Heat splits with Bandits: Bite out of the race
21 January 2018
Second-placed Perth Heat (24-12) stamped itself as a legitimate Claxton Shield chance by splitting its four-game away series against Brisbane Bandits (26-9), which still heads the Australian Baseball League table after the penultimate round.
Already well-assured of a finals berth, Canberra Cavalry (22-13) sits third – and retains hopes of a home finals series – after a series win over Sydney Blue Sox (12-24), whose hopes of a post-season berth hang by a thread, while Melbourne Aces (15-21) did enough in its last home series and is favoured to finish fourth after dispelling any hope for Adelaide Bite (8-28).
With the potential for a make-up game having to be played between Brisbane and Canberra, baseball fans are poised for a fascinating final week of regular season competition.
While the demise of Adelaide was not unexpected – given the challenging run home that the Bite would have needed to achieve – Sydney was able to post the one win against Canberra that enables the Sox to stay within striking distance of fourth should the Aces falter in Perth next weekend. For its part, Canberra was dominant in three of its games and it will take offensive confidence into its last-round home clash with Brisbane Bandits – when the Cavalry could potentially secure a home semi-finals series pending their own strong showing and the Aces creating havoc out west.
Yardstick of the competition this season – and favoured by many for a third consecutive title – Brisbane was handed a reality check by Perth Heat, which made the daunting trek east to share the spoils at Holloway Field. Even in the two losses, Perth was a real chance in each contest. Its two wins could not have been more convincing – the first a display of imperious offence and the second a wonderful pitching and defensive performance that tamed the feared Bandits offence. Over the four games, Perth scored 28 runs and Brisbane 21 – this on Bandits home turf – suggesting that we are in for a real dogfight come finals time.
The interest and the quality of baseball being generated late in this ABL season have clearly had an impact on attendances – more especially on the Friday night and weekend games. According to the “official” numbers supplied by Minor League Baseball, Melbourne Ballpark attracted 891 patrons on Friday night, followed by 1335 on Saturday. For Brisbane there were 828 on Friday and 1211 for the Saturday twin-bill, while Sydney drew a modest 752 on Friday before an impressive 1251 for the Saturday doubleheader. Assuming that these numbers have not been fudged (for example, by counting members whether or not they were in attendance), they – along with the consistently decent crowds at Perth and Canberra games - appear to indicate a refreshing momentum of interest building as we approach the playoffs.
MELBOURNE ACES versus ADELAIDE BITE
Melbourne won this series 3-1.
Starters Josh Tols (Aces) and Greg Mosel (Bite) breezed through the first of GAME ONE in sticky conditions at Melbourne Ballpark before Michael Crouse singled for the home side in the bottom of the second, advanced on a wild pitch and a ground ball before a second errant pitch allowed him to scoot home for the first run. Adelaide teenager Curtis Mead swatted a solo homer in the top of the third – his first round-tripper at ABL level – and centrefielder Max Brown followed suit for a one-run lead that was stretched in the third on a lead-off Stephen Lohr bomb. Successive hits by Kelii Zablan and Jarryd Dale – with none out - gave the Aces an opportunity in the bottom of five, when Tyler Neslony singled for one and Crouse blasted a grand slam as Melbourne exploded to a three-run lead. Lohr doubled and scored on an Angus Roeger single in the top of six to draw Scott Shuman from the Aces pen to relieve Tols, while Nick Hutchings took the ball for Adelaide in the bottom of the frame and Neslony belted a solo home run in the seventh. Replacing Shuman, Sam Street tossed a scoreless eighth and Jackson Brebner-Russ repeated the dose for Adelaide, who generated last-minute hope when Kuan-Jen Chen launched a two-run blast in the top of the ninth – although it came to nought as Street retired the dangerous Lohr to close out a 7-6 Aces win. Tols carded the win in a game that produced six home runs – including standout offensive performances by Crouse and Neslony for the Melbourne club, while Lohr, Brown, Chen and Mead were terrific with the stick for Adelaide. Official attendance: 619
