Bandits, Aces, Sox take the honours in Round One

Kingsley Collins

20 November 2016

 

An eagerly-anticipated Australian Baseball League season is under way, with first-up series wins recorded by Brisbane (3-1), Melbourne (3-1) and Sydney (3-1) – each of which took its first two of the four-game series against Canberra (1-3), Perth (1-3) and Adelaide (1-3) respectively.

 

Although it is demonstrably too early to draw any inferences about the significance of Opening Round in a season context, what we do know is that games were well-supported by each of the host cities – peaking at around 2000 for a Friday evening game at Melbourne Ballpark and drawing consistent crowd numbers of 750-900 for games in Sydney and Brisbane.

 

Again drawing a host of outstanding players from United States and Japan to suit up alongside our own emerging young stars and our proven veterans, the signs appear promising as the resurrected league – now fully Australian owned - begins to find its own feet, and its own identity.

 

It will take some weeks for rosters to be fully settled. There will some coming and going of players from Asia, especially, and there will be some of our own professionals who may not see any action until after Christmas.

 

Nevertheless, Round One left baseball supporters in no doubt that they will be treated to another summer of high-quality baseball – highlighted, as was the case this weekend, by outstanding pitching, grand defensive skills, imperious hitting, great athleticism and wonderful player management exercised by experienced and knowledgeable people at the pinnacle of Australian baseball.

 

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND ONE 2016/17

 

BRISBANE BANDITS versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Holloway Field)

 

Brisbane won this series 3-1 at home.

 

Using a combined eleven pitchers over the contest, both sides took the opportunity to settle into the new season, although it was the Bandits who emerged with GAME ONE honours 3-2 in a tight defensive contest. Scoring in the first – off Indy League hurler Lee Sosa – on an Andrew Campbell double and an RBI grounder, the Bandits plated a second in the third when Mitch Nilsson doubled after Wade Logan walked and stole second. A terrific start by Brisbane southpaw Rick Teasley was marred somewhat when Aaron Sloan went yard with a two-run homer in the top of five. With pitchers on both clubs holding sway, it was not until the seventh that the deadlock was broken – compliments of some aggressive baserunning by Aaron Whitefield – who scored from second on an infield play. Out-hitting the home side seven to five, Canberra had offensive stars in Blue Jays prospect Josh Almonte (two hits) and Aaron Sloane (with the two-run blast), although much of the interest in this game focused upon the pitchers – all eleven of whom were impressive, notably Brisbane set-up man Matt Timms and closer Ryan Searle, who did a magnificent job for the Bandits last season.

 

GAME TWO was another arm-wrestle between two clubs that had fought out a titanic first-up battle on Thursday night, although it was the Bandits who again triumphed, by breaking a deadlock to scorch away with three in the seventh and again in the eighth to set up a 8-3 victory. Starters Hayden Beard (Canberra) and Justin Erasmus (Brisbane) kept their opponents scoreless early until a Mitch Nilsson homer and some errant defence produced two runs for Brisbane in the fourth before an immediate reply when Kyle Perkins smashed a two-run bomb in the top of five. While winning pitcher Rhys Niit was terrific, Matt Timms and Ryan Searle were their usual frugal selves in relief for the Bandits as their side was afforded decisive run support that was helped enormously by defensive slipups committed by a Canberra side that had prime movers in Scott Kelly (three hits) and Kyle Perkins (two hits for two RBIs).  With two hits, two walks and two RBIs, Mitch Nilsson had an excellent game for the Bandits, along with Aaron Whitefield (two hits and three RBIs), Logan Wade (one and one) and Kevin Padlo (two hits). It was another strong win for the Bandits, who are already looming as a real threat.

 

Surely anxious to break the ice after two narrow losses in this series, Canberra conceded an early run in GAME THREE – on a Connor MacDonald single in the bottom of the second – before hitting back immediately when Kyle Perkins left the yard off Bandits starter Kramer Champlin in the top of the third. A Mike Reeves solo homer in the fourth further ignited the Cavalry, who surged ahead when David Kandilas swatted a bases-clearing double and Jason Sloan singled for a fourth run for the innings that drew Simon Morriss from the pen for Champlin. While Josh DeGraaf and winning pitcher Andrew Case held sway for the Cavalry before Zech Lemond was called into the fray, their side continued to press, scoring another in the top of seven for a six-run lead before Kyle Perkins – having another outstanding game with the stick - again went deep in the top of eight. Holding a six-run break – and having a wonderful evening in offence – Canberra called on Steve Kent to close out an impressive 8-2 win over the reigning champion. Of eight players who contributed in offence for Canberra, Kyle Perkins was a beacon (three hits, including two home runs), along with Jason Sloan (two hits and three RBIs), David Kandilas (one and three), Reeves (two and one, home run), Josh Almonte (two hits) and Scott Kelly (two hits), while Andrew Campbell (three hits) was the standout for Brisbane.

 

With Canberra still eying a series split, GAME FOUR began in relatively sedate fashion behind starters Daniel Nilsson (Brisbane) and seasoned right-armer Sean Guinard, although the visitors were on the board in the second, courtesy of an RBI double by catcher Robbie Perkins. With Guinard well in control for the Cavalry and Brisbane going to Jake Pannuzzio and Zac Treece, the game developed into a pitching duel – with the Bandits finally scoring in the bottom of six on a Thomas Milone RBI single. Relieving Guinard after a superb outing (four hits for one earned run over 5.1), Aaron Sloan ran into strife in the seventh, when singles to Kevin Padlo, David Sutherland and Andrew Campbell combined with a defensive error to produce a two-run lead for the Bandits – one that was halved immediately when David Kandilas stroked an RBI single in the top of eight. When Padlo took Sloan deep with a solo shot in the equaliser it looked grim for the Cavalry, who had no counter for consummate Bandits closer Ryan Searle – who nailed a 4-2 result and whacked an exclamation mark on the series win by sitting down the three hitters he saw. Zac Treece took the win for the Bandits, who made the most of scoring opportunities in a tight contest, while Guinard was terrific for Canberra on the hill, along with Scott Kelly and Robbie Perkins in offence.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

MELBOURNE ACES versus PERTH HEAT (Melbourne Ballpark)

 

Melbourne won this series 3-1 at home.

 

Its season opener could not have been more satisfying for the Melbourne Aces, which scored early and rode a terrific start by winning pitcher Mark Hamburger, who scattered three hits over five innings of work for a solitary earned run on a hard-hit grounder by Sam Kennelly in the second. With his side holding a seven-run break after four, Aces manager Jon Deeble handed an inning of mound time each to Andrew Jones, Matt Beattie, Mitch Kennedy and Jeremy Young – who all did the job in style to seal GAME ONE 8-1. Tagged for five earned run over three, Perth starter Nick Veale was below his best before Adam Millson put the brakes on Melbourne scoring with five solid innings. Although Luke Hughes (two hits and a walk) and Sam Kennelly (a hit and an RBI) looked dangerous for the Heat, the offensive difference in this game was Aces catcher Allan de San Miguel – who swatted a three-run bomb against his old club in the third, en route to a three-hit night for five RBIs. Six other players hit safely for the Aces, who played errorless defence and showed great leg speed and base-running smarts through the likes of Cody Jones and Ronald Acuna.  

 

Highly touted youngster Keisuke Honda conceded a double to Luke Hughes in a scoreless first of seven innings in GAME TWO before the Aces opened emphatically in the equaliser – off Perth veteran Daniel Schmidt – when Mike Walker blasted a two-out grand slam for a four-zip lead. Honda struck out the side in the third and breezed through the fourth before the Heat issued a challenge in the top of five, with singles to Jesse Barron and Sam Kennelly placing runners at second and third with one out. Despite walking the dangerous Joey Wong, Honda induced a flyball as the Heat came up empty and the Aces edged further away when Cody Jones hit safely, stole second, stole third and scored on a Ronald Acuna single in the bottom of the frame. Reliever Scott Mitchinson tossed a perfect sixth for the Heat, although the game was well gone as Josh Tols was called from the pen to perform the last rites in a 5-0 win for Melbourne Aces. Honda, walker and Acuna were the standout players for Melbourne, while Hughes (two hits) was best of a Heat offence that had its chances but was unable to convert.

 

With Melbourne starter Dushan Ruzic retiring Perth in order in the first of GAME THREE, it was the Aces who again made the early running – unsurprisingly by Allan de San Miguel (this time assuming the Designated Hitter role), who cleared the leftfield wall with a three-run bomb in the first off Tom Bailey. A run of scoreless frames was broken in the top of five, when Jesse Barron and Joey Wong drew passes before Derek Peterson singled to plate a first run for the Heat that was followed –despite a response – by a sixth innings assault on Aces reliever Shogo Noda, who was not fully supported in defence in conceding three runs and taking an early exit for Virgil Vasquez. Facing the heart of the Aces order in relief, Conor Lourey escaped the assignment unscathed and his side edged ahead in the seventh when catcher Jake Bowey stroked an RBI single. Again wringing the pitching changes, Melbourne went to southpaw Andrew Jones to close out the eighth. When speedster Ronald Acuna hit safely with two out in the bottom of eight, the Heat went to a lefty on lefty strategy but were unable to stop Acuna stealing before Roman Collins lined out with no damage done. Intent on some insurance in the ninth, the Heat was provided just that as the Aces fell away in defence and the Heat ran out a 9-4 winner, compliments of a fired-up offence that enjoyed contributions throughout the order – more especially from Joey Wong, Ulrich Bojarski, Matt Kennelly, Bowey, Peterson and Nick Ruppert.

