Aces clear out as playoff race gathers momentum

Kingsley Collins

1 January 2017

 

Resuming after the All-Star break, Australian Baseball League produced another fascinating round of hard-fought series that reinforced the tightness of the competition and the capacity of any club to play a role in the makeup of the post-season.

 

Despite one impressive result by fifth-placed Sydney Blue Sox (10-14), Melbourne Aces (18-6) came away from Blacktown with a series win that strengthens their position atop the ABL standings, while second-placed Canberra Cavalry (13-11) split its away series with Perth Heat (8-16) – which remains a mathematical longshot for reaching the post-season.

 

Winning the first two games of its away series, Adelaide Bite (12-12) retained its fifty-fifty record after Brisbane Bandits (11-13) produced blistering offence to square their series at Holloway.

 

With four rounds to play, there is plenty riding on the outcome of every game.  

 

While Round Six did little to create separation between the clubs grouped behind the Aces on current ABL standings, there are a few observations that might reasonably be made.

 

First, it is difficult to see – barring catastrophe – how Melbourne Aces could not retain a spot in the top three, and their form appears to point to a probable home Championship Series given the calibre of players this week added to the playing roster. Conversely, while it is mathematically possible for Perth Heat to sneak into third placing, it would be a herculean task that would require between ten and twelve wins from the remaining sixteen.

 

A strong unit in all aspects of the game, Adelaide Bite has the capacity to trouble any side and it will be favoured by many to again make the post-season – especially with three of its final four series to be played at West Beach. Brisbane faces a tough gig down in Melbourne later this week, but will be buoyed by the inclusions of Ryan Rowland-Smith and Trent Oeltjen to bolster an already star-studded pitching staff and offensive lineup that is capable of just about anything.

 

Of the four contenders currently sandwiched between the Melbourne and Perth bookends, we can expect Canberra Cavalry to remain in the hunt while Sydney Blue Sox appears the most vulnerable – with three of its four series (including a trip across the Nullarbor) to be away from Blacktown, where it has enjoyed ninety percent of its playing success this season. A road record of one from eight inspires little confidence – although, as we know, this is a funny old game that can take unanticipated twists and turns to confound any commentator.

 

Plenty will be said during coming days about some of the outstanding – indeed, staggering individual performances in Round Six. Seventy-five runs were scored in four games at Holloway Field, a statistic that owes much to the likes of Mitch Dening – who belted three home runs in one game alone – and class acts in Aaron Whitefield and Donald Lutz, who were among others displaying a capacity to hit the ball hard and long aside from producing some scintillating outfield defence. Counter-balanced with that, we witnessed one of the finest pitching performances of the round at hitter-friendly Holloway when Rick Teasley spun a brilliant scoreless stint for the reigning champion.

 

At home, Perth again demonstrated their capacity to scrap and fight games out against a more highly-touted opponent – on this occasion Canberra Cavalry, which got away once – in Game Three – but was otherwise pushed to the limit by a Heat outfit that retains that wonderful core of stalwarts in the Kennelly brothers, Luke Hughes and Joey Wong, who generated much of the offence production for their side. Cavalry starter Sean Guinard spun perhaps his best start of the season in the Game Three whitewash, while Major Leaguer Warwick Saupold made a welcome return for Perth Heat.

 

Boasting what are by any reasonable judgement the strongest starting pitching options in the league, Melbourne was able to squeeze past its opponent through quality defence and timely hitting. Mark Hamburger, Dushan Ruzic and Jon Kennedy were again superb for the Aces, while Jeremy Guthrie will be far better for his first-up outing. For its part, Sydney has unearthed a veritable gem in Japanese amateur Yuki Katayama during a series that saw Craig Anderson throw another pearler and his side step in big-time in offence – particularly in Game Two – through the likes of the consistent Neuhaus, Stone Garrett, Malik Collymore, the ever-competitive Trent D’Antonio and the vastly improved Jacob Younis, who is now a vital component of the Blue Sox hitting and defence.

 

Another wonderfully competitive round of national baseball competition that deserves far more recognition than is currently provided by the mainstream media and the generally fairly modest crowds in attendance for most games – although, it should be said, Perth is averaging over 1000 per game and Canberra just a tick under that figure for the season thus far.

 

 

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND SIX 2016/17

 

PERTH HEAT versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Barbagallo)

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

After an underachieving first half to the season, Perth made it eminently clear that there is plenty still in the tank for the four-time ABL champion, scoring in five of the eight innings it went to bat and emerging a comprehensive 8-2 winner over Canberra Cavalry in GAME ONE. After starters Conor Lourey (Perth) and Josh de Graaf (Canberra) went scoreless through the first, Perth opened scoring on a Tim Kennelly/Matt Kennelly one-two punch in the second for a lead that was stretched in the fourth – when the aforementioned brothers belted solo home runs. While a two-RBI single by David Kandilas narrowed the gap in the bottom of five – and drew Lex Rutledge from the pen for Lourey – Perth continued to apply the blowtorch with a Luke Hughes RBI single in the equaliser and a game-breaking three in the sixth on a bases-clearing Joey Wong triple. Carding the win, Rutledge received superb closing support from Will Dennis and Cameron Lamb, while the Cavalry paid dearly for an uncharacteristic four defensive errors that generated three unearned runs. Wong (triple and three RBIs), Matt Kennelly (three hits, including the homer), Tim Kennelly (two hits, home run and a walk) and Hughes led a Perth offence that exploited its scoring opportunities, while Josh Almonte (two doubles) and Kandilas were best of a Canberra side that has been joined by Adelaide in second placing – for now, at least.

 

Well-performed Perth Heat starter Tom Bailey landed in strife in the top of the first in GAME TWO, when the Cavalry top order drove in three, an output that was matched by the home club against Canberra righty Louis Cohen. But while it was an ominous start for both arms, the game settled to become a pitching duel through five subsequent innings, with the deadlock only broken in the top of seven – when Robbie Perkins doubled off a tiring Bailey and Aaron Sayers drove him in with a double into centrefield. Spinning seven innings of work for four hits – two of them in the first – Cohen was quite superb in striking out five and not allowing an earned run, while Bailey did a terrific job for Perth after the first innings outburst. With three hits (two doubles) and an RBI, Sayers was productive in offence for Canberra - along with David Kandilas – while Tim Kennelly and Brandon Dale were best of a subdued Perth lineup that could muster just a handful of hits and was well-contained by Zech Lemond and Steve Kent over the last two frames for Canberra to emerge a 4-3 winner after a high-quality contest.

 

The first of a Saturday twin-bill, GAME THREE opened brightly for the Cavalry, which plated a two-out first-innings run when David Kandilas singled and Mike Reeves doubled to score him from first. Looking strong early, Canberra starter Sean Guinard kept tabs on the Perth hitters, while Michael Lee was helped out with a slick double in the bottom of two. The Heat passed up a golden opportunity in the bottom of four – loading the bases with none out before Guinard stepped up for two strikeouts and a ground ball to keep the home club scoreless. Robbie Perkins went deep in the top of five to stretch the Canberra lead to two and Kandilas hit safely to score a third for the Cavalry in the sixth and draw Will Dennis from the pen to replace Lee – who had struck out eight over 5.1. Inheriting a runner at second, Dennis conceded an RBI-single to Boss Moanaroa and his replacement Scott Mitchinson was taken for a three-run bomb by Josh Almonte that effectively put the game beyond reach of the Heat offence. While Adam Millson retired the Cavalry in the top of seven, the assignment was a bridge too far for the Heat offence and the visitors posted a comprehensive 7-0 result engineered largely by the superb Guinard outing (three hits, six strikeouts over five) and the offence provided by Almonte, Robbie Perkins, Kandilas and Reeves.

 

Canberra took the early challenge to Heat starter Nick Veale in GAME FOUR, plating two on timely hitting by Robbie Perkins and Kyle Perkins, although the home side responded immediately with a three-spot on a string of five singles off Scott Cone, who was relieved by Jackson Lowery in the bottom of four. Walking Alex Hall, Joey Wong and Luke Hughes, Lowery was held to account when his reliever Tyler Herr was taken for a two-RBI single by Tim Kennelly that handed Perth a three-run break that was shaved by one on a sacrifice flyball in the top of five. Doubles to Joey Wong and Tim Kennelly scored a sixth for the Heat in the bottom of six. Facing a three-run deficit, the Cavalry revived their flagging hopes when Boss Moanaroa blasted a solo home run off Warwick Saupold in the top of eight. With their side looking for insurance in the bottom of the frame, Alex Hall walked, Derek Peterson singled and Tim Kennelly drew a pass for the Heat before Brandon Dale stroked an RBI-single to give Perth a three run buffer that was protected by Saupold as his side posted an impressive 7-4 win. Veale carded the win and Saupold the save for Perth, which amassed fifteen hits on the back of mighty efforts by Tim Kennelly (three hits and three ribbies), Brandon Dale (three and one), Matt Kennelly (three hits) and Sam Kennelly (one and two), while Moanaroa, Kyle Perkins and Josh Almonte provided the bulk of the offence for Canberra.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus MELBOURNE ACES (Blacktown Sportspark)

 

Melbourne won this series 3-1.

 

Sydney starter Trevor Foss breezed through the first of GAME ONE, while Melbourne ace Mark Hamburger was tagged by Stone Garrett in the equaliser for a solo shot over leftfield, drawing an immediate reply from the visitors – who plated two as the Blue Sox defence faltered under pressure. Subsequently struggling for hitting production against right-armer Foss, the Aces landed runners at the corners in the top of five and Roman Collins singled for a two-run lead. The Blue Sox made their move in the bottom of six, when singles to Malik Collymore, Tucker Neuhaus and Michael Campbell loaded the bases – with one out – before Sydney catcher Guy Edmonds tied the game with a grounder that scored two. Conceding just two hits and whiffing eight over a superb six innings of work, Foss handed the pill to Gyoung-Wan Lim for two innings of hitless, scoreless work. Given the ball for Sydney in the top of nine, Josh Guyer conceded singles to Wigberto Nevarez and Liam Bedford before Jared Cruz laid down a sacrifice and the Aces lost a runner at the plate – leaving the two-out assignment to Cody Jones, who singled for the go-ahead. Called upon by Aces management for his first playing appearance this season, Peter Moylan conceded a lead-off hit to Jacob Younis before some ragged defence forced an intentional pass – to danger man Trent D’Antonio - to load the bases with one out. Whiffing Malik Collymore and Stone Garrett in order, Moylan earned the save as Melbourne closed out the game 4-3 – a result that again owed plenty to a superb start by Hamburger (eight innings for eleven strikeouts and three earned runs). Collecting just five hits, the Aces made the most of scoring opportunities against a Blue Sox opponent that was well-served by Younis (three hits), Neuhaus and Campbell (two each).

 

Sending Major Leaguer Jeremy Guthrie to the hill in GAME TWO, Melbourne passed up a scoring opportunity in the first and conceded a massive early lead when Blue Sox lead-off Trent D’Antonio, rightfielder Stone Garrett and third-sacker Tucker Neuhaus all doubled and Michael Campbell hit safely to collectively deliver three runs and a nice buffer for Sydney starter Craig Anderson. With two out in the top of two, the Aces scored their first on a muffed flyball and came up short of converting an opportunity in the third. Clearly hyped up for this contest, Sydney surged further ahead in the bottom of four, when an RBI-double by D’Antonio and a two-run single by Malik Collymore gave the Sox a five-run break - as Anderson continued to contain a Melbourne offence that was clearly missing livewire Ronald Acuna. Relieving Guthrie in the bottom of five, Matt Wilson coughed up a double, an RBI-single to Jacob Younis and a run-scoring HPB to stretch the Sydney lead against an uncharacteristically ragged Aces defence. Vaughan Harris replaced Anderson and the Blue Sox scored a ninth off Aces reliever Jeremy Young. While Darryl George drove in a run with his first hit for the Aces this season, the assignment was well out of reach as Todd van Steensel closed out the game 9-2 in favour of Sydney. Carding another win for his club, Anderson received great offensive support from Neuhaus (three hits and an RBI), D’Antonio (two and two), Younis (one and two), Collymore and Garrett, while a sluggish offensive effort was shared among several Aces players.

 

Smarting from a heavy Friday night loss and looking to big man Dushan Ruzic in GAME THREE, Melbourne had an early opportunity, although it was the Sox who struck first on a two-out Tucker Neuhaus RBI double. The response came in the third, when Brad Harman doubled off Sydney starter Luke Wilkins to score Cody Jones, and Allan de San Miguel swatted a two-RBI double for a two run Aces lead as Ruzic took charge on the hill. Continuing to create opportunities, the Aces came up short in the top of six, stranding runners at second and third in what had developed into a pitching contest. Walking Malik Collymore and conceding a soft single to Stone Garrett in the equaliser, Ruzic induced an infield double and was relieved by Josh Tols after another terrific outing (5.2 inn for five hits). While Michael Campbell singled to plate up the inherited runner for Sydney, Tols was super-efficient for the Aces before handing the pill to Sam Street to face the heart of the Blue Sox order in the bottom of eight – when hits to Neuhaus and Campbell drew Peter Moylan from the pen with second and third occupied. Jacob Younis singled into rightfield to score both and hand Sydney the lead before Sven Schuller was called upon in the top of nine. With the Aces landing runners at second and third – and one out – a Brad Harman fielder’s choice plated Dale to level the scores and Roman Collins delivered the go-ahead with a single into leftfield. Mike Walker’s RBI-single gave the Aces a two-run break that was protected by winning pitcher Moylan as the Aces held on for a 6-4 win. Jones, Harman, Collins, de San Miguel and Walker were prominent with the bat for Melbourne, while Garrett, Neuhaus, Campbell and Younis posted two knocks apiece for the Blue Sox.

 

Looking to square the series in GAME FOUR – a New Year’s Day afternoon fixture – Sydney was on the board in the second, when Jacob Younis drove in Tucker Neuhaus off well-performed Aces starter Jon Kennedy. Dominant early days, Blue Sox starter Yuki Katayama retired the first twelve hitters he saw – including seven strikeouts – while Kennedy was outstanding in holding the Sydney offence as the game rollicked along. A Mike Walker lead-off double broke the sequence for the Japanese amateur, who conceded another double – a run-scoring stroke to Allan de San Miguel that levelled the score before a single to Wigberto Nevarez, a walk to Liam Bedford and a Jared Cruz single handed the Aces a two-run lead in the fifth. Aaron Sookee relieved Katayama - who had made a stunning ABL debut for the Blue Sox – while Brandon Stenhouse took the ball for Melbourne in the bottom of six. Liam Bedford hit safely to lead off the seventh for the Aces and the Sox turned a slick double play before Jarryd Dale scored on a Cody Jones double into the leftfield corner. Replacing Stenhouse in the equaliser, Virgil Vasquez stranded Younis at second after his lead-off double, a pop-up and a pair of strikeouts. With both clubs engaging their bullpens in the later innings, Sydney issued an eighth innings challenge with runners at first and second, although Vasquez was again up to the task in saving a 4-1 result for the visitors. Kennedy took the win and Katayama a tough loss in his impressive first-up outing for the Blue Sox – who were well-held in offence despite the contributions of Younis and Neuhaus.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

BRISBANE BANDITS versus ADELAIDE BITE (Holloway Field)

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

Zac Treece (Brisbane) and Max MacNabb (Adelaide) both started strongly on the hill in GAME ONE, although the Bite was on the board early after Josh Altmann wore a pitch, advanced on a passed ball and a sacrifice fly before scoring on a Marcus Greene grounder. Already figuring prominently for the Bandits behind the dish, Tampa Bay prospect David Rodriguez swatted an RBI single and himself crossed the plate on a grounder, although Bite leftfielder LeDarious Clark singled to level scores in the top of five. Relieving Treece after a solid first five (four hits and four strikeouts for one earned run), seasoned professional Ty’Relle Harris was replaced by sidewinder Sam Holland to retire the Bite with runners at the corners. Donald Lutz doubled for Brisbane in the seventh to draw Matt Williams from the pen to replace McNabb – who had been impressive over 5.1 (seven hits, two RBIs). Collecting his third hit of the evening, Rodriguez doubled to drive in a go-ahead for the Bandits, who went to Matt Timms in the top of eight, when a fielding error and a wild pitch set the table for Mitch Dening – who delivered with a two-run blast over right-centre to hand the Bite a narrow lead. Called on in the bottom of eight, Loek van Mil held sway for the visitors before Clark stretched the lead for Adelaide by cracking a three-run bomb off Timms in the top of nine. A solo shot by Jordan Cowan made the task even tougher for the Adelaide side, who emerged – in the end - a comfortable 8-3 winner. Williams carded the win and van Mil the save for Adelaide, whose offence was dominated by Clark (two hits, including the home run, for four RBIs), Dening (two hits – with the homer – for two RBIs), Cowan and Angus Roeger, while Rodriguez (three hits and two ribbies), Kevin Padlo and Mitch Nilsson were best for the Bandits.

 

Adelaide busted out aggressively in GAME TWO, with LeDarious Clark hitting safely off Brisbane starter Kramer Champlin, stealing second and scoring on a Mitch Dening single before Jordan Cowan crossed the plate on a grounder. Starting for Adelaide, Taylor Hawkins was accorded further support when Clark lashed a two-RBI double in the second before being gunned down on a relay from Donald Lutz reaching for third. Down four zip, the Bandits were under further pressure when Dening hit safely, Josh Altmann doubled and Stefan Welch singled – with none out – for a fifth run that brought Simon Morriss from the pen for Champlin. A sacrifice fly scored a sixth for the Bite before Brisbane hit back – only to see the Bite scoot away again, including a massive two-run homer by Dening. A three-run blast by Ryan Battaglia and a run in the bottom of five gave the Bandits a chance as Adelaide went to Greg Mosel, who conceded another in the sixth and loaded the bases by passing up danger man Lutz to get at in-form Kevin Padlo – who drew a pass to score a second for the frame. A wild pitch made it a one-run ball game that was stretched again when Dening left the yard for a second time – this time off Rhys Niit – and Marcus Greene followed suit with a blast over leftfield. When Dening incredibly again went deep in the eighth it looked rocky for the Bandits, who hit back with two in the ninth but were overpowered 13-10 in the end. Amassing eighteen hits to ten across eight contributors, the Bite was guided in extraordinary fashion by Dening (five hits – including three home runs – for six RBIs), while Mitch Nilsson, Aaron Whitefield, Lutz and Battaglia were terrific for the Bandits.

 

Aaron Whitefield gave Brisbane the perfect start in a seven-inning GAME THREE with a booming solo homer off Steve Chambers – a blast that was followed up by a two-run shot to Donald Lutz for a three zip lead. Stefan Welch took Justin Erasmus deep in the top of two and the Bite scored a second when Marcus Greene doubled and scooted home on a grounder to the right side. In perfect slugging conditions with a favourable breeze blowing to rightfield, David Sutherland smacked the fourth round-tripper of the game to give the Bandits a two-run break after two – a lead that was stretched further in the third by a long RBI single to David Rodriguez and a two-out hit by Connor Macdonald that scored Thomas Milone and chased Chambers from the hill.  Welch singled to lead off the fourth for Adelaide, advanced on a wild pitch and scored when Angus Roeger hit safely up the middle – although Erasmus was up to the task by stranding two runners on base and Whitefield delivered insurance for the Bandits with another solo round tripper, this time off Bite reliever Jackson Brebner-Russ. Relieving Erasmus after four (seven hits for three earned runs), Sam Holland walked Jordan Cowan before Dening reached on an error, Josh Altmann smacked an RBI double and Welch tugged a grounder to the right side to score a fifth for Adelaide. When Greene stroked an RBI-single it was a one run ball game and curtains for Holland, who handed the pill to Ryan Searle with bases juiced and one out. A two-out single by LeDarious Clark tied the contest at seven apiece before a runner was lost at the plate and Macdonald crushed a straightaway home run to regain the lead for Brisbane in the bottom of five. Productive hitting by Rodriguez, Wade Dutton and Sutherland stretched the Bandits lead to six – a lead that was halved in the last when Jordan McArdle lashed a three-run moonshot for Adelaide before the game was called 13-10 in favour of Brisbane.

 

After Brisbane starter Daniel Nilsson breezed through the first of GAME FOUR, Detroit teenage prospect Jack O’Loughlin came under fire for Adelaide in the equaliser – conceding five on a combination of clean hitting, a walk, two defensive errors and a sacrifice flyball. Back-to-back passes by Nilsson created a serious opportunity for the Bite, who cashed in with a Marcus Greene RBI-single and a two-out, three- run homer to Connar O’Gorman. Jordan Cowan walked for Adelaide in the top of three, stole second and crossed the plate on a Stefan Welch single that levelled the scores and brought Rick Teasley from the pen in place of Nilsson. Thomas Milone regained the lead for Brisbane with a monster solo blast in the bottom of three and the home side applied the blowtorch in the fifth, when Bite reliever Tyler Chappell was tagged for a three-spot – assisted by two errors, a wild pitch and another booming homer off the bat of Aaron Whitefield as the Bandits continued to rack up the hits. Dominant on the hill through the middle innings, Teasley continued to put up zeroes while amassing strikeouts against an opponent that called upon Nathan Van Der Linden to stem the flow with runners on and Whitefield at the plate. When Logan Wade tugged a two-run hit into rightfield in the seventh, it was a seemingly insurmountable eight-run lead to the Bandits, who summoned Matt Timms to close out the game 13-5. Teasley earned the win with a terrific outing for Brisbane (5.1 scoreless innings for five hits and nine strikeouts), who had nine players contribute to the hit parade – highlighted by Whitefield (four hits, including a home run, for three RBIs), Connor Macdonald (three hits and two RBIs), Milone (two and two, including a home run), Wade (two and one) and David Rodriguez (two and one). O’Gorman (two hits, with a home run, for three RBIs) and Marcus Greene (three hits, an RBI and a walk) were best with the bat for Adelaide.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR