And then there were three
24 January 2016
As anticipated, the final regular season round of Australian Baseball League produced no real surprises as combatants were finalised for post-season action starting on Friday.
Runaway league-leader Brisbane Bandits (37-19) will go straight to the Championship Series after its four-game sweep of Perth Heat (23-33) - which misses the ABL playoffs for the first time in six seasons – while third-placed Adelaide Bite (30-26) sealed a Preliminary Final berth against Canberra Cavalry (31-25), a club that will have some thinking to do after being well outplayed by the Bite at Norwood.
In a rain-affected series at Blacktown that counted for little in the context of the season, Sydney Blue Sox (26-29) rebounded from an early loss to win its home series against Melbourne Aces (20-35).
AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND FOURTEEN
BRISBANE BANDITS versus PERTH HEAT (Holloway)
Boasting an extraordinary winning record at home this season, Brisbane was pressured by a proud Perth outfit in the first two games before flexing its offensive muscle and demonstrating its pitching depth to sweep the visitors and seal outright league leadership in the most emphatic fashion. While it is mothballs for the Heat, the Bandits won this series 4-0 to qualify for a home Championship Series.
Perth jumped Brisbane in the first of GAME ONE, with an unearned run – on two errors – off Brisbane starter Rick Teasley, while Daniel Schmidt breezed through the first for Perth before coming under fire when Andrew Campbell stroked a run-scoring single in the second and Justin Williams drove a solo missile over the centrefield wall in the third. Riley Unroe tripled for another in the fourth, Williams laced an RBI single into rightfield and the Bandits were away – forcing a pitching change that drew Warwick Saupold from the pen for the Heat. While Saupold was superb in stemming the flow – aside from a monster blast by TJ Bennett in the eighth - the Bandits had quality of their own in relief of Teasley, who gave up five hits and one earned run over seven before handing the pill to Matt Timms and Ryan Searle closed out the game 5-2 in favour of Brisbane. Out-slugging Perth nine to five, Brisbane had damaging hitters in Williams (two hits and two RBIs), Bennett (two and one) and Campbell (two and one), while Joseph Dunigan posted two of Perth’s five hits.
Aaron Whitefield drove in a first run for Brisbane in GAME TWO, although the visitors replied with two in the top of four on a Luke Hughes round-tripper off Bandits starter Jason Jarvis. With Edwin Carl settling into his work, the Heat held their opponent at bay until the bottom of six, when Mitch Nilsson tugged a run-scoring single into rightfield to square the ledger. Striking out seven in his seven innings stint, Carl was terrific for Perth – as was Jarvis, who handed the ball to Ryan Searle after eight stellar innings for five hits and eight punchouts. While scores remained deadlocked into the bottom of ten – after Cameron Lamb had held sway for Perth over two innings – the end came rather abruptly when Ryan Battaglia blasted a one-out solo shot off Heat closer Scott Mitchinson to deliver the Bandits a 3-2 win after a contest that had largely been dominated by the pitchers, who collectively struck out nineteen.
Assured of a home championship series, Brisbane was merciless in offence for GAME THREE, taking Perth starter Nick Veale for five early runs, highlighted by a Mitch Nilsson homer and timely doubles to Riley Unroe, David Sutherland, TJ Bennett, Aaron Whitefield and Donald Lutz. Replacing Veale in the fourth, Edgar Valle kept tabs on the Bandits offence until an Unroe sacrifice fly scored a sixth run in the sixth, followed by three more in the seventh as Jay Johnson relieved Josh Silvi. Super-efficient for the Bandits, Travis Blackley was relieved by Sam Holland after an outstanding scoreless seven innings for two hits, nine strikeouts and no walks. Three consecutive Bandits hits loaded the bases in the eighth, although Johnson was able to escape the innings before Eric Green closed out the game 9-0 in favour of Brisbane. Amassing a staggering nineteen hits to two behind winning pitcher Travis Blackley, the Bandits had standout contributors in Sutherland (four hits and two RBIs), Mitch Nilsson (three and one), Logan Wade (three hits), Lutz (two and two) and Bennett (two and two).