 

Melbourne Aces starter Jon Kennedy conceded a first-innings run to Perth in GAME FOUR, although the Aces issued a quick response when Mike Walker doubled to score Roman Collins after the leftfielder had singled with two out against Perth rightie Michael Lee. Collins was again among the action in the bottom of three, launching a three-run shot over rightfield after Cody Jones and Ronald Acuna had landed on base. Relieving Kennedy after three solid frames, winning pitcher Virgil Vasquez spun three innings of scoreless work for the Aces, while Perth called southpaw Lex Rutledge from the pen in the bottom of six. Landing two runners on base in the top of seven, Shogo Noda was backed by some quality defence and was relieved by Josh Tols before the Aces stretched the lead in the bottom of eight and slammed the gate for a convincing 5-1 victory. In a game that featured errorless defence and in which both clubs posted nine hits, the Melbourne conversion was far more efficient through the persons of Collins (two hits, a walk and three RBIs), Jones (two and one) and Mike Walker (one and one), while Luke Hughes and Jesse Barron had two knocks for the Heat.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus ADELAIDE BITE (Blacktown Sportspark)

 

Sydney won this series 3-1 at home.

 

Assuming a relatively profile among baseball supporters coming into the new season, Sydney started GAME ONE in blistering manner to peg back an early Adelaide break and embark on an offensive onslaught that gleaned multiples in the second, third and fourth frames before a game-breaking five-sport in the fifth that was highlighted with a grand slam by emerging Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Malik Collymore. Left-armed British Columbian Sean Callegari came in for some treatment as starter for Adelaide, as did Tyler Chappell against a side that again looked to evergreen Craig Anderson – who was superb over five innings for two earned runs before Vaughan Harris, Matthew Rae and Todd Grattan all chimed in with cameos on the hill as their side ran away with a thumping 13-4 win. Outstanding with his three hits for six RBIs, Collymore received great support from Tucker Neuhaus (two hits and three ribbies), Josh Dean (two and one) and Alex Howe (two hits), while Connor O’Gorman (two hits) was the only multiple in a Bite outfit that could manage just seven knocks across its lineup against a club that could hardly have been impressive in front of a supporters group starved of pennant success in the new league.

 

While both sides had scoring opportunities in the early innings, starters Steven Chambers (Adelaide) and Luke Wilkins (Sydney) were backed by some solid defence and GAME TWO remained scoreless until the bottom of four, when an error and a two-out walk set the table for Tucker Neuhaus – who scored both on a double to centrefield. Throwing more walks than he would have liked, Chambers was relieved by Hei Chun Lee, who conceded a solitary hit but was offered no run support by the Adelaide offence, which out-hit the Blue Sox over the seven-innings game but was unable to convert despite the efforts of leftfield LeDarious Clark (two hits). The 2-0 result in favour of Sydney was engineered principally by the stellar complete game outing from Wilkins, the productive offence by Neuhaus (two hits for two RBIs), a half a dozen walks and two untimely Adelaide errors.

 

Looking to wrap up a series win in three, Sydney started GAME THREE brightly when Zac Shepherd stroked an RBI double in the bottom off the first off Adelaide starter Taylor Hawkins, who was matched on the hill by dominant right-armer Trevor Foss. Shepherd doubled to lead off the fifth and scored after some small ball and a Jacob Younis single for a two zip lead, a break that was nullified in the top of six – when hits to Stefan Welch and Mitch Dening set the base for a two-run frame that spelt the end for Foss as Josh Guyer was summoned from the pen to put out the fire. Fellow Under 23 World Cup silver medallist Christopher Horne relieved Hawkins for the Bite and went scoreless over two before a rain delay in the eighth with scores level at two apiece. With both sides making pitching changes after a lengthy break, neither side could gain ascendancy until the bottom of eleven, when Michael Campbell doubled for the go-ahead under tie-breaker rules that placed runners at first and second with none out. The 3-2 win for Sydney came after an intense contest that owed much to the respective pitching staffs, with both stranding runners on base at key moments in the game.

 

Smarting from an extra-innings walk-off loss on Saturday night, Adelaide loaded the bases in the first of GAME FOUR against Aaron Sookee, who tattooed Mitch Dening for a run before escaping a frame that might have been far worse for the Blue Sox. Conceding a run in the first and another in the second, Bite starter Nick Hutchings was relieved by emerging superstar Jack O’Loughlin, who was accorded run support when Marcus Greene smashed a bases-clearing double in the top of five to give the Bite a two-run lead and spell the end for Sookee. While Sydney hit back with a run in the equaliser, the Bite continued to apply offensive pressure – taking Matthew Rae for another couple in the seventh and scooting to a three-run lead that was stretched in the eighth as the Blue Sox continued to look to the bullpen for quality intervention. While Josh Guyer did the job in the top of nine, Sydney had no counter for Zack Cooper, who closed out the game 7-3 in support of winning pitcher Jack O’Loughlin. Amassing eleven hits to eight, the Bite were especially well served by Marcus Green (two hits, for five RBIs), Mitch Dening (two and two), LeDarious Clark and Nathan Van Der Linden (both two hits), while the Sydney offence was shared between seven players.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR