Aces sweep Sox: Cavalry marches to second

Kingsley Collins

18 December 2016

 

“Eat my dust” is rapidly becoming the catchphrase for supporters of Melbourne Aces (15-5), who swept Sydney Blue Sox (9-11) and hold a four-game break atop the Australian Baseball League ladder after Round Five was wrapped up this afternoon.

 

At the halfway point of the forty-game season, Canberra Cavalry (11-9) sits in second – compliments of its series win over a dogged though undermanned Perth Heat (6-14), while Adelaide Bite (10-10) split its home series against Brisbane Bandits (9-11), who are level with Sydney and three games clear of sixth-placed Perth.

 

With games scheduled to resume on 29 December it is shaping as a frenetic several weeks of ABL competition as five clubs remain realistically in the mix for Claxton Shield honours.     

 

Although Australian Baseball League still does not garner a great deal of mainstream media coverage - in Melbourne and Sydney, especially and regrettably - there appears to be an increasingly greater number of outlets that do see the merit in reporting and commenting on our national competition.

 

While the paucity of attention given to Australian baseball in mainstream media is an ongoing source of frustration, we need to be patient and quietly resolved in the knowledge that we are developing an attractive sporting and entertainment package that over time will make increasingly greater inroads into a crowded sporting market. We need to believe that, if the league is to prosper.

 

With the national league now owned and managed by Baseball Australia and state associations, there has this season been an unprecedented volume of sport-specific online coverage and social media commentary through the efforts of governing bodies, paid employees, clubs, fan pages, forums and a plethora of interested parties that includes sponsors, supporters, players themselves – and of course, volunteers. All of whom are contributing to the rich tapestry of baseball coverage and promotion within the baseball and broader sporting community.

 

While the quality of the material may vacillate – and in some instances not be accurate or especially appropriate - there is now a wealth of information that can be accessed in a timely manner as the sport seeks to make itself as relevant and attractive as it can possibly be.

 

Just over the past few months there has been a welter of Australian baseball news stories that must inevitably inspire and enthuse – among those the performance of our players at the Under 23 World Cup, the engagement of our women’s baseball interests in Asian projects, the regular signings of our young players to professional contracts, the increasing opportunities for emerging players to be taught and mentored by our own Major League players, the improvement in Australian international baseball ranking, the attracting of overseas professionals to play in the Australian Baseball League and, of course, the transfer of ownership of the national competition into locally-based management after MLB funding and direction over the past several years.

 

Such developments as these augur well for the future of Australian baseball, which will be challenged by the opportunities presented to it through events such as the 2017 World Baseball Classic and potential participation at the Premier 12 in 2019 and the Tokyo Olympics of 2020.

 

Online coverage of Australian baseball – at all levels, through international tournaments through to grassroots competition - has reached a point that was unheard of and not contemplated fifteen or even ten years ago. Yes, there were clubs and there were organisations that pushed the envelope in seeking to utilise the remarkable technologies that have emerged over the past two decades – but they were a minority, in Australian baseball at least.

 

These days, pretty much every grassroots club, every governing body and every legitimate competition embraces the technology that is available and seeks to apply communications and social media strategies and services as a matter of immediacy and importance to all interested parties.

 

The increasing online engagement of the baseball community with club competitions, national championships, international tournaments and the Australian Baseball League inevitably carries with it greater demands on those entrusted with coverage of the sport.  

 

Work and newsworthiness are no longer – if they ever were – phenomena bounded by time nor by the strictures of daily employment. The 24-hour news cycle is a reality that applies to all aspects of our lives – including sport and leisure, which can engage our attentions to the exclusion of all else if we are prepared to allow that to happen.

 

Notwithstanding the increased expectations placed on those entrusted with online responsibilities, the Australian baseball community - generally speaking - is currently doing an outstanding job in reporting on the sport, providing coverage of the sport, commenting on the sport and helping develop a cultural presence for baseball that will largely determine its future in this country.  

 

While there will be points of disagreement, there will be fallings-out and there will be perceived disappointments, we are all in this together – a baseball family that has more in common than it will ever have in conflict during a journey that started for all of us somewhere and that has kept us actively engaged as we seek to make sense of the place of the sport in our lives.

 

Another hotly-contested round of the Australian Baseball League over the past four days would surely reinforce our own perception of the worth of this competition and its great capacity to entertain and inspire sports loving persons with a high-quality, evolving baseball product.

 

The challenge, as always, is to effectively deliver that message to the broader community while keeping our own people onside as active and committed participants. And, above all else, as sporting friends and allies.

 

 

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND FIVE 2016/17

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus PERTH HEAT (Narrabundah)

 

Canberra won this series 3-1.

 

Starters Louis Cohen (Canberra) and Conor Lourey (Perth) were on song early in GAME ONE, as both clubs struggled to convert their limited scoring opportunities. For big man Lourey – a star at the Under 23 World Cup – this was his finest outing for the Heat until it started to unravel in the bottom of five, when a dropped third strive, a HPB and two walks produced a run for the Cavalry that spelt the end for him after whiffing seven and conceding a solitary hit. Relieving Cohen – who had been terrific over a scoreless 5.1 – Andrew Case inherited a runner at third and Perth squared the ledger when Derek Peterson singled with two out. Ulrich Bojarski singled to score Peterson and the Heat played some sparkling defence behind reliever Lex Rutledge, while Tim Atherton headed to the hill for Canberra. Thus far having a miserable season with the bat, D.J.Davis brought the Cavalry crowd alive with a three-run shot over the leftfield wall to give his side a two-run break to chase Rutledge from the hill. When Jason Sloan stroked an RBI double in the bottom of eight, Canberra looked home – sending Steve Kent to the hill to ice the game 5-2 in favour of the home side. Tim Atherton carded the win for Canberra, for whom Davis (home run for three RBIs) and David Kandilas (two hits) and Jason Sloan made the offensive difference against a Heat outfit that had standouts in Tim Kennelly (three hits) and Matt Kennelly (two).

 

Postponed after a Friday night rainout, GAME TWO was rescheduled as a seven-innings affair that saw the home side plate a run in the first before the Heat responded with two in the top of the second – including an Ulrich Bojarski double. While Tom Bailey (Perth) and Josh DeGraaf (Canberra) held sway through the middle innings, the Heat gained a serious break with two in the top of six, when Jackson Lowery replaced DeGraaf and was greeted by run-scoring singles to Nick Ruppert and Derek Peterson. The lead was short-lived, however, as Boss Moanaroa singled, Josh Almonte singled and Kyle Perkins launched a booming three-run shot and Scott Kelly doubled off Will Dennis – who replaced Bailey – to score the go ahead and an eventual 5-4 win for Canberra as Zech Lemond slammed the gate in the last. Lowery carded the win for Canberra, which had grand offensive contributors in Kyle Perkins (two hits – including the three-run homer), Kelly (three hits and an RBI) and River Stevens (two hits and an RBI), while Luke Hughes, Ruppert and Peterson were best with the bat for Perth, which found itself already down by two games in this series.

 

Perth was out to an early lead in GAME THREE, when Ulrich Bojarski blasted a two-run homer off Canberra starter Scott Cone, who recovered to spin an impressive six innings of work while the Cavalry erased the lead with a two-run Mike Reeves shot off Nick Veale in the bottom of three. Canberra edged ahead with a run in the sixth – on a sacrifice flyball – and again in the eighth, when Robbie Perkins left the yard with a lead-off shot for a two-run lead. Tyler Herr spun two innings of hitless, scoreless work for the Cavalry (three strikeouts) before Steve Kent was summoned to his now familiar role of closer – which on this occasion was far less comfortable than he would have liked. Derek Peterson doubled, Nick Ruppert singled and Matt Kennelly slapped an RBI-single to leftfield before Sam Kennelly was deliberately passed up to load the bases with two out. Walking Joey Wong for the tying run, Kent was replaced by Andrew Case – who fanned Tim Kennelly with the scores deadlocked in the middle of nine. Relieving Perth set-up man Cameron Lamb, Scott Mitchinson conceded a walk and a single before inducing a ground ball from danger man Kyle Perkins and taking the game into extras. With the tie-breaker brought into effect in the eleventh, Bojarski laid down a bunt and Sam Kennelly delivered with a two-RBI single to hand Perth a 6-4 lead that became the final score in favour of the Heat when Benn Grice closed out the game to earn the win.

