the Heat eruption with a scoreless stint. Replacing Bailey after five innings for six strike outs and the two earned runs, Edgar Valle cruised through the sixth before conceding a run in a spirited seventh innings. Having a day out, Luke Hughes blasted a solo shot over leftfield in the top of nine to take the Heat lead back to six before Canberra plated a belated run in the ninth as Warwick Saupold closed out the game 9-4. Outhitting the Cavalry twelve to nine in an errorless contest, Perth enjoyed terrific contributions from Hughes (three hits, including the home run), Sam Kennelly (two hits and an RBI), Correlle Prime (two and one), Derek Peterson and Junior Arrojo, while Jason Leblebijian (three hits) and Robbie Perkins were best for Canberra.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

MELBOURNE ACES versus BRISBANE BANDITS (Melbourne Ballpark)

 

With its playing personnel changing somewhat in recent times, Melbourne Aces were overpowered in the opening game of this set before fighting out the series manfully for a narrow loss on Friday night and a stirring pitcher-dominated win on Saturday before the Bandits pinched another in a thrilling ESPN Game of the Week on Sunday. Brisbane won this series 3-1.  

 

The Bandits scored on a sacrifice fly in the top of the first of GAME ONE before Logan Moon squared the ledger with a solo homer off Jason Jarvis in the equaliser. Conceding four walks over five innings, Aces starter Mike McGillivray paid dearly as the Bandits pounced for a three-run third on a string of hits and a passed ball before increasing the lead with another three off reliever Kohsuke Tomita that drew Matt Wilson from the Aces pen. A two-run Logan Wade double delivered a six-run lead for the Bandits and TK Bennett cracked a solo bomb over leftfield in the seventh, bringing right-armer Jeremy Young into the fray for the Aces for two solid innings when the game was gone 9-2 in favour of the Bandits. Winning pitcher Jarvis was impressive in a complete game outing to stifle the Aces, while the Bandits had offensive standout players in Wade (three hits and three RBIs), Bennett (two and two), Mitch Nilsson (two and one), Bralin Jackson (three hits and two walks) and Riley Unroe (a hit and three passes).

 

Aces workhorse Matt Larkins was on target in GAME TWO along with Rhys Niit, who was starting his first game for Brisbane in two years. Andrew Campbell doubled for Brisbane in the top of three but was stranded as Larkins proceeded to whiff seven over the first five frames. Brad Harman doubled in the bottom of five, but was stranded before the Bandits launched a serious assault on Larkins in the top of six – plating three runs on a string of hits that drew Sam Street from the pen with the bases juiced. Riley Unroe singled for another two, stole second and then followed David Sutherland across the plate when Bralin Jackson hit safely for a seven zip lead. Replacing Niit after a superb five innings for two hits, Sam Holland gave up a two-out double to Brad Harman – his second - that drove in a pair for the home side. Brisbane reliever Trent Baker was greeted with back to back doubles by Liam Bedford and Keith Curcio before Tanner Vavra stroked a two-run single – with two out – and Trey Vavra drew a catcher’s interference to load the bases. Charged with putting out the fire, Matt Timms whiffed the dangerous Harman and tossed a scoreless eighth before Ryan Searle closed out the game 7-4 in favour of the Bandits.

 

Left-armer Jon Kennedy gave the Aces a terrific start in GAME THREE, striking out six and conceding just two hits into the fifth, while Bandits starter Rick Teasley was only marginally less impressive in allowing an Aces run on a Brad Harman sacrifice in the bottom of the first and another on a two-out Mike Hill single in the fifth of a tight contest. Walking two hitters in the top of five – after scattering two hits in a scoreless outing – Kennedy was relieved by AAA performer Troy Marks, who pitched out of the situation with aplomb. Taking the ball for Brisbane in the sixth, Taylor Stanton kept his side in the contest with two scoreless innings before set-up man Eric Green was taken for a third run – on a two out Logan Moon single – before Shane Lindsay closed out the game 3-0 for the Aces. Earning his first season win, Kennedy led a quality pitching trio that received run-scoring support from  Moon (three hits and an RBI), Mike Hill (one and one) and Darryl George (two hits), while the much-vaunted Brisbane offence could manage just two hits for the game.

 

Melbourne opened scoring in the bottom of the first in GAME FOUR, when lead-off Logan Moon walked, advanced on a Tanner Vavra sacrifice bunt and scored on a Darryl George double off Bandits starter Justin Erasmus. The lead was short-lived, though, as the Bandits plated two in the second and another in the third off three hits and two walks conceded by Virgil Vasquez. Moon doubled in the bottom of the third and George collected his second RBI on a single to centrefield. Relieving Erasmus after three, Eric Green ran into trouble when Josh Davies scored on a Kevin Curcio single and Moon tripled to hand the lead back to the Aces – momentarily, until Justin Williams took Vasquez deep in the top of six. Blessed with an expansive quality bullpen, Brisbane went to Matt Timms - who battled out of a bases-loaded jam – before Aces reliever William Wu did the same, compliments of an infield double. After the Aces regained a lead in the seventh, Brisbane hit back with two in the top of eight on a David Sutherland run-scoring single and a wild pitch before stretching the Bandits lead to 7-5 in the ninth as Ryan Searle slammed the gate for his thirteenth save on the season.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus ADELAIDE BITE (Blacktown Sportspark)

 

Boasting a strong home record for the season, the Blue Sox started this five-game set poorly, with sluggish efforts leading to two early losses. Again looking down the barrel in the third – a seven-innings contest – the Blue Sox conjured up a remarkable winning comeback before they went on to inflict two further losses on the visiting Bite. Sydney Blue Sox won this series 3-2.

 

Giving Adelaide a terrific start in GAME ONE, starter Steven Chambers received grand offensive support as his side plated two in the first, a run in the second and another two in the third for a five zip lead. Travis Demeritte blasted a two-run missile off Sydney reliever Vaughan Harris in the fifth and the Bite was out to a seven nil lead before the Blue Sox rallied for a run in the sixth – on a Grant Heyman double – and two more in the seventh when Alex Howe homered and Rhys Hoskins scored Josh Strong on an infield grounder. Replacing Gyoung-Wan Lim after a scoreless two innings, Sydney right-armer Brandon Zywicki conceded a solo home run to John Schultz before Loek van Mil closed the game out 8-3 in favour of Adelaide. Chambers earned the win in a game featuring strong offence by both sides, with Demeritte (two hits and three RBIs), Landon Hernandez (two and two), Schultz (two and one), Connar O’Gorman (two hits) and Davis Page (two hits) the standouts for Adelaide, while Howe (three and one), Heyman (two and one) and Hoskins (two and one) were best for the Blue Sox in a game that featured errorless defence by both clubs.

 

Four singles with two out off Blue Sox veteran Craig Anderson handed Adelaide a two-run lead after a bizarre second innings in GAME TWO, while Sydney struggled against Bite starter Josh Tols, who sat down the first twelve hitters he saw. Landing two runners on base in the top of six, Anderson was relieved by Keiji Uezono, who conceded a run-scoring single to Connar O’Gorman that give the Bite a three run break - while Tols continued to strangle the Blue Sox hitters. Replacing Tols after a remarkable six innings stint - for a solitary hit in his first start for the Bite - Thomas Fiebig ran into strife and walked a Sydney run across the plate before Daniel Nilsson put out the fire and Angus Roeger delivered some insurance for Adelaide with a two-out run-scoring single off Todd van Steensel in the top of nine. Called from the pen with the bases juiced, Gyoung-Wan Lim was taken for a Corey Lyon triple off the rightfield wall that cleared the bases and set up a 7-1 win for the Bite, who out-hit Sydney thirteen to two in an offensive mismatch that owed plenty to winning pitcher Tols and the output of eight hitters in the Adelaide lineup.

 

Scheduled as a make-up clash for a rainout earlier in the season, a seven-innings GAME THREE developed into a pitchers’ duel between Takuro Ito (Adelaide) and Lachlan Wells (Sydney). The Blue Sox were first on the board with a run in the third when Tyler Bortnick walked, went to third on a Josh Dean single and scored on a Grant Heyman grounder. The visitors made their move in the top of four, when Kyle Petty walked, stole second, advanced on a grounder and scored on a running bunt by Mark Wik, who scooted home from first on a Travis Demeritte triple followed by a Corey Lyon single for a three-run inning. Unable to capitalise on scoring opportunities against Ito, Sydney landed runners at second and third off reliever Hei Chun Lee in the fifth – but again came up empty. Relieving Wells, Aaron Sookee found himself under fire in the sixth, conceding a three-run bomb to Demeritte that seemed to put the game beyond reach. No so, however, as Sydney launched an extraordinary assault against Loek van Mil that gleaned six runs – for a 7-6 victory – with the decisive blow delivered in the form of a three-run Heyman homer with two out.

 

Starters Wayne Lundgren (Sydney) and Dallas Gallant (Adelaide) both breezed through the first of GAME FOUR before the Blue Sox surged to an break in the second, on the back of two walks, a wild pitch and a two-run Trent D’Antonio single. Although Adelaide hit back with a run in the third, and again in the fourth, the Blue Sox exploited ragged defence and timely hitting to plate another two in the bottom of four as the Bite called Chris Dula from the pen. While Dula whiffed five, he was chased from the hill in the bottom of six, when Tyler Bortnick singled, Josh Dean drew a pass and Grant Heyman singled to load the bases for Michael Quesada – who dutifully delivered with a two-run double to hand Sydney a five-run buffer. Bite reliever Chris Horne walked three batters – for two more gifted runs and what was surely an insurmountable lead as Grant Piccoli was called upon to hold the line for Sydney. Summoning Vaughan Harris to close out the last, Sydney won the game 9-2 - after an extraordinary form reversal that earned Lundgren the win with the support of a far more aggressive offence led by D’Antonio, Quesada and Bortnick.

 

A crucial contest for both clubs, GAME FOUR pitted two of the very best in Matt Williams (Adelaide) and Jan Stoecklin (Sydney) – and it was the Blue Sox who struck first when Jacob Younis and Mathew Smith stroked back to back doubles in the third before Trent D’Antonio walked, stole second, advanced on a Rhys Hoskins single and scored on a sacrifice fly, followed by a fourth run for the inning on a Josh Dean double. Two more in the fourth spelled the end for Williams, who was relieved by Daniel Nilsson with the Bite already six runs in arrears. With the weather closing in, Younis legged out a triple in the bottom of six and scored on a Mathew Smith sacrifice fly. With play unable to resume and with the game having reached legal status after five, the Blue Sox came away with a 7-0 victory highlighted by the winning Stoecklin outing and some productive offence led by Younis (three hits, including a triple and a double), Hoskins (two hits and an RBI), Smith (one and two), Dean and D’Antonio.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR     GAME FIVE

Image:   Adelaide Now