Aces stretch lead: Bite on the rise

Kingsley Collins

11 December 2016

 

In a much-anticipated clash of the leaders, Melbourne Aces (11-5) cooled the feted offence of Canberra Cavalry (8-8), which could manage just five runs in a series loss at Altona, while Adelaide Bite (8-8) improved its standing with a series win over current cellar-dweller Perth Heat (5-11).

 

Splitting a hard-fought home series against Brisbane Bandits (7-9), Sydney Blue Sox (9-7) edged into second ahead of the Bite and Cavalry as the Australian Baseball League ladder begins to take shape.

 

Although much can – and will – happen in the second half of the season, all six clubs will be striving for a series win in a crucial Round Five, which has the potential to alter standings quite dramatically.

 

Among the close results, the low-scoring affairs, the power delays and the pitching shootouts of Round Four, we were again treated to some stunning individual highlights from players on all six clubs. 

 

Stretching its lead at the top of the table, Melbourne Aces again trotted out high-quality pitching – especially in starters Mark Hamburger, Keisuke Honda, Dushan Ruzic and Jon Kennedy – although their series win over Canberra also owed plenty to the offence of livewire Ronald Acuna, Jarryd Dale, Liam Bedford, Mike Walker and others. While the Cavalry was well-contained offensively, management would be delighted with the outings of Josh DeGraaf, Sean Guinard and Zech Lemond - and they would be relieved to have slugger Boss Moanaroa back and firing in the lineup.

 

While Sydney Blue Sox had to settle for a split at home, there was plenty to like about its team performance against the reigning champion – especially another superb outing by Luke Wilkins and a bunch of productive hitting supplied by the likes of Malik Collymore and Alex Howe – whose Game Three heroics were surely among the best that he has produced for the Sox. Sitting fifth but with other quality players to suit up after Christmas, Brisbane would be pleased to have Donald Lutz back in harness to join a dangerous lineup currently headed by Kevin Padlo and with quality arms in Justin Erasmus, Ryan Searle and Kramer Champlin really coming to the fore this week.

 

Having a disappointing start in winning terms, Perth Heat welcomed back Brandon Dale to help out form players in Joey Wong, the Kennelleys, Nick Ruppert and Luke Hughes – who is having a stunning season with the bat – while Tom Bailey tossed another pearler in Round Three as he continues to grow in confidence and stature. Coming away from Barbagallo with the series win, Adelaide Bite were again given plenty by Max McNabb and Jack O’Loughlin on the hill, along with Le Darious Clark, Karl Hoschke and Mitch Dening – each of whom had a terrific weekend in generating run production.

 

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND FOUR 2016/17

 

PERTH HEAT versus ADELAIDE BITE (Barbagallo Ballpark)

 

Adelaide won this series 3-1.

 

Michael Lee (Perth) and Steven Chambers (Adelaide) both negotiated a scoreless first of GAME ONE before the Bite opened scoring in the top of second when Josh Altmann and A.C.Carter doubled for one, a lead that was built upon in the fourth – compliments of a Marcus Greene solo homer - and in the fifth, when Altmann stroked an RBI single to score Jordan Cowan after the first-sacker had doubled. Unable to convert its scoring opportunities against Chambers, the Heat coughed up another two in the seven – off middle relief Cameron Lamb – when Altmann tripled to score LeDarious Clark and Cowan. With reliever Devon Barker loading the bases in the equaliser, the Bite were made to pay when Luke Hughes – who is having a magic season – clubbed Matt Williams for a grand slam. While the shot may have created late hope, Adelaide was up to the task as Williams and Loek van Mil closed out the game 5-4 in favour of the Bite. Carding the win, Chambers was given grand offensive support through the likes of Altmann (three hits and three RBIs), Cowan, Mitch Dening and Greene, while Hughes (three hits, including the homer, for four RBIs) and Joey Wong (three hits) were standouts in a Perth side that had eight players hit safely against four Bite pitchers who between them did not issue a walk.