 

Canberra starter Sean Guinard retired the Perth bats in order in the top of the first of GAME FOUR and his side was immediately on the board in the equaliser when Scott Kelly tripled and scored on a River Stevens grounder before Daniel Schmidt settled into his work for the Heat. A D.J.Davis single, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly scored a second for Canberra in the bottom of three before a Perth challenge was snuffed out by an infield double in the top of four and the Cavalry charged even further ahead when Kyle Perkins swatted a two-run homer in the bottom of the frame. Continuing to pile on the offence, Canberra stretched the lead to five on a Boss Moanaroa RBI-single off reliever Adam Millson while Guinard continued to stifle the Perth hitters with the aid of some silky defence. Under sustained pressure, Millson coughed up more in the bottom of six, when Kyle Perkins and Davis hit safely for Stevens to convert with a two-RBI double into rightfield. Perth reliever Jake Bowey breezed through a scoreless bottom of seven and Canberra called on Tim Atherton to replace Guinard – who had been outstanding over seven scoreless for five hits, two walks and three strikeouts. Perth finally scored in the top of eight – on a Matt Kennelly single with two out – but it was too little, too late for the visitors as A.J. Holland closed out a 7-2 result and a series win for Canberra. It was a win that owed plenty to the brilliant start by Guinard and a relentless offence that amassed fifteen hits among eight players while the Heat relied heavily on Luke Hughes, Derek Peterson and Sam Kennelly.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

MELBOURNE ACES versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX (Melbourne Ballpark)

 

Melbourne won this series 4-0.

 

Played in magnificent weather conditions on a balmy Altona evening, GAME ONE pitted the two top teams against each other and it was the Aces who fired early – with a sparkling double play in the first that was followed by a massive solo shot by Liam Bedford to open scoring in the bottom of the second. Clean apart from that blast, Sydney starter Trevor Foss matched the Aces Mark Hamburger – who conceded a round-tripper to Guy Edmonds to level scores in the third. Again continuing to rack up the strikeouts, Hamburger whiffed the side in the top of the fifth before running into strife in the seventh, when a sacrifice fly scored Tucker Neuhaus and Trent D’Antonio tugged a double to the rightfield corner to score two more – for a three-run lead to Sydney. Back-to-back singles to Jared Cruz and Ryan Dale gave the Aces a chance in the equaliser, but Foss was up to the task in retiring the next three hitters. Shogo Noda relieved Hamburger in a tricky situation, retiring the Sox – who went to Josh Guyer in relief of a terrific start by Foss (seven innings for nine hits, five strikeouts and one earned run). Mike Walker drew a pass, Allan de San Miguel hit safely and Bedford dropped a bleeder into rightfield for his second RBI. When Jared Cruz smacked a two-RBI triple to the wall – his third hit of the night – it was four apiece, with the go-ahead denied on a close play at the plate. Sydney threatened in the ninth – for no result – and Sven Schuller was handed the ball for the Blue Sox, only for the home side to snatch a 5-4 walk-off win on a Roman Collins sacrifice fly.

 

The Aces started the seven-innings GAME TWO with a bang – blasting five in the bottom of the first off well-performed Blue Sox starter Luke Wilkins, who gave up seven hits in one damaging frame that again demonstrated the offensive depth of the Melbourne side. An infield play in the second gleaned another for the Aces, as Keisuke Honda continued to prove a difficult proposition for the men in blue. While Aaron Sookee was solid in relief of Wilkins, it was not until the sixth – after the departure of the classy Melbourne starter – that Sydney was able to plate a run, followed by a Stone Garrett solo homer in the top of the seven before Virgil Vasquez was called from the pen to close out the game 6-2 in favour of Melbourne Aces. Earning another win for the Aces, Honda walked six – but struck out the same number – in a dominating outing that was supported by an errorless defence and an even offensive performance by the league-leading club. For the Blue Sox, Garrett (two hits, including the homer), catcher Hiroki Yamazaki (two hits), Malik Collymore and Trent D’Antonio (three walks) were best of a subdued hitting lineup.

