Aces clear, Bandits, Bite win through

Kingsley Collins

29 January 2017

 

After several weeks of conjecture and permutations it has come to this – Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane have qualified in that order for Australian Baseball League playoffs, with the first stanza scheduled for next weekend.

 

Finishing its regular season strongly, reigning titleholder Brisbane Bandits (21-18) is third in final standings after knocking Canberra Cavalry (20-20) out of contention with a thrilling series win at Narrabundah, while second-placed Adelaide Bite (23-17) cemented its spot with a home series win over a valiant Sydney Blue Sox (15-24).

 

Regardless of its last-game loss to Perth Heat (14-26), Melbourne Aces (26-14) will finish well clear atop the table and will head straight to the Championship Series at Altona, while the Bite and Bandits will meet in a three-game Preliminary Final series starting on Friday night.  

 

While Melbourne and Adelaide were expected by most to retain the spots they held prior to Round Ten, for the Aces the confirmation came – for them – without a pitch being thrown, when Sydney Blue Sox edged home from Adelaide on Thursday night. Still looking healthy after Brisbane downed Canberra in their series opener, the Bite made doubly sure of remaining clear in second with three subsequent wins over Sydney – one of them in a blowout, the other two under genuine competitive pressure.

 

Having a strong post-Christmas – even without Donald Lutz for the past fortnight – Brisbane dropped its second game to Canberra before pinching a thrilling extra-innings tiebreaker on Saturday and overpowering the Cavalry in Game Four to ensure that the potential make-up game for an earlier washout would not be required.

 

The Preliminary Final series will commence in Adelaide on Friday night (3 February), with the second game in Brisbane on Saturday and the third – if required – also at Holloway Field. The winner of that series will qualify for a crack at Melbourne Aces in a best of three Championship Series at Melbourne Ballpark starting on Friday 10 February.

 

2016/17 has been an interesting and – probably for many – quite a challenging and difficult season as Baseball Australia and the state associations have sought to adjust to the withdrawal of Major League Baseball as principal stakeholder. While much will be said over coming weeks and months about where the league is at and how well or otherwise it has adapted, there are two matters that stand out as real positives.

 

First, without the financial support of MLB and without its central role in administration, management, marketing, media and communications, the Australian Baseball League has been required - for its survival and development this season - to rely far more on local personnel in all of those vital areas. There are many who believe that this far greater and necessary reliance on local resources will help stand the league in much greater stead if it is to flourish into the future.

 

Secondly, attendances have in seven seasons never consistently approached the expectation expressed at the beginning, when a figure of 1500 people per game was touted by league administration as the “break even” number. While season attendances have in fact steadily dropped in some states, this weekend’s round generated some outstanding and quite surprising figures – including 2864 spectators at the Heat game on Saturday night, 1893 at Narrabundah and 1235 at West Beach in Adelaide for a dead rubber.

 

While there may be specific circumstances that help account for the impressive Round Ten attendances, we need to have faith that perhaps the often hard slog of the past seven seasons is beginning to pay dividends as more baseball people form a relationship with a particular club and as more sports-minded people in the broader community – especially families – are becoming more attuned to the attractions of our great game.

 

Now, and especially over the off-season, is not the time for any complacency or self-congratulatory indulgence. It is the time for league and club administrations, employees and volunteers to double and redouble their collective efforts and build upon the foundations laid over seven seasons. With so much experienced by so many, and with so much surely learned over the past several months, 2016/17 may - in time - well become a watershed season for the Australian Baseball League.  

 

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND TEN 2016/17

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus BRISBANE BANDITS (Narrabundah)

 

Brisbane won this series 3-1.