 

Perth starter Nick Veale extricated himself from a jam early in GAME TWO before Bite southpaw Max McNabb came under fire in the bottom of the first – when Tim Kennelly singled, Luke Hughes doubled and Nick Ruppert stroked a two-RBI single. While Veale held the Bite scoreless through four, it all began to unravel in the top of five, when he conceded a walk and four hits to draw Conor Lourey from the pen to negotiate a six-run frame that was built in part by two crucial defensive errors. Two more off Adam Millson in the sixth – on doubles to Mitch Dening and Josh Altmann – stretched the lead to six and the game wound down to an 8-2 result for the Bite. McNabb (six innings for two earned runs) took the win for Adelaide, who amassed fourteen hits due largely to the efforts of Dening (three hits and a walk for two RBIs), LeDarious Clark (two hits and two RBIs), Karl Hoschke (three hits) and Jordan Cowan (two hits and a walk). Between them, the arms of McNabb and closer Greg Mosel did not concede a walk to a Perth offence that struggled for conversion despite the output of Ruppert (two hits and two ribbies), Joey Wong, Matt Kennelly and the returning Brandon Dale – all with two knocks for the home club in what was a deflating loss after a strong start to the contest.

 

Looking to wrap up a series win in GAME THREE, Adelaide was off to the perfect start when LeDarious Clark blasted a lead-off home run off Tom Bailey in the first, although the Heat replied immediately on a Nick Ruppert grounder that scored Joey Wong – who had walked and advanced to third on a Tim Kennelly double. Well in command for their respective clubs, Bailey and Adelaide starter Jack O’Loughlin put up zeroes through the ensuing innings – until Hei Chun Lee relieved O’Loughlin and the Heat came alive with two in the bottom of six on a Matt Kennelly single that gave his side a break that was converted to a 3-1 winning score as Bailey closed out the win for his side with a superb complete game (four hits and eleven strikeouts for one earned run). Ruppert and Matt Kennelly made the offensive difference for Perth Heat, while Clark’s three hits (including the round-tripper) dominated a four-hit Adelaide tally as the series moved to a deciding final stanza.

 

Still in the hunt to split the series at home, Perth was rocked early in GAME FOUR when Mitch Dening took Daniel Schmidt deep with a solo shot in the first, followed by a blistering second innings that gleaned five for the visitors on a crucial error and a string of hits that effectively put the game beyond reach of the Heat. While Perth hit back with two in the second and the third – followed by a solo home run to Brandon Dale in the fifth - the Bite had backup in the pen as Matt Williams, Devon Barker and Loek vs Mil went scoreless through the last four as their own side put up late insurance to take the game 9-5 and post an important away series win. Whiffing five over three scoreless innings, Williams was credited with the win for a Bite outfit that amassed fifteen hits to seven – with the standouts being Dening (two hits, including the home run), Connar O’Gorman (two hits and two RBIs), Karl Hoschke (three and one) and A.C.Carter (three hits) in a great team effort that saw nine players contribute to the hit parade.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

MELBOURNE ACES versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Melbourne Ballpark)

 

Melbourne won this series 3-1.

 

Forcing Aces starter Mark Hamburger to throw more pitches than he would have liked in the first of GAME ONE, Canberra landed runners at first and third but was unable to score, while Lee Sosa started efficiently for the Cavalry despite conceding a two-out double and a walk. Settling with three strikeouts in the top of the second, Hamburger was accorded early run support when emerging star Jarryd Dale smacked a two-RBI double and scored on a wild pitch for a three-zip Aces lead that was stretched further on a Ronald Acuna RBI single. Following a lengthy delay occasioned by a power outage, Louis Cohen replaced Sosa and was greeted with an Allan de San Miguel blast over the leftfield wall, while Hamburger – who was apparently unfazed by the break in proceedings – continued to mow down the Canberra hitters. Back in action after a nasty incident against Adelaide, Boss Moanaroa swatted a solo home run for Canberra in the sixth and Louis Cohen spun a brilliant relief stint (six innings for five hits, nine strikeouts and one earned run), but it was not enough against the Aces – who emerged a 5-1 winner on the back of another wonderful performance by winning pitcher Hamburger (eight innings for twelve strikeouts and one earned run) and damaging hitting by de San Miguel, Acuna and Jarryd Dale.

 

Continuing his great form, Ronald Acuna gave the Aces a chance in the bottom of the first of GAME TWO, but Canberra starter Josh DeGraaf escaped from the jam before his side issued a challenge to Keisuke Honda in the second and also came up empty in the seven-innings contest. With both pitchers proving difficult propositions, Cody Jones doubled for Melbourne with two out in the bottom of seven and scored on a single by speedster Ronald Acuna – who advanced on the throw and trotted home when Roman Collins laced a double into rightfield. Replacing DeGraaf in the bottom of six, Jackson Lowery was tagged for a home run over rightfield by Mike Walker before Honda closed out the game 3-0 after a superb outing for three hits, five strikeouts and no runs over seven. While DeGraaf was terrific with the start for Canberra, the timely hitting of Acuna, Collins and Walker was the difference against a Cavalry offence that has not yet fired as its supporters might have expected after the earlier rounds.

 

Dushan Ruzic started for the Aces in GAME THREE and Scott Cone headed to the hill for Canberra, with the latter giving up the first hit – another double to Ronald Acuna, who stole third and scored on a Roman Collins grounder to the right side. Melbourne continued to press in the bottom of second, stretching the lead to three-zip on a two-out single by Jarryd Dale that scored Liam Bedford and Jared Cruz after both had hit safely. Well in command, Ruzic received further run support in the bottom of four, when Jared Cruz walked, Ryan Dale smacked an RBI-triple and scored on a wild pitch for a five zip lead that drew Tyler Herr from the pen to replace Cone. Loading the bases in the top of five, Ruzic walked a run across the plate but was able to get out of the frame with minimal damage before Shogo Noda relieved in the top of six. A wild pitch scored a seventh for the Aces, who escaped the seventh on a strike out and double play after Shane Lindsay had walked two Cavalry hitters in his first ABL outing this season. A walk, a hit and a walk off Melbourne southpaw Matt Wilson in the eighth brought Virgil Vasquez from the pen to limit the damage to one run and seal a 7-2 victory – and another series win – for the Aces. Ruzic took the win for Melbourne, which again had a spread of offence through the order – with the standouts being Liam Bedford (two hits and an RBI), Jarryd Dale (one and two), Walker, Collins and Ryan Dale.

 

Shooting for its second series sweep in a row, Melbourne conceded a run in the second of GAME FOUR, when Mike Reeves doubled, advanced on Boss Moanaroa’s single and scored on an infield grounder – for what was just the fourth run for the Cavalry in the series to date. While Melbourne hit back in the bottom of the third – on a sacrifice flyball to Ronald Acuna - Canberra starter Sean Guinard was well in command through four innings of work (one hit and three walks) before handing the pill to a solid bullpen of Tim Atherton, eventual winning pitcher Zech Lemond and closer Steve Kent – who collectively gave up a solitary hit to the vaunted Aces offence. On the flip side, Jon Kennedy was equally efficient for the home side over five innings of a pitcher-dominated affair, with the deadlock finally being broken in the top of nine – when Moanaroa and Jason Sloan hit safely and Robbie Perkins walked to set the table for a Kyle Perkins single that delivered the go-ahead run and a final score of 2-1 in favour of Canberra. Moanaroa (three hits) was a standout with the bat for Canberra in a classic pitching duel that broke the winning streak for Melbourne – which remains two games clear at the top of the ABL table.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus BRISBANE BANDITS (Blacktown Sportspark)

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

Starters Trevor Foss (Sydney) and Justin Erasmus (Brisbane) both spun scoreless first innings in GAME ONE before the Bandits escaped from a jam in the bottom of the second after a lead-off Tucker Neuhaus double. With Foss and Erasmus well in control, the game breezed quickly through five before the Bandits landed runners on base in the top of six – with singles to Logan Wade and Mitch Nilsson – and Kevin Padlo scored Wade on a sacrifice fly off Sydney reliever Gyoung-Wan Lim. Going to Vaughan Harris, the Blue Sox conceded a second run in the top of seven when Aaron Whitefield walked and scored all the way from first on a T.J.Bennett single. Matt Timms replaced Erasmus after a superb outing over six scoreless (three hits and a walk for nine strikeouts). With Timms conceding singles to Jacob Younis and Trent D’Antonio with none out in the bottom of eight, Brisbane called on Ryan Searle to put out the fire – which he did with aplomb, by whiffing Malik Collymore, Josh Dean and Guy Edmonds in order before repeating the dose on Alex Howe and Zac Shepherd to close out the game 2-0 for the Bandits after a quality pitching and defensive contest. His stunning start earned Erasmus the win for Brisbane - which had a spread of hitting contributors – while Younis (two hits) was the only multiple in a Blue Sox total of six hits.

 

GAME TWO began in a similarly brisk fashion, with Luke Wilkins (Sydney) and Rick Teasley (Brisbane) putting up zeroes until the top of the third, when Ryan Battaglia doubled, advanced on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a single by Aaron Whitefield. After holding the Bandits scoreless through the fourth and fifth, Wilkins was offered serious run support when the Blue Sox exploded in a five-run outburst engineered by a two-run Trent D’Antonio single and a three-run homer off the bat of Malik Collymore. Logan Wade and Mitch Nilsson singled in the sixth and the Bandits plated their second when Donald Lutz doubled into rightfield for his first hit of this ABL campaign. Relieving Teasley, Simon Morriss walked Zac Shepherd and Alex Howe before Jacob Younis singled to score a sixth for Sydney – and restore the four-run lead. Doing a great job over six (five hits for two earned runs), winning pitcher Wilkins was relieved by Josh Guyer, who closed out the seven-innings contest 6-2 in favour of the home club – which squared the series with two to play. Wilkins, Collymore and D’Antonio were outstanding for the Blue Sox, while Whitefield and Lutz were the best of a quiet offence for the Bandits in an errorless contest that was decided in under two hours.

 

Sydney was off to a flier in GAME THREE – compliments of a four-run first that included a bases-clearing double by Alex Howe off Brisbane starter Daniel Nilsson. Steady as always for the Blue Sox, Craig Anderson strangled the Brisbane offence - while Sydney tacked on another in the bottom of three before the game took a dramatic turn when the Bandits exploded with four in the top of four on five hits, including doubles to Connor Macdonald and Ryan Battaglia. Kevin Padlo doubled to score two more for Brisbane in the top of five, spelling the end for Craig Anderson with the Bandits holding a one-run lead. With Brisbane wringing the pitching changes, Blue Sox scored to square the ledger after six – before both clubs put up two-spots in the seventh while continuing to rack up the offensive statistics. A scoreless eighth innings retained spectator interest in what had been a terrific contest that was decided in walk-off fashion in the bottom of nine, when Howe capped an already outstanding game with a lead-off homerun off Rhys Niit to register a 9-8 win and a series lead for the Blue Sox. With a scoreless innings of work, Josh Guyer carded the win for Sydney, which was out-hit thirteen to fourteen – and made three defensive errors – but owed the result largely to timely hitting by Howe (three hits, including the home run, for four RBIs), Tucker Neuhaus (two and one), Guy Edmonds (one and two), Trent D’Antonio, Stone Garrett and Josh Dean. Padlo (two and three), Mitch Nilsson, Logan Wade and Battaglia were best for the Bandits, who will be keen to square the series on Sunday.

 

Trailing in the series, Brisbane began GAME FOUR with a bang, blasting three in the first off veteran Sydney starter Chris Oxspring – who was given an unceremonious welcome back to the ABL. All with two out, and all compliments of a bases-clearing triple by Kevin Padlo. While Oxspring responded with three scoreless frames, he was again under the pump in the top of five, when he handed two inherited runners to Aaron Sookee – who was unable to prevent them scoring. Although Malik Collymore drove in a Blue Sox Run in the bottom of the frame, his side was well held by winning pitcher Kramer Champlin (6.2 innings for six hits, five strikeouts and no earned runs) before consummate closer Ryan Searle slammed the gate in a convincing 5-1 win for Brisbane that split the series. Outstanding for his club, Champlin received terrific offensive support from Padlo (triple, for three RBIs), Logan Wade (three and one) and Mitch Nilsson, while Sydney had multiple hitters in Collymore, Stone Garrett and Guy Edmonds (two each) without being able to convert the scoring opportunities.  

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR