Sydney clear in Northeast: Aces consolidate
31 December 2018
Emerging glamour club Sydney Blue Sox (20-8) continues to highball atop the Australian Baseball League standings after its series win over Brisbane Bandits (15-12), which pushed the Sox to three one-run games but will have serious concern over Canberra Cavalry (15-13) breathing down their necks.
Melbourne Aces (16-12) shrugged off a valiant Geelong-Korea (5-23) in an entertaining set of games at Waurn Ponds, while Perth Heat (17-10) has won all three of its Round Seven games thus far against Adelaide Bite (13-14), which will be keen to string a few together to keep its semi-final and wildcard hopes alive.
With Round Seven games stretching into New Year’s Eve, we will enter 2019 with the race for post-season berths wide open – the only certainty appearing to be that Geelong-Korea and Auckland Tuatara (9-18) are out of contention for the championship.
While there is plenty of baseball action still to be played out before the round is completed on Monday evening, most clubs and their supporters will surely have revelled in the far more summery weather conditions that prevailed – evidenced by another weekend of impressive attendances.
Narrabundah attracted well over 1000 people to each of its first three games, while Perth Heat remains a consistent drawcard for rusted-on baseball people in the west. Clearly doing plenty of things right – on and off the field - Sydney continues to build on a burgeoning, noisy and knowledgeable supporter base that appears undeterred by the trek out to Blacktown for the time being at least.
Down in Sleepy Hollow, the Geelong baseball and broader community continues to support its Korean squad with gusto and in growing numbers each series – despite the limited on-field success that has thus far been enjoyed. Anyone at Geelong Baseball Centre over the weekend would surely have noted the animated, passionate and good-natured barracking by supporters of both clubs – indicative of a nascent inter-city baseball rivalry that can only be good for the sport.
As always, of highlights there have been many. From the perspective of the baseball contest, supporters at Blacktown were treated to three thrilling one-run games after the Blue Sox had handed out a Maestri-led drubbing in the opener. Tuatara supporters will for a long time be talking about their team’s remarkable come-from behind win over Canberra Cavalry – which appeared well and truly over the line in Game Two at Narrabundah. Down in Geelong, the Aces appeared to be headed for a thumping Game Four win over an ever-improving Geelong-Korea – which gathered itself for a stirring late revival, only to have its hopes dashed by a Ryan Dale grand slam.
And speaking of salamis, one imagines that it will be quite some time until another ABL player emulates the Luke Hughes effort of two grand slams in the one game against Geelong-Korea on Friday night.
On the pitching front, among the better performances must surely have been the outings of former Blue Jays hurler John Anderson and Adelaide Bite journeyman Markus Solbach, who were both outstanding in Game One at Harley-Davidson Park.
And any former catcher would surely have been delighted to note the contributions - this round - of two quality men who have been regular fixtures in the resurrected Australian Baseball League. Not at his best with the bat this season (but still hitting over 0.200), Allan de San Miguel continues to build his season and he belted a vital two-run moonshot in his side’s Game Four win over Geelong-Korea, while Blue Sox veteran and former Canberra poster boy Jack Murphy – who could barely hit the ball out of the infield in the early rounds – is now having a serious impact in offence, aside from exerting his customarily enormous defensive control from behind the dish.
All power to those intrepid baseball souls committed to the tools of ignorance!
CANBERRA CAVALRY versus AUCKLAND TUATARA
Exploding in the first of GAME ONE, Canberra blasted seven off Auckland starter Jimmy Boyce - including a Zach Wilson three-run homer – before reliever Scott Cone was taken for six more in an ugly second frame to hand the Cavalry an unassailable lead behind Steven Kent (thirteen punchouts over seven innings for two earned runs), who spun another brilliant outing for a side that posted a massive 21-4 win, on twenty hits, as it feasted upon six hurlers rolled out by a battling Tuatara.
Auckland opened GAME TWO scoring with a run in the third, although Canberra cashed in on a string of walks with a five-spot in the fourth and a solo homer by Zach Wilson while Cavalry hurler Frank Gailey tossed another superb six before Eric Jenkins belted a solo homer in the eighth to spark a six-run Tuatara outburst capped by a three-run Max Brown blast in the top of nine as the visiting club stunned the Cavalry faithful with an extraordinary come-from-behind 10-6 win to level the series.
Constructing another big innings early in GAME THREE – a seven-spot second, on walks, seven hits and a passed ball – Canberra was harsh on Auckland starter Josh Collmenter, while Shota Imanaga was virtually untouchable for the Cavalry, whiffing thirteen over six innings (one hit) before handing the ball to JR Bunda, who combined with Kyle Kinman to close out a one-sided contest 9-0 for Canberra - which amassed sixteen hits to two, with seven players posting multiple knocks.
Auckland jumped the home club with two in the first of GAME FOUR, although the Cavalry hit back in the bottom of three (Michael Fransoso RBI-double and Cam Warner RBI-single) before the Tuatara edged away in support of a solid start by Scott Richmond – whose five innings of work were a key factor enabling his bullpen to take over in style and hold sway for a 3-2 result in an errorless contest that saw Auckland out-hit its more favoured opponent eleven to four in squaring this series.
This series was split 2-2.
GEELONG-KOREA versus MELBOURNE ACES
The host club was off to a GAME ONE flyer, with one in the first and a three-spot in the third as Byeong-Guen Kim held sway for Geelong-Korea and the Aces were forced into an early pitching change before scoring off Kim, who gave his side a superb start (six innings, four hits and five strikeouts for one run) – though it was too little too late as Geelong-Korea tacked on another in the seventh and Jae-Gon Lee combined with Geon-Yep Heo to withstand a challenge and nail a 6-4 win.
Starters Jin-Yong Yang (Geelong-Korea) and Scott Shuman controlled the early innings of GAME TWO before Luke Hughes crushed a grand slam in the top of four and repeated the dose off reliever Hwi Kwon in the fifth for an insurmountable Aces lead that was shaved slightly in the sixth before the Aces bullpen closed out the game 8-3 – Hughes having knocked in all of the Melbourne runs, while Hak-Jun Noh, Dong-Gyun Woo and Seung-Won Shin were dangerous in offence for the home club.
With Jin-Woo Kim (Geelong-Korea) and Dushan Ruzic (Aces) spinning solid starts, a run in the first gave the home side a lead in GAME THREE, although the Aces hit back to level scores in the third before breaking away on a two-run Darryl George homer and plating three more in the seventh as Geelong-Korea called on its pen – in vain, as George smacked another round-tripper and the Aces ran out a comfortable 8-1 winner, with Ruzic the pitcher of note (seven innings, seven strikeouts).
Melbourne gained an early break in GAME FOUR, with two in the first, using their bullpen to full effect while tacking on a run in the fifth and two more in the eighth – a two-run Allan de San Miguel homer – although Geelong-Korea levelled scores due largely a three-run Seung-Won Shin bomb off Scott Kuzminsky that sent the game to extras, where a Ryan Dale grand slam headed a six run blast for the Aces, who held on 11-8 as the home side hit back with a three-run Kwang-Min Kwon shot. See Game Four slide show below (images Australian Baseball Alumni)
Melbourne won this series 3-1.
SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus BRISBANE BANDITS
These clubs traded blows in the first of GAME ONE and Sydney edged ahead with one in the third for a two-run break as Ryan Bollinger (Bandits) and Alex Maestri (Blue Sox) spun quality starts before the home club surged further ahead with a five-spot in the fourth and three more in the sixth – including a two-run Zac Shepherd homer – making it super tough for a Brisbane outfit that used three on the hill but was comprehensively beaten 11-2, with Maestri clocking another win.
Back-to-back doubles by Jacob Younis and Dwayne Kemp gave the Blue Sox an early lead in GAME TWO, when starters Luke Wilkins (Sydney) and Travis Blackley (Brisbane) were well in control through the early innings, although a Zac Shepherd RBI-double and a productive grounder stretched the lead in the fourth before the Bandits hit back with runs in the fifth and sixth and a three-spot in the eighth – including a two-RBI Donald Lutz double – to set up a 5-4 Brisbane win.
Four hits in the top of the second gleaned three for the Bandits in GAME THREE, although Sydney plated one on a sacrifice bunt and another on an error before both clubs put up zeroes until the bottom of eight – when a Jack Murphy sacrifice fly knotted the scores at three and a bases-loaded bottom of nine scenario set the table for Jacob Younis, who drew a walk for the Blue Sox to win 4-3 in what had been a superb pitching duel between veterans Tim Atherton and Craig Anderson.
Timely hitting saw Sydney plate a run in each of the first four frames of GAME FOUR, while the Bandits offence was strangled by Josh Guyer in another superb start before finally challenging in the eighth, when David Sutherland (RBI-single) and Logan Wade (RBI-grounder) drew their side to within a run but were unable to make further inroads against closer Todd Van Steensel, who sealed the deal 4-3 for the Blue Sox – who recorded a crucial series win against the reigning champion.
Sydney won this series 3-1.
PERTH HEAT versus ADELAIDE BITE
While Adelaide had its chances, GAME ONE starters John Anderson (Perth) and Marcus Solbach (Adelaide) spun scoreless early innings before Bite outfielder Michael Gettys slapped an RBI-double in the top of six – sparking a response from the Heat, which squared the ledger in the seventh before gaining the vital two-run break in the eighth, when an error, a Chris Clare RBI-double and a wild pitch gleaned two for the home club, which emerged 3-1 winner in a thriller featuring terrific pitching.
An Alex Hall double drove in a second innings GAME TWO run for Perth, though starters Nick Veale (Perth) and Kurt Heyer (Adelaide) were strong early in this contest with the Heat edging ahead before a seventh innings breakout – when a seven-run blast set a huge task for the Bite, who responded bravely but could not match a Perth offence that went on to register a 13-6 win owing much to Chris Clare (three hits), Hall (three hits, four ribbies) and Sam Kennelly (three-run homer).
Sparked by shortstop Tristan Gray – who belted successive home runs in his remarkable five-RBI match – Perth exploded to a seven zip lead after two innings in GAME THREE, providing massive offensive support to Conor Lourey (five scoreless innings and seven strikeouts) as Adelaide tried four on the hill to no avail, with Bite catcher Mitch Edwards (three hits) a standout for the Bite in a 9-0 whitewash and series win in favour of the division-leading home club.
Two in the third of GAME FOUR gave Adelaide an early break that was stretched when Jordan McArdle swatted a solo homer in the fourth, before the Heat hit back with runs in the fourth and fifth – including a Tristan Gray shot – as both clubs called upon their bullpens in a tight contest that remained up for grabs until Carl Chester (triple) and Alex Hall (RBI-single) combined for a ninth inning score that set up a 4-2 result for the Bite, who thereby escaped a sweep.
Perth won this series 3-1.
After the New Year's Eve result, Perth is 17-11 and Adelaide 14-14 in the Southwest.