Melbourne starter Matt Larkins was on the receiving end early in GAME TWO, when singles to Rodrigo Ayarza, Kuan-Jen Chen and Stephen Lohr combined with a defensive error and two infield grounders to glean a three-spot in the top of the first. Michael Crouse doubled off Bite starter Ryo Koura in the bottom of the second and Kelii Zablan knocked him in before the Aces thwarted a scoring opportunity by Adelaide in the third. Relieving Koura after a quality start (5.2 innings for one run and eight punchouts), Matt Williams kept tabs on the Melbourne hitters, while Larkins was relieved after a superb seven innings (seven strikeouts for one earned run) by Christian Meister – who kept his side in touch with a scoreless eighth. A formidable combination at any time, Koura and Williams retired thirteen hitters in order as the Aces struggled to shave the narrow margin and called Blake Cunningham from the pen at the start of nine. Conceding two hits that allowed Bite runners to land at second and third, Cunningham walked consecutive runners – to force one run across the plate before Kuan-Jen Chen blasted a massive grand slam off the first pitch he saw to stretch the Adelaide lead to seven and draw teenage lefty Blake Townsend to the mound with the game well gone for the home club. Prevailed upon to close out the contest, Loek van Mil was his characteristically efficient self in nailing an 8-1 win for the visitors that squared the series. Koura carded the win for Adelaide, who out-slugged the Aces twelve to six on the basis of terrific contributions by Chen and Stephen Lohr, while the Aces struggled for offensive conversion and slipped up too often in defence. Official attendance: 891
Tyler Neslony opened GAME THREE scoring for the Aces with a solo home run in the bottom of the first, although back-to-back Bite doubles off Melbourne starter Mark Hamburger delivered a narrow lead for the visitors that was erased very quickly as Ryan Dale took Chris Powell deep with a two-run shot that was followed by a Michael Crouse solo blast in the third. A sacrifice flyball in the fourth brought the Bite back within a run before pitchers on both sides applied the clamps through the middle innings. With Matt Marksberry, Dan McGrath and Sam Street providing terrific support for Hamburger (six innings, five hits and six strikeouts for three earned runs), the Aces were unable to generate further scoring off Powell – who was relieved by Nick Hutchings after a solid start for the Adelaide side. Called from the Aces pen in the top of nine, Scott Shuman conceded a two-out walk before whiffing dangerous Bite catcher Bas Nooij to close out the game 4-3 in favour of Melbourne. In a contest dominated by pitchers after the fourth, Hamburger carded the win for an Aces outfit that could muster just four hits but cashed in on bombs by Neslony and Ryan Dale – while Tai-Shan Chang and Curtis Mead both collected two knocks for Adelaide. Official attendance: 1335
Looking to split the series – even with its finals prospects finally extinguished – Adelaide began GAME FOUR brightly, with singles to Rodrigo Ayarza and Curtis Mead combining with a grounder, an error and a wild pitch by Aces starter Jon Kennedy to produce two in the first. Taking the start for Adelaide, Ky Hampton conceded a Michael Crouse RBI-double and a sacrifice fly that quickly levelled scores at two apiece before Allan de san Miguel left the park with a solo shot to lead off the bottom of the second for Melbourne. Relieving Hampton in the bottom of three, Steven Chambers was taken deep by de San Miguel in the bottom of four – this time a two-run shot that gave Melbourne a three-run lead. Adelaide scored on a sacrifice fly in the sixth and edged even closer when a Curtis Mead RBI-single and a run-scoring grounder gleaned another couple. The Aces were up to the task, however, as Tyler Neslony smacked a two-run single in the equaliser before Dan McGrath and Sam Street combined to close out the game 7-5 for the Aces. McGrath earned the win – one which owed plenty to McGrath and Neslony with the stick, while Ayarza, Mead and Stephen Lohr were best in offence for the Bite. Official attendance: 1165
BRISBANE BANDITS versus PERTH HEAT
This series was split 2-2.
Ryan Bollinger tossed a scoreless first for Brisbane before Donald Lutz and Chih-Sheng Lin hit back-to-back blasts off Alex Boshers to hand the Bandits an early lead over Perth in GAME ONE. An Adam Weisenburger triple, a Kenshi Sugiya RBI-single and a two RBI-single by Lin made it five zip for the Bandits, although Alex Hall shaved that dramatically with a two-run blast in the top of three. Finding it tough going against Bollinger, the Heat stranded a pair of runs in the fifth before TJ Bennett left the yard for Brisbane in the equaliser. Back-to-back doubles by Luke Hughes and Garrett Whitley shaved the margin for Perth and Brisbane went to Zac Treece after another solid Bolinger outing (5.2 innings for nine strikeouts and three earned runs). With his club still in the hunt, Heat reliever Daniel Schmidt issued a walk in the bottom of seven before handing the pill to Scott Mitchinson to escape the innings. Relieving Treece, Matt Timms walked Hughes and Michael Hart in the eighth – bringing Ryan Searle into the fray to close out the innings. When Andrew Campbell took Heat reliever Nick Kennedy deep in the bottom of eight, it was a four-run break for Brisbane – more than enough of a buffer for Searle the seal the deal 7-3 in favour of the Bandits, who were seriously challenged by a Perth outfit that struggled to convert its scoring opportunities in key situations. Bollinger took the win for Brisbane, which had dangerous hitters in Campbell, Lutz, Lin, Bennett and David Sutherland (three hits in game number 300 for the Bandits), while Alex Hall and Jake Fraley were standout players with the bat for Perth Heat. Official attendance: 493
The Heat manufactured a run off Brisbane starter Travis Blackley in the first of GAME TWO, although Blackley and Perth starter Kyle Simon were both well on top through the early innings – until the visitors exploded in the top of the fourth, when Blackley struggled for command and Tim Kennelly belted a grand slam before Garrett Whitley slapped a two-run shot to dominate a seven-run frame that made it eight zip. With the task in front of them against a genuine title contender, the Bandits hit back with a three-run homer by the returning Mitch Nilsson before TJ Bennett closed the gap further with a solo home run in the bottom of six and David Sutherland picked up another run with his one-out RBI-single. With Sam Holland called to replace Brisbane middle reliever Rhys Niit, the Heat plated a ninth run – on an Alex Hall sacrifice flyball – followed by two more in the top of eight, when Jake Fraley walked and Luke Hughes left the yard for a two-run blast that was reflective of the super season being constructed by the former professional and Perth livewire. Effective over six (for four strikeouts and four earned runs), Simon handed the ball to a Heat bullpen that was accorded further support when Fraley launched a two-run shot in the top of a productive ninth that yielded another four for the visiting club – which called on Major Leaguer Warwick Saupold to close out a massive 15-5 result for Perth. Simon earned a famous win against a quality ball club that had dangerous hitters in Bennett and Mitch Nilsson but was unable to hold off a Perth lineup led by Tim Kennelly (two hits, with a grand slam for four RBIs), Robbie Glendinning (four hits and an RBI), Fraley, Whitley, Hughes and Hall. Official attendance: 828
GAME THREE Perth starter Daniel Schmidt came in for some early treatment in the bottom of the first, when Aaron Whitefield double and scored on a Chih-Sheng Lin single before Logan Wade tugged a two-run homer over rightfield to provide Tim Atherton with some early run support. While a Jesse Williams RBI-single saw Perth on the board in the top of the second, Wade Dutton replied with a booming home run for the Bandits. A third round-tripper – this time by TJ Bennett in the bottom of three stretched the Bandits lead against a never-say-die Heat outfit that could well have done better than a solitary run in the top of four after loading the bases with one out. A Mitch Nilsson single, a Dutton double and two sacrifice flyballs delivered a five-run lead for Brisbane after four, although the Heat again hit back with a Luke Hughes homer in the fifth and a Jake Fraley solo shot off Zac Treece in the sixth. Relieving Schmidt, Jake Bowey allowed a two-out single to Kenshi Sugiya in the bottom of the frame and Adam Weisenburger blasted a two-run shot to again stretch the Bandits lead to five – which was shaved marginally by a Robbie Glendinning bomb before Treece closed out the seven-innings contest 9-5 for the Bandits. Winning pitcher Atherton was accorded grand support by an offence that racked up four home runs, while Fraley and Glendinning left the yard as two of the standouts for Perth. Official attendance: 1211
With Pat Young (Brisbane) and Nick Veale (Perth) going head to head in GAME FOUR, there was nothing much doing until the top of three, when Fraley and Tim Kennelly walked and Luke Hughes blasted a three-run shot to give the Heat an early lead that was built upon when Garrett Whitley left the yard four pitches later. Relieving Young during the third, Justin Erasmus did all that could have been asked of him in putting up zeroes into the seventh – when Kennelly and Hughes hit safely with none out before Whitley slapped an RBI-single up the middle and Matt Timms was summoned from the pen for a still hitless Brisbane Bandits. Finally conceding a hit in the top of the seventh after a brilliant outing, Veale (one hit and seven strikeouts) was relieved by the hard-throwing Joe Van Meter, who was accorded terrific defensive support – including a freakish outfield catch by Whitley – before handing the pill to left-armer Brad Williams and Cameron Lamb to close out the last for a memorable 5-0 win to the Perth Heat. The series split demonstrated the capacity of the Perth Heat to match it with the reigning Claxton Shield champion, which could manage just one hit in a shutout that produced starring roles by winning pitcher Veale, along with Heat sluggers in Hughes and Whitley. Official attendance: 1211
SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus CANBERRA CAVALRY
Canberra won this series 3-1.
Starters Clayton Freimuth (Sydney) and Brian Grening (Canberra) traded zeroes early in GAME ONE, and it was not until the top of four that any scoring damage was done – thanks to a Jay Baum triple, a Cam Warner sacrifice fly, along with singles to Kyle Perkins, Lee Mills, Nick Hosie and a fielding error that generated a three-spot for the Cavalry. After the Cavalry plated another in the top of six, Michael Suchy belted a solo homer for Sydney, which stirred its bullpen into action when Mills stroked a two-RBI single to stretch the Canberra lead to seven. Grening was again outstanding – this time with an eight innings outing for Canberra that gleaned seven strikeouts and just one earned run before his side posted a late insurance run and Tyler Herr closed out the game 7-1 for the third-placed Cavalry. Amassing ten hits to seven, Canberra had solid offensive contributors in Warner, Kyle Perkins and Mills, while the Blue Sox were carried by Lars Anderson, Connor MacDonald and Max Brennen (all with three hits). This was a comprehensive win by the Cavalry, which has made the prospect of finals qualification so much more difficult for the Sydney team – that had the chance to close the gap on Melbourne after its own loss to Adelaide this evening. Official attendance: 752
With Matthew Rae (Sydney) and Frank Gailey (Canberra) both giving their clubs superb starts in GAME TWO, this developed into a pitching and defensive contest – with the only early run coming for Canberra in the top of the second, when Robbie Perkins walked and Cameron Warner smacked an RBI-double into leftfield. Although the Cavalry again had opportunities in the third and the fifth, it was not until the sixth – with the advent of Blue Sox reliever Trevor Foss – that doubles to Moko Moanaroa and Travis Witherspoon produced a vital second run. Not allowing a runner past second in six innings of outstanding work (one hit and seven strikeouts), Gailey handed the ball to Cavalry closer Michael Click – who promptly retired the three hitters he saw in the last of a seven-innings contest to post a 2-0 Canberra win. In a high standard, errorless game, the pitching was dominant – especially Gailey, who took the win against an opponent that could manage just a solitary hit. Its own six hits were adequate for the Cavalry, whose Witherspoon and Warner delivered the crucial scoring blows. Official attendance: 1251
Starters Craig Anderson and Lake Bachar matched zeroes through the first three of GAME THREE, before a walk, a Jay Baum triple and a sacrifice flyball plated two for the Cavalry in the fourth. While Michael Suchy stroked a run-scoring double for Sydney in the bottom of the frame, Canberra was again on the charge when four successive doubles shared between southpaw Anderson and reliever Vaughan Harris set the base for a four-run fifth. Replacing Harris in the fifth, Tom Roberts came under fire from the heart of the Cavalry order – with David Kandilas doubling for two and Boss Moanaroa driving in another on a sacrifice flyball for an eight-run lead. Although Suchy scored in the sixth and Zac Shepherd homered for Sydney in the seventh, it was still a long way back for the home club – especially against an opponent that was relentless in plating a game-breaking four-run eighth as the Sox engaged their bullpen to capacity. Constructing a superb individual game, Suchy belted a solo homer in a two-run eighth for the Blue Sox – who incurred a comprehensive 13-5 loss at the hands of Canberra Cavalry, who have made the task even tougher for the Sydney club with just a handful of games to play in the regular season. Bachar carded the win for Canberra in a dominating offensive performance led by Kandilas, Baum, Boss Moanaroa – while Suchy, Lars Anderson and Shepherd carried an otherwise subdued Blue Sox. Official attendance: 1251
Gunning for a series sweep, Canberra began with a bang in GAME FOUR, when a string of singles combined with a Jay Baum single to score four in the top of the first off Sydney starter Luke Wilkins. But despite plating another in the second – on a throwing error – it was the Sox who made much of the offensive running, with multiples in each of the first five innings as the Cavalry utilised Steven Kent, Sean Guinard, Dan Lietz and Tyler Herr against an opponent that surged to a six-run lead on the back of timely hitting by Lars Anderson (two-run homer and two-run double), Zac Shepherd, Mitch Edwards, Michael Suchy and Jacob Younis. Terrific side that it is, though, Canberra hit back with two in the seventh and followed up with another crooked number in the eighth – a three-run Boss Moanaroa homer – to draw to with a run. A single to Josh Strong and a double by Connor MacDonald in the bottom of the frame set the table for emerging Blue Sox catcher Edwards – who smacked a two-run double before Alex Howe drove in another to restore a comfortable lead and draw Michael Click from the Cavalry pen. A further double – this time by D’Antonio – made it a four-run inning for Sydney, which called upon Sven Schueller to protect a five run lead. After walking two, Schueller conceded a two-RBI double to David Kandilas before closing out the game 15-12 – with two runners stranded on base. Wilkins carded the win in a slugfest that saw Lars Anderson, Edwards and Howe lead a fifteen-run hit parade for Sydney, while Kandilas, Boss Moanaroa and Baum were standouts for the Cavalry. The result provided a much-needed fillip for the Blue Sox, who are still a rough chance of qualifying for the playoffs. Official attendance: 690