Brisbane completed the sweep with a comprehensive 6-1 GAME FOUR defeat of Perth Heat, which was consigned to its most disappointing season in the history of the new league. While Perth starter Tom Bailey was terrific over four for the Heat, he ran into strife in the fifth, when Riley Unroe laid down a run-scoring bunt for the Bandits and big man Donald Lutz followed up with a three-run homer that drew Warwick Saupold from the pen. Going scoreless over five, Justin Erasmus carded the win for Brisbane before a hitless two innings from Tristan Crawford and a one-run eighth by closer Taylor Stanton. In-form Andrew Campbell contributed a solo bomb in the bottom of seven and Maxx Tissenbaum added to the scoreline with a sacrifice flyball in the eighth as the Bandits ran out a comfortable winner. While Tad Gold, Derek Peterson and Anthony Caronia all posted two hits for the Heat, it was largely in vain against a Brisbane offence sparked by Lutz (two hits and three RBIs), Unroe (two and one) and Campbell (two and one).
ADELAIDE BITE versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Norwood)
Adelaide needed one win from four to assure itself of a post-season berth. It did so in style against a visiting Canberra Cavalry that was well in the hunt in the series opener, was belted in the second, edged home in the third and came up just short in the finale. These teams will meet in the Preliminary Final next weekend, opening on Friday at Norwood Oval before travelling to Narrabundah. Adelaide won this series 3-1.
Looking to nail a post-season berth, Adelaide scored in the bottom of the first of GAME ONE after John Schultz and Davis Page had swatted back-to-back singles and Stefan Welch scored on a grounder before Angus Roeger drive in a second on a single to centrefield off Brian Grening. Having a great season, Bite starter Steven Chambers went scoreless through two before Aaron Sayers walked, Davis Harris smacked a two-run bomb to draw the Cavalry level, Jason Leblebijian singled and Jack Murphy launched another two-run shot for a two-run Canberra lead. Bryan Pounds launched a third homer of the innings and Wilson Lee was called from the pen as Canberra continued to apply offensive pressure in the fourth. While Lee and then Takuro Ito stemmed the flow, Grening (ten strike outs over six) was relieved by Colton Turner, who conceded an RBI-single to Kyle Petty and a run-scoring grounder to Tom Brice, bringing Phil Kish from the pen with the tieing run at the plate for Adelaide. Angus Roeger drew a walk and Mark Wik followed in the most emphatic manner by driving a grand salami over the leftfield wall for an unlikely one-run Adelaide lead. Travis Demeritte followed with a solo bomb and Kyle Petty with another as Adelaide cruised to a 13-7 win that secured a Preliminary Final appearance.
Assured of a post-season berth, the Bite started GAME TWO with a bang, scoring a run in the first before launching an extraordinary full-on assault on Canberra starter Louis Cohen that gleaned another nine in the third – highlighted by a two-run Kyle Petty single, a two-run Travis Demeritte homer, a Mark Wik double and two hits to Wilson Lee (a single and a solo homer) as the Cavalry went to Phil Kish to halt the carnage. Whiffing six over his first four innings of work, Josh Tols was on song for Adelaide, who inflicted even further pain when Angus Roeger drove in a couple, Mark Wik left the yard with a two-run bomb and Demeritte homered off Aaron Sloan for a fifteen-zip lead. Back-to-back homers by Aaron Sayers and David Harris produced Canberra’s first runs, although the response was immediate as Stefan Welch left the yard and Nick Talbot swatted a two-run Bite shot as the slugfest ground out to an 18-4 result for the host club. The game produced a staggering total of nine home runs – three to Canberra and six to Adelaide, who amassed eighteen hits in a fearsome barrage led by Petty, Demeritte, Lee, Wik and Welch.
Down two in the four-game set, Canberra scored in the first of GAME THREE on a wild pitch by Matt Williams, who was equally impressive along with Canberra starter Steve Kent as both held sway through the early innings. With both sides starved of scoring opportunities by two quality arms, the score remained static through the middle innings. After six scoreless innings of stellar work for four hits and a dozen strikeouts, Kent handed the pill to Colton Turner, who was under immediate fire when Travis Demeritte drove in a run and Chris Adamson another – off Aaron M Thompson - to hand the Bite a one-run lead after seven. Using Hei Chun Lee, Daniel Nilsson and Dallas Gallant in relief, Adelaide called on Kody Kerski in the top of the ninth, when Canberra again drew level after Ryan Miller doubled and River Stevens scored him on a single to leftfield. David Harris hit safely for the go-ahead and Michael Click closed out the last for a 3-2 Cavalry win.
Adelaide finished strongly with a 2-1 win in GAME FOUR that will give the Bite great confidence heading towards its Preliminary Final series against Canberra, starting at Norwood on Friday night and winding up with two potential games at Narrabundah over Saturday and Sunday. In stark contrast with the opening games, this was a pitcher dominated affair in which Scott Cone (Cavalry) and Nick Talbot (Bite) gave their sides quality starts. Travis Demeritte homered for Adelaide in the first, and it was not until the top if five that the visitors replied – on a River Stevens sacrifice fly after Jeremy Barnes had doubled to lead off the frame. With both sides wary about over-taxing their pitching staff, neither was able to score again until the bottom of seven, when James Darcy branded Ben Lodge and walked Mason Pickard before a Davis Page grounder scored off reliever Phil Kish to deliver Adelaide the go-ahead. Although there was nothing riding on the result, Adelaide would be pleased with the form of Chris Adamson (two hits) and the dangerous Demeritte, while Canberra failed to exploit the opportunities created by Jason Leblebijian and Ryan Miller (both with two hits).
SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus MELBOURNE ACES (Blacktown Sportspark)
While Sydney was an outside chance of qualifying for the post-season entering this series, its fate was decided very early by results of other games and two days of rainouts. With one of the Sunday games abandoned, Melbourne won the first before incurring two narrow losses as both clubs played out the series in a befittingly competitive manner between proud sporting states. Sydney won this series 2-1.
With GAME ONE finally getting under way as a seven innings contest after two rainout days, the Aces were first to score – compliments of an infield error and a Keith Curcio grounder in the top of the second – and went out to a three-run lead when James Beresford singled and Trey Vavra belted a two-out, two-run homer off Craig Anderson in the third. Despite walking a couple, Melbourne starter Sam Gibbons was solid over four scoreless innings until Mathew Smith opened the Blue Sox account with a solo home run over leftfield that drew Sam Street from the pen with subsequent runners at first and second. An error loaded the bases, Josh Dean stroked an RBI-single and a fielder’s choice allowed a third run to cross the plate. Responding in the top of six, the Aces regained control with two more – on hits to Logan Moon, Darryl George (double) and Mike Hill – before Moon doubled for another in the top of seven t post a 6-3 lead that was protected for Melbourne by winning pitcher Sam Street.
Giving his side another terrific start in GAME TWO, Lachlan Wells breezed through the first three for Sydney before the Aces tagged him for a couple of runs in the fourth to square the ledger after the Blue Sox had posted runs in the second and third off Melbourne right-armer Kohsuke Tomita. Going to Matt Larkins after three, the Aces conceded another two in the bottom of six, on a string of hits to Tyler Bortnick, Josh Dean and Michael Quesada (double). Relieving Wells after five, Vaughan Harris tossed two scoreless innings and Todd van Steensel closed out the game 4-2 for Sydney. Eleven Sydney hits to three was the statistical imbalance created largely through the efforts of Josh Dean (three hits and two RBIs), Quesada (two and two) and Bortnick (two hits), while Logan Moon and Trey Vavra were best for a subdued Aces offence.
With both clubs out of contention and with a taxing double-header scheduled for Sunday, GAME THREE was cancelled by the Australian Baseball League in an effort to protect pitching arms and to focus attention on the GAME FOUR match-up to be telecast by ESPN.
While neither side had much to gain from GAME FOUR, Sydney demonstrated its intentions by blasting three in the first and four in the second as William Wu and Jon Kennedy were in turn put to the sword – albeit not assisted by some ragged Aces defence – highlighted by a bases clearing double from Rhys Hoskins. Doubles to Tanner Vavra and Keith Curcio produced a first run for Melbourne in the top of the third and Sydney starter Wayne Lundgren gave up another two in the fifth on a James Beresford double. Continuing to create scoring opportunities as Sydney worked its bullpen, the Aces tacked on another in the sixth and two more in the seventh as Josh Davies and Liam Bedford stroked run-scoring singles before Curcio swatted a two-out, two-run single to hand the Aces a one-run lead. Not about to turn it in, the Blue Sox responded against Troy Marks with a three-spot generated by a Michael Quesada RBI-single and a two-run hit from Alex Howe to give Sydney a 10-8 lead that was comfortably protected by closer Todd van Steensel.