Let the playoffs begin

Kingsley Collins

27 January 2018

 

Those "unlikely" scenarios leading into the final round of Australian Baseball League proved to be just that – unlikely - with the final four now settled as focus shifts to the Semi-Finals starting on Friday.

 

After splitting its series against Canberra Cavalry (24-15), Brisbane Bandits (28-11) will finish atop the Australian Baseball League standings and will be host club against Melbourne Aces (17-23) – which will finish fourth after splitting its away series against Perth Heat (26-14).

 

The Heat could not be dislodged from second, which will qualify them for a home semi-final series against Canberra Cavalry, while Sydney Blue Sox (13-27) and Adelaide Bite (11-29) have ended their seasons in contrasting fashions – with the Sox falling away and the Bite finishing on a positive note despite its sixth placing.       

 

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus BRISBANE BANDITS

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

The Bandits made their presence felt early in GAME ONE, when Donald Lutz drew a walk from Canberra starter Brian Grening and TJ Bennett left the yard with a two-run shot in the first, although the home team responded immediately against Justin Erasmus – as David Kandilas singled and Jay Baum blasted a two-run homer in the equaliser. Andrew Campbell smacked a lead-off bomb for Brisbane in the second and Cam Warner followed suit for the Cavalry before his side edged ahead when Kyle Perkins took Brisbane reliever Travis Blackley deep in the fourth. After three scoreless middle innings, Grening conceded a run in the top of seven – on a booming triple by Logan Wade, followed by an RBI-single to David Sutherland that drew Tyler Herr from the pen for the Cavalry. After a clean two innings by Pat Young, the Bandits called upon Zac Treece, while Canberra went to Tayler Saucedo to toss a scoreless eighth inning. While Dan Lietz kept tabs on the Brisbane offence in the top of nine, the Cavalry was unable to mount a charge against Matt Timms and Ryan Searle – who combined to close out the game 5-4, and in so doing eliminate any chance of Canberra securing first placing in the standings. Young carded the win for Brisbane, who had standout hitters in Bennett, Wade, Campbell and Sutherland, while Baum, Warner and Kyle Perkins were best of the Cavalry offence. Official attendance:  929

 

David Kandilas singled, stole second and scored on an error early in GAME TWO and the Kandy Man doubled the lead with a solo shot off Bandits starter Tim Atherton in the third. Responding to the challenge, Brisbane big man Donald Lutz launched a massive bomb in the top of four to spoil a brilliant start by Canberra lefty Frank Gailey – who continued to mow the Bandits down despite the Lutz blow. A two-run Jay Baum homer headlined a three-run fifth for the Cavalry, who despatched Sean Guinard to the hill in relief of a remarkable start by Gailey (six innings, one hit and seven strikeouts). After conceding a run and leaving two on base, Guinard handed the pill to southpaw Tayler Saucedo, who was hardly assisted by some errant defence as the Bandits forced three across the plate to draw within a run before the home club played some silky defence in escaping a difficult situation in the eighth. Called upon to close out the game, Michael Click was customarily efficient in retiring the three hitters he saw for a 5-4 Canberra win that kept alive the flickering Cavalry hopes of a home finals series. Gailey earned the win and Click the save for a Canberra outfit that owed plenty to Kandilas and Baum in offence, while the modest Bandits output of just three knocks – including the home run by Lutz – may have demonstrated that the reigning two-time Claxton Shield champion is indeed vulnerable. Official attendance:  986

 

Still an outside chance of securing a home semi-final series, Canberra exploded in the first of GAME THREE, when Ryan Bollinger was tagged for four runs – on hits to Travis Witherspoon, Casey McElroy and David Kandilas, followed by a Jay Baum walk, a Boss Moanaroa grounder and a two-run Cameron Warner single. Although Bollinger and Cavalry starter Lake Bachar posted a series of scoreless innings, David Sutherland smacked a solo homer for the Bandits in the top of five and the Cavalry replied in the bottom of the frame. A Mitch Nilsson sacrifice fly ball and a Logan Wade RBI-single produced a couple in the sixth for the Bandits – who pressed further when Jake Turcato homered and Chih-Sheng Lin drove in another in the top of eight to tie the game at five apiece.  With both sides engaging their respective bullpens, it was finally in the bottom of nine that David Kandilas belted a one-out homer off Zac Treece for a walk-off 6-5 win to the Canberra Cavalry. Tyler Herr earned the win for Cavalry, who were out-hit thirteen to ten but managed timely offence by Kandilas, McElroy, Kyle Perkins and Baum, while Brisbane never fully recovered from the first innings despite giving fourteen different players time at the plate as the club builds towards another finals campaign.

 

With two of the best left-armers doing the rounds of this league starting for their respective clubs – Steven Kent for Canberra and Travis Blackley for Brisbane – there was nothing much doing early in GAME FOUR, until Donald Lutz launched a solo bomb for the Bandits in the top of three. Recently returning to the Bandits lineup after injury, Mitch Nilsson whacked a three-run moonshot in the top of five, followed by a Logan Wade solo blast that spelled the end for Kent with the visitors holding a five-zip lead. Taking to Canberra reliever Liam Sherer, the Bandits extended their lead on a two-run TJ Bennett round-tripper in the top of the sixth. With both sides making a raft of changes in pitching and defence, the Bandits surged further ahead in the seventh, when Andrew Campbell went deep for a two-run shot off Jake Green, Lutz singled to drive in another and Mitch Nilsson stroked a two-RBI single for a twelve-zip lead before Grant Piccoli made the last out of the inning. With the game and a home semi-final series now effectively locked in, the Bandits enjoyed the luxury of sending Lutz to the hill to close out the contest 12-2 in favour of the Bandits. Blackley earned the win in another powerful offensive display by the Bandits, who had standout hitters in Mitch Nilsson, Wade, Bennett, Lutz and Campbell – while the Cavalry was restricted to a meagre six hits overall. Official attendance:  1510

 

GAME ONE               GAME TWO               GAME THREE               GAME FOUR

 

 

ADELAIDE BITE versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX

 

Adelaide won this series 3-1.

 

GAME ONE starters Greg Mosel (Adelaide) and Trevor Foss (Sydney) were in control early, before the Blue Sox broke out in the top of the third – when singles to Mitch Edwards, Trent D’Antonio (RBI-triple), Jacob Younis (RBI-single) and Michael Suchy gleaned two for the visitors. Galvanised into action, the Bite offence strung together four hits on the trot in the bottom of the third – including a two-RBI Rodrigo Ayarza single – before Kuan-Jen Chen drove in a third for the inning and Stephen Lohr a fourth on a sacrifice fly. Down by two, the Sox mounted a challenge in the fifth, when Younis whacked a two-RBI triple and Suchy picked him up with a single into centrefield that brought Nick Hutchings from the bullpen for Mosel. Offering the reliever no respite, Sydney tacked on three more – compliments of a three-run Connor MacDonald homer for a four-run break. Replacing Foss in the sixth, Matthew Rae conceded a solo homer to Angus Roeger and the Bite continued to press in the seventh – when Lohr swatted a two-run double to bring his side to within a run. Having a great game with the bat, Suchy doubled off Matt Williams to lead off the ninth for Sydney, and Lars Anderson followed suit for a two-run buffer that was protected comfortably by Todd van Steensel – who closed out the game 9-7 for the Blue Sox. Foss earned the win for Sydney, which had grand contributors in Younis (two hits and three RBIs), MacDonald (home run for three ribbies), Suchy (three and one), Lars Anderson (two and one) and Edwards (two hits), while Lohr, Roeger and Max Brown were ever-dangerous for the Bite. Official attendance:  622

 

Sydney scored in the first of GAME TWO on back-to-back doubles by linchpins Trent D’Antonio and Jacob Younis, although Adelaide was not to be denied – levelling scores before taking Sox evergreen Craig Anderson for a painful five-spot in the second, including a two-run Max Brown shot before Anderson was relieved by Luke Wilkins. Three successive singles in the top of three gleaned one for the Blue Sox before a crucial infield double play halted the onslaught. The Bite took advantage of the break to blast four more in the bottom of the third – including a two-run Stephen Lohr home run that stretched the lead to eight against an opponent whose already slim finals chances were fading rapidly. Delivering an outstanding start for Adelaide, Chris Powell remained well in control through seven (seven hits and five strikeouts for two earned runs) before handing the ball to Steven Chambers, who conceded a run on hits to Younis and Lars Anderson before Tyson McKee ended the inning. With Sydney not yet done for the season, Zac Shepherd walked to lead off the ninth, Max Brennen reached on a defensive error and Mitch Edwards singled to score – drawing left-armer Ryan Duncan from the Bite pen with none out and runners at first and second. A wild pitch plated a fifth for Sydney and two walks loaded the bases with none out – prompting the Bite to prevail upon Loek van Mil, who allowed late runs before closing out the game 10-8 for the Bite and in so doing crushing any lingering hopes for Sydney of a playoff berth. Official attendance:  946

 

Calling on Jack O’Loughlin to start GAME THREE – a seven innings contest – Adelaide had a scoring opportunity in the bottom of the second, with runners at first and second with none out, though Sydney starter Clayton Freimuth was up to the task in inducing two ground ball out. Blue Sox hits by Max Brennen and Coco Johnson in the top of third amounted to nothing as O’Loughlin closed out the innings and extended the pitching and defensive dominance of both clubs. Again in with a chance in the bottom of five – but coming up empty – Adelaide finally broke the deadlock in the bottom of six, when errors, a passed ball and sacrifice bunt combined with hits to Kuan-Jen Chen and Jordan McArdle to glean three for the home club. Although Bite closer Loek van Mil came under fire in the top of the last – when Sydney loaded the bases with none out – he was up to the task in nailing a 3-0 win for the Adelaide club. Carding the win with a superb six innings of work (three hits and six strikeouts), O’Loughlin was the standout in a contest dominated by the pitchers and in which neither side scored an earned run.  

 

Bite starter Ryo Koura breezed through the first of GAME FOUR and Todd Grattan was equally efficient for Sydney – who scored in the top of three before Rodrigo Ayarza hit safely to level scores in the equaliser. With the pitchers well in command, it was until the bottom of six that the deadlock was broken – compliments of an Angus Roeger homer off Sox reliever Calvin Drummond backed up by a two-RBI Curtis Mead double. Replacing Koura after 6.1 innings of outstanding work (five hits and twelve punchouts for a solitary run), Matt Williams retired the first five Sydney hitters he saw, while the visitors called on Tom Roberts and then Liam Holm to keep them in the contest. Perhaps consciously looking to finish their season on a positive note, Adelaide loaded the bases with two out in the bottom of eight – setting the table for cult hero Tai-Shan Chang, who delivered in the best possible manner in probably his last professional at-bat by driving a grand slam over the leftfield wall. Again prevailed upon to close out the game for Adelaide, Loek van Mil conceded a single and two walks – with two out – but was otherwise untroubled to nail down an 8-1 win for the Bite. Thirteen hits to six told the tale of offence for this game – with Tai-Shan, Mead and Roeger playing starring roles for the Bite, while Jacob Younis and Mitch Edwards picked up two knocks apiece for the Blue Sox. Official attendance:  915

 

GAME ONE             GAME TWO               GAME THREE               GAME FOUR

 

 

PERTH HEAT versus MELBOURNE ACES

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

Although Darryl George was caught stealing, the Aces challenged Heat starter Alex Boshers early in GAME ONE, when Delmon Young doubled and Craig Maddox singled for a two-run lead that was stretched when Young left the yard with a solo blast in the third - in support of a terrific start by Josh Tols for the visitors. The Aces added to their score in the sixth and forged further ahead in a game-breaking eighth, when Jarryd Dale scored on a misplayed double into rightfield and George tripled after successive walks to Jarryd Cruz and Ryan Dale. Relieving Tols after an outstanding scoreless seven innings (one hit and eleven strike outs), Daniel McGrath conceded two late runs – on an error and successive hits by Ulrich Bojarski, Jesse Williams and Jake Fraley – before Allan de San Miguel swatted a two-run bomb in the ninth and Sam Street closed out the win 9-2 with a flawless three-up-three down. This was simply a masterclass by winning pitcher Tols, who took his club a step closer to playoff action with the support of timely hitting through the likes of Young (three hits and an RBI), Maddox (three and one), de San Miguel (two and two) and George (two and two) – while Fraley played a lone hand for the Heat with two hits, a walk and both of his side’s ribbies. Official attendance: 1516

 

GAME TWO began in blistering fashion for both sides, with Darryl George smacking a lead-off homer foe Melbourne in the first and Allan de San Miguel repeating the dose in the top of the second – but only after Luke Hughes had taken Mark Hamburger deep for the Heat. Continuing to take the offence to Perth starter Kyle Simon, the Aces added three more in the second, on a George double and an RBI single by Tyler Neslony. An error and a Jake Fraley RBI-single drew scores level in the equaliser before George – having a stellar game - drove in his third run for Melbourne to regain a lead in the top of four as both sides created scoring opportunities. After Perth reliever Scott Mitchinson pitched his side out of a jam in the top of five, Ulrich Bojarski belted a three-run homer for a two-run Heat lead that was short-lived as Neslony and Delmon Young slammed back-to-back bombs off Joe Van Meter in the sixth. With the Heat not be denied, Tim Kennelly singled, Luke Hughes drew a walk and Garrett Whitley left the yard with a three-run blast before Hamburger whiffed the next three hitters and Matt Marksberry was called from the Aces pen in the bottom of seven. An already extraordinary offensive contest was taken to another level when the bash boys – Neslony and Young – again whacked bombs in the eighth to bring the Aces back to within a run.

Not about to let this one slip, Perth called upon Warwick Saupold to close out an entertaining game 10-9, with Van meter carding the win in a slugfest that produced nine home runs. Neslony (five hits – including two home runs for three RBIs), George and Young led the assault for Melbourne, while Whitley, Bojarski and Hughes did much of the damage for Perth. Official attendance:  940

 

Assured of a finals berth, Melbourne Aces began GAME THREE in what has become something of a regular pattern – with lead-off Darryl George swatting a solo homer, this time off well-performed Perth starter and former Victorian Nick Veale. Starting for Melbourne, Jon Kennedy was taken for a booming solo shot by Ulrich Bojarski and Perth edged away in the third, when Jake Fraley doubled, stole third and scored on a Tim Kennelly sacrifice flyball. After singles to Luke Hughes and Garrett Whitley, Robbie Glendinning stroked an RBI-double and Bojarski singled to load the bases. Tattooing Michael Hart with bases loaded, Kennedy conceded a run-scoring single to Alex Hall and Bojarski scored on a sacrifice fly in a six-run inning for the Heat. With Ryan Phillips relieving for Melbourne, George belted his second solo shot of the game and the Aces scored a third on a throwing error that brought Nick Kennedy from the pen for the Heat. Enjoying another extraordinary game, George left the yard a third time – off Scott Mitchinson with two out in the bottom of six – before Fraley returned the favour for Perth and Melbourne continued to press in offence before Cameron Lamb closed out the seven-innings contest 7-5 in favour of Perth Heat. Although out-hit twelve to ten, the Heat had quality offensive contributors in Fraley, Hughes, Bojarski and Glendinning, while George (three home runs) and Tyler Neslony (four hits) were brilliant for the Aces.

 

Although there was nothing riding on GAME FOUR in terms of ladder placings, both clubs would have been keen to enable some quality playing time for squad members with the playoffs beginning in four days. Taking the start for Melbourne, Matt Larkins conceded a run in the first and Jack Bowey homered in the second for an early Perth lead. However, even though Matt Kennelly tossed a scoreless first three for the Heat, the contest changed complexion rather rapidly in the top of four, when Michael Crouse homered, Jared Cruz hit an RBI sacrifice fly and Darryl George continued his blistering form with a three-run blast over leftfield. Although the Heat hit back with a run in the fifth, Melbourne enjoyed terrific bullpen support from Scott Shuman, Jackson Boyd and Christian Meister – who combined for four hitless, scoreless innings while the Aces tacked on insurance run in the last to emerge a 6-3 winner and square the series. Larkins carded the win, while George (three hits – including the home run – for four RBIs) was again the star in offence for Melbourne, along with Crouse and the bullpen arms. Official attendance:  2324

 

GAME ONE               GAME TWO               GAME THREE               GAME FOUR