 

Evergreens and long-time Australian teammates Dushan Ruzic (Melbourne) and Craig Anderson (Sydney) headed to the mound for their respective clubs at the start of GAME THREE, and it was the latter who was placed under early pressure when Mike Walker smacked an RBI single and Allan de San Miguel blasted a two-run homer to hand the Aces a three-zip lead. Continuing to dominate, big man Ruzic was accorded further offensive support when Melbourne mounted a two-out rally to score another couple in the fifth – thanks to a Ronald Acuna double and singles by Roman Collins, Mike Walker and form hitter Liam Bedford. Relieving eventual winning pitcher Ruzic after a terrific seven scoreless innings (four hits and seven strikeouts), Shogo Noda conceded a double to Malik Collymore but whiffed Shane Kelleher and Stone Garrett before Brandon Stenhouse was handed the pill to close out the game 5-0 in favour of Melbourne Aces. Pitching was again a strength of the Aces club, which played immaculate defence and owed plenty to the timely offence of Ronald Acuna, de San Miguel, Walker and Jarryd Dale (another two hits), while the Blue Sox were blanked for the first time in this series and will be facing the Sunday shootout with some trepidation given the dominance that the Aces had exercised during the Saturday twinbill.

 

With his side on target for its second series sweep of the season, Melbourne starter Jon Kennedy extricated himself from a jam in the first of GAME FOUR, although it was a different story for veteran Sydney hurler Chris Oxspring, who was taken deep by Allan de San Miguel – a three-run shot after Roman Collins had tripled and Mike Walker drew a pass. While the Aces had their scoring opportunities in the third, Oxspring – like Kennedy - was proving a difficult proposition as the contest sped quickly through to the bottom of six, when left-armer Ryoto Yoshikoshi relieved Oxspring with runners at second and third. It was a strategy that came unstuck, as Mike Walker clubbed a two-RBI double into rightfield and de San Miguel walked, spelling the end for Yoshikoshi. With the Aces seemingly in control, Shogo Noda relieved the rangy Kennedy, who had spun another quality five scoreless innings (three hits, two walks and six strikeouts) and appears to be getting stronger with each start. Starting the seventh, Aces right-armer Jeremy Young conceded a hit to Guy Edmonds, a walk to Zac Shepherd and a single to Jacob Younis to load the bases with none out – a tough assignment for any pitcher, yet one that Young handled with aplomb by whiffing Shane Kelleher, danger man Malik Collymore and designated hitter Hiroki Yamazaki. While Lim and Sven Schuller held the Aces offence through the later stage, Sydney was unable to mount another serious challenge as Virgil Vasquez and Josh Tols each tossed a scoreless innings to seal another 5-0 result and a sweep for the Melbourne club. Kennedy earned the win, Roman Collins, Mike Walker and de San Miguel were damaging in offence, while Stone Garrett and Jacob Younis both posted a couple of knocks for the Blue Sox.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

ADELAIDE BITE versus BRISBANE BANDITS (West Beach)

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

The Bite opened scoring in GAME ONE, when LeDarious Clark drew a pass from Justin Erasmus, stole second and scored on a Mitch Dening single, although the visiting Bandits responded promptly by taking Steve Chambers for two in the top of the second – generated by a balk and a sacrifice. Taking advantage of a two-out walk and a defensive error, the Bandits skipped away in the top of three – when a three-run Donald Lutz bomb and a Thomas Milone RBI single plated four and stretched the lead to five. Stefan Welch singled and Marcus Greene left the yard in the bottom of the frame to reduce the lead to three, although Lutz singled and Kevin Padlo tripled to score a seventh for Brisbane before Jake Ezell relieved Erasmus and the Bite plated two more in the bottom of five. Handed the pill for Adelaide, Matt Williams conceded a single to Logan Wade in the top of seven and Mitch Nilsson delivered with a two-run shot over rightfield to again stretch the lead for Brisbane. When catcher Jake Turcato hit safely to score Connor Macdonald in the eighth, Brisbane had surged to an unassailable lead that was protected by Zac Treece – after another ABL lighting issue - as he closed out the game 10-6 for the Bandits. Ezell was awarded the win for Brisbane, which generated the run production through Lutz (three hits – including the home run – for three RBIs), Padlo (triple and two doubles for an RBI), Mitch Nilsson (home run for two ribbies), Wade and Milone, while Greene and Dening were the standouts for Adelaide.

 

With each win becoming ultra-important, GAME TWO started with both clubs scoring a run in the first – the Bandits on doubles to Wade Dutton and Mitch Nilsson, while LeDarious Clark took advantage of a throwing error to scamper home in the equaliser after his lead-off double for Adelaide. A two-out Donald Lutz single plated two more for Brisbane in the fifth, although the Bite offence – which out-hit its opponent eleven to nine over the truncated contest – hit back with a vengeance in the bottom of four to put up a three-spot due largely to the timely knocks of Marcus Greene, Jordan McArdle (double), LeDarious Clark (triple) and Jordan Cowan. With relievers on both sides doing their job, Adelaide held on for a 4-3 result that credited the win to Taylor Hawkins, while his opposite number in Rick Teasley was below his best in conceding ten hits over 3.2 as the losing pitcher. LeDarious Clark (three hits and an RBI), Greene (two hits), McArdle (two hits), Cowan and Karl Hoschke did the offensive damage for the Bite, while Dutton, Nilsson, Lutz and David Sutherland (two hits in the seven-hole) were best with the stick for Brisbane.

 

Starting GAME THREE for the Bandits, Daniel Nilsson gave his club wonderful service, going hitless over five innings of scoreless work (three passes and three strikeouts), while his own side plated a run in the third – on a Logan Wade single – and another two in the sixth off Hei Chun Lee, who relieved Jack O’Loughlin after the teenager had spun another quality start for Adelaide. A sacrifice flyball and a fielder’s choice were pivotal in that sixth innings as the Brisbane hurlers continued to keep close tabs on an Adelaide offence that could muster just two hits off a four-pronged Bandits pitching staff that was capped with Ryan Searle closing out the game 3-0 in favour of Brisbane. To the credit of O’Loughlin, Hei Chun Lee and Greg Mosel, Adelaide also gave up just a handful of hits, with the Brisbane scoring efficiency provided by Wade, Donald Lutz and Wade Dutton – who collectively guided their club to a series lead after another hard-fought contest against an opponent that appears as tough at its new home as it was historically at Norwood.

 

Needing the win to nail a crucial away series win, Brisbane began GAME FOUR brightly with two in the first off Bite starter Nathaniel Roe, on a Logan Wade triple and a Kevin Padlo sacrifice flyball. Although Adelaide replied quickly with a Mitch Dening sacrifice flyball off the well-performed Kramer Champlin, Ryan Battaglia stretched the lead to three with his two-run homer over leftfield in the top of the second. Still well in the contest, Adelaide hit back with two in the bottom of three – on a LeDarious RBI-double and a Jordan Cowan single – before drawing level in the fourth when Stefan Welch doubled to drive in Thomas Milone. When Marcus Greene singled to score Welch, Rhys Niit was called from the pen with the home side holding a one-run break. Calling on Matt Williams in the top of six, Adelaide continued to hold the Bandits scoreless since the second, while Niit was equally effective for the visitors before handing the ball to Zac Treece in the bottom of seven. A throwing error and a wild pitch by Matt Timms allowed the Bite in for another run in the bottom of eight before Loek van Mil was asked to close out the game 6-4 for Adelaide and square the series. Roe was credited with the win, which owed much to some quality Adelaide relief pitching - after a shaky start to the game - and an even offensive performance to which most players contributed.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

 

Image:   Adelaide Now