And then there were five.....
13 January 2019
A thrilling Round Nine of Australian Baseball League has served to identify the five clubs qualified for post-season play, although their finishing order – and final seedings – will not be decided until the last round.
Joint Southwest Division leader Perth Heat (22-14) fell short of a sweep of Geelong-Korea (7-29) – who will wrap up a disappointing season at their adopted home next week – while Melbourne Aces (22-14) were too strong in four for Adelaide Bite (17-19), which is out of contention but still eminently capable of exerting an influence on final standings.
Sydney Blue Sox (23-13) won its series against a valiant Auckland Tuatara (11-25), ensuring that the Blue Sox enters the final round as Northeast Division leader, while triple reigning champion Brisbane Bandits (21-15) forced a split against Canberra Cavalry (21-15), with Sydney to face Adelaide in the final round and Brisbane away to Geelong-Korea in what appears an easier assignment.
With plenty riding on results, we should expect a fascinating final round.
While ladder placings and post-season prospects will inevitably have an effect on attendances – at any time - special mention should again be made of “official” crowd numbers during Round Nine.
Historically drawing supportive crowds, Perth Heat managed 1256 on Thursday, 1417 on Friday and 2023 on Saturday – impressive even more so given the one-sided nature of a couple of the games.
Brisbane drew 627 for Thursday, 1403 on Friday and 1666 for the Saturday doubleheader, while Melbourne attracted a modest 744 on Friday before 1174 went through the gates on Saturday.
Although plagued by weather, Sydney drew 850 to the single Thursday game before a whopping 2345 for the Saturday doubleheader – a stadium record for an ABL fixture, albeit augmented somewhat by the concurrent Youth Championships being played at Blacktown.
According to the published numbers, a total of over 8000 people attended Saturday games alone!
Whether the “official” figures are totally accurate at all times or not, images coming out of each ballpark demonstrate quite categorically that crowd numbers are up across the league – certainly in contrast to last year, when Perth Heat was the only club averaging over 1000, Canberra averaged 890 and the others tapered off to between 450 and 650 people per fixture.
As should be the case, there will inevitably be discussion about what has been done well by clubs, and by the league, and what has been done poorly – covering a whole range of considerations from patron experience, catering, off-field entertainment, ground management, streaming, commentary and media coverage (or lack thereof in some states).
However, what is clear is that the new ownership model is already having an impact as each organisation properly strives to get better at what it does. There may be a long way to go just yet – especially in broadening exposure of the sport to the community - but there have been some very good signs that are being clearly reflected in supporter numbers, which in turn will relate closely to a club’s capacity to attract sponsors.
BRISBANE BANDITS versus CANBERRA CAVALRY
Both clubs started brightly in GAME ONE, when Riley Unroe smacked a two-run homer off Steven Kent and Zach Wilson took Ryan Bollinger deep for Canberra, who took the lead in the top of five and scored regularly to record a strong 11-6 Cavalry win – a result that owed plenty to Kent (nine strikeouts), Wilson, David Kandilas, Michael Crouse, Kyle Perkins and Maddison Younger (all with two hits, two RBIs), while Andrew Campbell and Logan Wade were best with the bat for Brisbane.
Canberra opened scoring in the third of GAME TWO, although the Bandits squared the ledger promptly as starter Travis Blackley (Brisbane) and Kyle Kinman (Canberra) asserted their authority – with both clubs scoring only in the third before a late assault against Bandits big man Matt Timms – who was taken for a two-run bomb by Craig Massey in the eighth and an insurance run in the last as the Cavalry rode some great pitching (including a Yuki Kiniyoshi winning cameo) for a vital 4-1 win.
Starters Tim Atherton (Brisbane) and Frank Gailey (Canberra) were dominant early in GAME THREE, when a two-out, two run Michael Fransoso homer in the third gave the Cavalry a two-zip lead that sparked a savage Bandits response - including an Andrew Campbell three-run shot, a solo Riley Unroe bomb in a game-breaking fifth and a TJ Bennett two-run blast in the sixth to set up a crushing 10-3 Brisbane win that saw Atherton (thirteen punchouts) pitch a superb seven-innings complete game.
The Bandits exploded in GAME FOUR, taking Canberra starter Steven Chambers for seven early runs – including a three-run Riley Unroe homer and a two-run Andrew Campbell blast – while Ko-Chien Lin was virtually untouchable through seven (three hits, no walks, six strikeouts) before Sam Holland and Ryan Searle both spun a scoreless innings to secure a thumping 8-0 win for the Bandits, whose three round-trippers set the Cavalry on their heels with a series-levelling performance.
This series was split 2-2.
SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus AUCKLAND TUATARA
Subject to a lengthy rain delay after the second, GAME ONE was dominated by the pitchers through seven, with the Tuatara scoring a sole run from a brilliant Alex Maestri start (ten strikeouts) before celebrating his departure with a five spot in the eighth for a 6-0 Auckland win featuring timely offence led by by Nick Tanielu (three hits, two RBIs), Daniel Lamb-Hunt (two and two) and Eric Jenkins (two and one), while Stephen Swagerty and Yuki Harada (win) stifled the Sydney hitters.
Rescheduled from a sodden Friday evening as a seven-innings contest, GAME TWO pitted two seasoned operators in Craig Anderson (Sydney) and Josh Collmenter (Auckland), with Alex Howe stroking a run-scoring double for the Sox before a Max Brown two-run homer gave the Tuatara a lead – momentarily, as Zac Shepherd slapped a two-run single in the third and his side generated an insurance run on a Dwayne Kemp sacrifice in the sixth to set up a thrilling 4-2 Blue Sox victory.
Starters Luke Wilkins (Sydney) and Scott Richmond (Auckland) traded zeroes early in GAME THREE, with neither club able to generate offence until the bottom of five – when Zac Shepherd slapped an RBI-double for the Blue Sox for a narrow lead before Beau Te Wera Bishop stroked a run-scoring single in the seventh to tie up a terrific baseball contest that was finally decided in the bottom of nine when Max Brennen laid down a squeeze bunt to seal a walk-off 2-1 Sydney win.
Lead-off Eric Jenkins scored for Auckland in the first of GAME FOUR, although a Michael Campbell two-RBI double off Jimmy Boyce gave Sydney a narrow lead after two that was stretched by a two-RBI Gift Ngoepe double in the next as Josh Guyer completed a superb start (six innings) before Ngoepe stroked his second RBI-double and the Sox plated a three-spot in the eighth to set up a 9-6 Blue Sox victory – despite a stirring Auckland revival that included a Jenkins grand slam in the last.
Sydney won this series 3-1.
PERTH HEAT versus GEELONG-KOREA
The Heat belted a dozen in the first two innings of GAME ONE – including a grand slam by Tristan Gray – although Geelong-Korea stuck to its task, with Kwang-Min Kwon (homer) sparking a four-run third before a three-run seventh, despite which the visitors were comprehensively outplayed in a 15-7 Heat win built around a quality John Anderson start and some productive offence led by Gray, Alex Hall (homer, two walks, three RBIs), Jake Bowey and Robbie Glendinning, aided by nine walks.
Starters Nick Veale (Perth) and Jin-Yong Jang (Geelong-Korea) were well in charge early in GAME TWO, with scores remaining deadlocked until the seventh – when Alex Hall tripled and scored on an Ulrich Bojarski single before back-to-back doubles by Tristan Gray and Robbie Glendinning gleaned a second run off Geelong Korea reliever Jae-Gon Lee in the eighth of a pitching duel that saw Nick Veale (six innings) card the 2-0 Perth win against an opponent bravely rebounding from a heavy loss.
Perth was on the march early in GAME THREE, taking a wayward Geelong-Korea starter Jin-Woo Kim for five early runs, while eventual winning pitcher Conor Lourey (six innings) was again on song for the home club, who conceded a run in the third before again exploding in offence - with multiples in six of the nine innings – on their way to a thumping 19-1 victory that featured stand-out hitting by Tristan Gray (three hits, including two homers, for seven RBIs), Robbie Glendinning, Carl Chester and Alex Hall.
Two in the first and an Ulrich Bojarski solo homer gave the Heat a lead early in GAME FOUR, where the home side edged away through the middle innings against an ultra-competitive Geelong-Korea outfit which challenged a rattled Heat bullpen in a massive eighth innings that gleaned six runs – on six hits, a HPB and an error – for a one-run lead that was tracked down to force an extra-innings tie-breaker that saw Geelong-Korea blast five and hold off the Heat for an unlikely and quite remarkable 13-10 win.
Perth won this series 3-1.
MELBOURNE ACES versus ADELAIDE BITE
Scott Shuman (Melbourne) and Kurt Heyer (Adelaide) traded zeroes early in GAME ONE, when the Aces were thwarted by stellar defence in the third before DJ Burt and Jake Romanski both belted solo home runs backed up by a Mike Walker round tripper off reliever Matt Williams in the eighth to set up a comfortable and ultra-important 4-0 win for the Aces – who did serious damage with the long ball in support of winning pitcher Schuman, set-up man Jon Kennedy and closer Josh Tols.
Back-to-back doubles off Adelaide gun Markus Solbach by Rudi Martin and Darryl George gleaned an early run for the Aces in GAME TWO, though the Bite replied with one in the second – on a Landon Hernandez double and a run-scoring Stefan Welch single off Aces starter Luke Westphal (five innings) - before reliever Byung-Hyun Kim escaped a bases-loaded jam and Jake Romanski clubbed a two-run homer for Melbourne, who called on Scott Kuzminsky to close out the game 4-2.
Melbourne starter Dushan Ruzic conceded a run in the first of GAME THREE and the Aces squared the ledger against Michael Gahan, who was accorded run support with runs in the third and fourth off a paddling Ruzic before the Bite tacked on another in the top of six and called on Tyler Thompson to replace the lights-out Gahan – a cue for Melbourne to twice tie up a seesawing and spirited contest before Luke Hughes knocked in the go-ahead in the bottom of eight to seal a 6-5 Aces win.
Adelaide squandered scoring opportunities early in GAME FOUR and Melbourne did likewise in the second – as Bite starter Greg Mosel escaped a jam, Aaron Whitefield knocked in a first run and the Aces called on reliever Jon Kennedy, who was taken for a three-run fifth before the Aces scrambled a run in the sixth and mounted an extraordinary two-out recovery in the eighth that cashed in handsomely on walks, wild pitches and a timely Jake Romanski single for a 6-4 Aces win closed out by Byung-Hyun Kim.
Melbourne won this series 4-0.
Blacktown on Saturday night
Aces swept Adelaide