 

Going head-to-head with Cavalry ace Brian Grening, Brisbane starter Rick Teasley conceded a run in the bottom of the first of GAME ONE when Josh Almonte tripled to the rightfield wall and scored on a David Kandilas grounder. Super-efficient through the early innings, Grening was dominant for the home club, which had a chance in the bottom of four but came up empty before a fifth innings assault by the Bandits that gleaned four – compliments of an Aaron Whitefield RBI-single and a three-run homer by Trent Oeltjen. Singles to David Rodriguez and Logan Wade combined with an error to load the bases for Brisbane in the top of six before David Sutherland swatted a sacrifice fly and Tyler Herr was called from the pen. The Cavalry scrambled a run back in the bottom of the frame and the Bandits summoned Zac Treece to replace Teasley, who had been solid over six for six hits, two strikeouts, twelve ground balls and two earned runs. Aaron Sloan walked and Scott Kelly wore a pitch in the bottom of seven to place runners at first and second with one out for the Cavalry, but both were left stranded. Replacing Herr, AJ Holland walked Rodriguez and Wade – who both advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a Kevin Padlo single before Josh DeGraaf was handed the pill with it all threatening to unravel for the Cavalry. An RBI-single to Aaron Whitefield gave the Bandits a six-run lead that was pegged back by a couple – and another in the bottom of nine – before Ryan Searle closed out the game 8-5 in favour of Brisbane. Teasley earned the win in a contest that was decided largely by the timely hitting of Oeltjen (home run for three RBIs), Whitefield (two hits and two ribbies) and Padlo (one and two), while Boss Moanaroa (four hits and a walk) was outstanding with the stick for Canberra.

 

The Bandits were on the board early in GAME TWO, taking Canberra starter Louis Cohen for a first innings run on a Trent Oeltjen double and a David Rodriguez RBI-single. With Cohen settling into his work and Kramer Champlin well in control for the Bandits – at one point retiring ten hitters on the trot – there was little happening in offence until the bottom of six, when DJ Davis singled, advanced on a bunt and scored on a Josh Almonte double that levelled the scores and brought Zac Treece from the pen. When Treece let a pick-off get away, Almonte scooted home to hand the Cavalry a one-run lead, while Cohen continued to contain the Brisbane offence and the visitors called on Justin Erasmus in the bottom of seven. When Jason Sloan doubled, Aaron Sayers hit safely and Aaron Sloan followed suit it was a three-run break for the Cavalry and the showers for an uncharacteristically wayward Erasmus – who was relieved by Sam Holland with his side facing an uphill battle. Replacing Cohen after a superb seven innings for five hits, a walk and four strikeouts for the sole earned run, set-up man Tim Atherton breezed through the top of eight before power arm Zech Lemond was called upon to close out the game 4-1 in favour of Canberra – which edged back into third placing with two games to play. Cohen earned the win and Lemond the save for a Cavalry outfit that out-hit its opponent seven to five in a cracking contest dominated by the pitchers and that was decided with that mid-game flurry by the home club.

 

With their season on the line for both clubs, GAME THREE went scoreless through the first as starters Sean Guinard (Canberra) and Ryan Rowland-Smith made their presence felt before powerhouse catcher David Rodriguez took Guinard deep in the top of the second, Logan Wade followed suit over the right-centre wall and David Sutherland blasted another solo shot for a three-zip lead to a Bandits outfit intent on doing offensive damage. The response was decisive, however, with Boss Moanaroa hitting safely and Robbie Perkins blasting a two-run shot over left-centre in the bottom of the frame before the Cavalry squared the ledger on an RBI-double by David Kandilas in the third. Wade singled and Kevin Padlo doubled to score again for the Bandits in the top of four and spell the end for Guinard, who was relieved by Andrew Case. Continuing to press, Canberra landed runners on second and third in the bottom of four – for no result – and Rowland-Smith was relieved by Ty’Relle Harris after Scott Kelly belted a lead-off double in the bottom of five. Josh Almonte doubled to level the scores and Tyler Herr relieved for Canberra in the top of seven, while Brisbane called upon Matt Timms in the set-up capacity. Steve Kent breezed through the top of eight for Canberra before Zac Treece took over for Brisbane in the equaliser as both clubs sought to gain an advantage. Boss Moanaroa singled on a soft grounder and Jason Sloan drew a walk – with one out – before Ryan Searle was called into the fray for a Bandits side equally desperate for a win. With Almonte hitting safely at two out in the bottom of nine, Canberra supporters were seriously deflated when David Kandilas flied out on a well-hit ball that was speared by Aaron Whitefield at the wall. With the tie-breaker in place, Rodriguez swatted a two-out RBI-double off Zech Lemond in the top of eleven – for a one-run break that translated into a 5-4 win for the Brisbane Bandits. Searle earned the win in a terrific, evenly-matched and errorless contest that featured standout offensive performances by Rodriguez (three hits – including a home run – for two RBIs), Logan Wade, Sutherland and Padlo, while Almonte (three hits and an RBI), Robbie Perkins (home run for two ribbies), Moanaroa and Kandilas were prime movers for the Cavalry.

 

Already looking good for a Preliminary Final berth, Brisbane was out of the blocks in a rush for GAME FOUR, taking Cavalry starter Scott Cone for three in the top of the first – thanks to three successive passes, a David Rodriguez two-run double and a ground ball. Taking the ball for the Bandits, Simon Morriss conceded a run in the bottom of the frame, but his side hit back in the top of three with a Logan Wade RBI-single that drew Josh DeGraaf from the Cavalry pen in relief. Aaron Whitefield singled in the top of five and Rodriguez smacked a two-run bomb to increase the Bandits’ lead – although Kyle Perkins hit back with a solo round-tripper in the equaliser. Already ahead by four, Brisbane did further damage with three off Jackson Lowery in the top of six – aided by an error, a sacrifice fly ball and a fielders choice – while Sam Holland and Justin Erasmus combined for a scoreless couple of innings. Canberra teenager Brodie Vassalakis was impressive in quelling the Brisbane offence over two innings, although his club faced an herculean task made even tougher when Thomas Milone belted a two-RBI double in the top of nine before Matt Timms was called upon to close out the game 11-2 in favour of the Bandits. This was a dominant and almost imperious win for Brisbane, although the Cavalry committed an uncharacteristic five errors and conceded five unearned runs. Erasmus earned the win for an outfit that was well-served again by Rodriguez (home run and double, for four RBIs), Milone (two hits and a walk, for two RBIs), Wade (a hit and two ribbies) and Kevin Padlo (two hits, two walks), while Scott Kelly (three hits), Jason Sloan and Kyle Perkins were best in offence for Canberra.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

ADELAIDE BITE versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX (West Beach)

 

Adelaide won this series 3-1.

 

After a sedate first innings of GAME ONE, Sydney was on the march in the top of the second, loading the bases off Bite starter Jack O’Loughlin with successive hits to Jacob Younis, Josh Dean and Michael Campbell. A sacrifice flyball by Guy Edmonds opened the scoring for Sydney, although O’Loughlin was able to escape the innings with minimal damage and the Bite hit back in equaliser on an Angus Roeger RBI-double, a mishandled single by Connar O’Gorman and a Jordan Cowan hit for a two-run break. Responding in the top of three, Sydney drew level on a Tucker Neuhaus sacrifice flyball and a RBI-single to Younis. Loading the bases in the bottom of four, the Bite were unable to capitalise before the Sox issued their own challenge with bases juiced and one out in the top of five – a situation that they translated into a two run lead on force plays. Replacing Foss in the bottom of the frame, Vaughan Harris loaded the bases on a walk and two singles, but escaped the innings with just one run against his name – on a sacrifice flyball by Jordan McArdle. While reliever Matt Williams kept tabs on the Blue Sox hitters, the Bite was unable to make further inroads against Gyoung-Wan Lim and set-up man Josh Guyer before Jordan Cowan smacked a lead-off double in the bottom of nine to give Adelaide a chance against Todd van Steensel. Although Stefan Welch drew a HPB and Josh Altmann a walk to load the bases with two out, van Steensel was up to the task by whiffing Roeger and nailing a 5-4 win for the Blue Sox – to effectively guarantee a Championship Series for the Melbourne Aces. Among five Sydney pitchers who collectively amassed fifteen strikeouts, Harris earned the win and van Steensel the save in a thrilling game that saw nine Sox players post base hits – with the standout being Younis (three hits and an RBI) – while Cowan (three hits, an RBI and a walk), Roeger and Altmann were best in offence for a Bite side that still has work to do in this series.

 

Adelaide starter Sean Callegari struck out the Blue Sox side in the first of GAME TWO and his side was quickly on the offensive, taking Sydney evergreen Craig Anderson for a four-spot in the bottom of the second – highlighted with a bases-clearing double by Karl Hoschke. Two singles and a HPB enabled Sydney to challenge in the top of four - which produced a run on a ground ball – although Callegari continued to rack up the strikeouts. Both going deep into the contest, Callegari and Anderson put up zeroes through the middle innings before Sydney called upon Todd Grattan to keep his side in the contest. Jordan Cowan drew a two-out walk and Mitch Dening restored the four-run break when he belted an RBI-double into leftfield and the well-performed Greg Mosel was called into action to relieve Callegari – who was quite outstanding over seven (six hits, seven strikeouts and one earned run). Mounting an eleventh-hour challenge for Sydney, Stone Garrett doubled with one out in the top of nine and advanced on a Tucker Neuhaus single to put runners at the corners – a situation made for Jacob Younis, who hit safely to score Garrett before Michael Campbell went down swinging and southpaw Hei Chun Lee was called from the pen to retire Josh Dean and wrap up the game 5-2 in favour of the Adelaide Bite. Earning the win with a terrific outing, Callegari was supported by a solid Bite defence and hitting contributions from Hoschke (a hit and three RBIs), Marcus Greene (two hits), Angus Roeger (two hits), Dening and McArdle, while Garrett, Malik Collymore, Neuhaus and Younis were best in offence for the Blue Sox.

 

Sydney had a chance in the first of GAME THREE but came up empty against Bite starter Devon Barker before Michael Campbell doubled and Josh Dean hit safely to open scoring for the Blue Sox in the second, when defensive lapses cost the Bite dearly as the visitors strolled to a three-zip lead. Having a terrific season, Sox starter Luke Wilkins ran into strife in the second, when Stefan Welch walked, Angus Roeger doubled and Welch crossed the plate on a wild pitch. Adelaide tacked on another to draw level in the fourth and Sydney passed up a scoring opportunity in the top of five before the home side issued a challenge in the equaliser, when Mitch Dening hit safely, Stefan Welch walked, Roeger forced a fielding error and Marcus Greene drew a bases-loaded pass and Jordan McArdle took Sox reliever Gyoung-Wan Lim for a booming grand slam that gave the Bite a five-run break. Not about to offer any mercy to the visitors, Adelaide conjured up a seven-spot in the bottom of six – on three walks and five hits, including a bases-clearing drive by Jordan Cowan. It was a deflating game for the Blue Sox, who were ultra-competitive early on before being overpowered 15-3 by an Adelaide outfit that will be cherry-ripe going into the Preliminary Final next weekend. Conceding six runs on errors, Sydney had solid offensive contributors in Campbell and Dean (two hits apiece), but was outgunned by a rampant Bite lineup headed by McArdle (grand slam and five RBIs), Dening (four hits), Cowan (three hits and an RBI), Welch (two and one, with two walks) and Greene (two and one, with a walk).

 

Stone Garrett gave Sydney the perfect start in GAME FOUR with a solo first innings homer off Ky Hampton, but the Adelaide offence responded emphatically with a three-spot in the bottom of the second, when Bas Nooij singled off Yuki Katayama, Karl Hoschke reached on a throwing error and Connar O’Gorman left the yard with a three-run bomb for a confident home club. AC Carter doubled in the bottom of five to score another for Adelaide, who called on James Snelgrove for an innings of work before Steve Chambers was put under pressure in the top of seven, when a HPB and three hits – including a Ryo Nishimura triple – plated two for the Blue Sox. Wringing the pitching changes, the Bite escaped the eighth and ninth to emerge a 4-3 winner over Sydney, which had showed real heart to rebound from a Saturday drubbing. Hampton earned the win and Hei Chun Lee the save for Adelaide, whose standout in offence was O’Gorman, while Jacob Younis (two hits), Michael Campbell (two hits), Josh Dean (two) and Garrett (home run) were productive with the bat.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

PERTH HEAT versus MELBOURNE ACES (Barbagallo Ballpark)

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

Approaching the contest with serious intent against Melbourne ace Mark Hamburger, Perth opened scoring early in GAME ONE when lead-off Joey Wong doubled and crossed the plate on a Derek Peterson single. Heading to the hill for the Heat, left-armer Lex Rutledge was dominant early and was accorded run support in the bottom of three, when Tim Kennelly stroked a two-out double and scored on Peterson’s second hit of the game. Exploiting a Perth defensive error, the Aces plated a run in the top of four, but that was the extent of the offence offered by the visitors – who could muster just two hits for the evening as Perth went to winning pitcher Scott Mitchinson, Will Dennis and Warwick Saupold to shut down the last five innings. While Peterson (two hits and two RBIs) was decisive with the bat for Perth, Hamburger spun another outstanding game for the Aces (seven innings for six hits and one earned run – albeit without his usual quota of strikeouts). Although the 2-1 result in favour of Perth meant naught in the context of the playoff race, beating the league leader was surely a great fillip for the Heat – who showed that there has been very little between six teams despite their own disappointing winning record this season.

 

Continuing his productive recent form, Derek Peterson smacked an RBI single off Virgil Vasquez to hand Perth an early lead in GAME TWO – the first of a Saturday twinbill – before the Aces threatened in the top of the three, when Liam Bedford doubled, Kelii Zablan singled and Jared Cruz drew a walk to load the bases with one out against Heat starter Tom Bailey. A passed ball, a Roman Collins sacrifice fly ball and an Allan de San Miguel single gleaned three for the Aces, who forged further ahead when Liam Bedford smacked a solo homer in the fourth. While Vasquez remained in control, the Heat relieved with Cameron Lamb, Daniel Schmidt and Jake Bowey as the Aces took advantage of defensive blunders to stroll away with three in the top of six. Calling upon vastly experienced David Fischer for his first relief outing with the club, Melbourne Aces posted a 7-1 result in a contest that was decided largely by Heat defensive errors – and the six unearned runs that they gifted. Vasquez carded the win and both clubs amassed just seven hits, with the Aces best served by Bedford and Collins while Joey Wong and Tim Kennelly had a pair of knocks each for the Heat.

 

With both sides playing for pride rather than anything else, GAME THREE developed into a pitching duel dominated early by Michael Lee (Perth) and Josh Tols (Melbourne), both of whom put up zeroes until the Heat broke the deadlock in the bottom of four, when an error, a Derek Peterson single and a Matt Kennelly sacrifice flyball gleaned a run for the home side. While the Aces had their chances – and did not at all benefit from losing runners on base in big plays – Lee was outstanding over seven before conceding a hit to Kelli Zablan and a walk to Roman Collins. Relieving with two out, Justin D’Alessandro walked Mike Walker and Brad Harman delivered big time with a two-RBI single into leftfield. Still not done with, the Heat landed runners on base off Dushan Ruzic in the bottom of the frame, but were thwarted by a stunning play at the plate before Jon Kennedy was called upon to close out the game 2-1 in favour of Melbourne. While Tols and Lee were superb for their respective clubs, Ruzic carded the save in a game that was decided offensively off the bat of defensive superstar Harman (two hits and two RBIs), while Peterson (a hit and two walks), Tim Kennelly (hit and walk) and Matt Kennelly were best of a subdued Heat lineup.

 

Although there was precious little riding also on GAME FOUR, both sides went with quality as Nick Veale took the start for Perth and Red Sox prospect Dan McGrath headed to the hill for the Aces – who drew first blood when Jared Cruz smacked a solo home run in the top of three and Perth responded with a two-RBI Joey Wong double after the Melbourne southpaw had issued two passes. A two-out walk and a single in the fourth spelled the end for McGrath, who was relieved by Sam Street in a difficult situation not helped by a couple of defensive errors that allowed the home side in for a three-spot. A James Beresford double, a wild pitch and a Roman Collins single in the sixth brought the Aces back within three as both clubs looked to their bullpens. Relieving Jeremy Young for Melbourne in the seventh, Brandon Stenhouse coughed up a two-out walk and a single that were converted in spades when John Riley blasted a shot over the leftfield wall to stretch the Perth lead to six. Calling on Will Dennis and Warwick Saupold to hold the line, Perth went to Adam Millson to close out the game 8-2 in favour of the home club. Veale carded the win with six innings of quality work (four hits and four strikeouts for two earned runs) in a team offensive effort led by Riley (two hits, including the homer, for three RBIs), Joey Wong (hit and two RBIs) and Ulrich Bojarski (two hits and an RBI), while Cruz, Beresford and Collins were good with the stick for Melbourne.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR