Aces, Cavs contest Wildcard in post-season opener

Kingsley Collins

20 January 2019

 

Incurring a shock series loss at the hands of Auckland Tuatara (14-26), Melbourne Aces (23-17) face a Wednesday night sudden death clash with Canberra Cavalry (23-17), which split its Australian Baseball League Round Ten series with Perth Heat (24-16).

 

In a remarkably tight finish to the season, Semi-Final venues were not decided until the last game of the regular season, when Brisbane Bandits (25-15) completed a sweep of Geelong-Korea (7-33) to secure first seeding and a home Semi-Final clash with the Wildcard winner.

 

Finishing as second seed, Perth Heat did enough to land a home Semi-Final against Sydney Blue Sox (25-15), which settled for a split in its away series with Adelaide Bite (19-21).  

 

FINALS WEEK ONE (check Australian Baseball League for times and broadcast details).

 

WILDCARD GAME:   Melbourne vs Canberra, Wednesday 23 January (Melbourne Ballpark)

 

SEMI-FINAL 1 (best of three):   Brisbane vs Wildcard Winner (Holloway, 25-27 January) 

 

SEMI-FINAL 2 (best of three):   Perth vs Sydney (Perth, 25-27 January) 

 

While the five finalists will be engaged in intense planning and preparation leading into the post-season – which starts at Melbourne Ballpark on Wednesday evening - the three remaining ABL clubs will already be reflecting upon their past ten weeks, and perhaps even beginning to plan for their 2019/20 campaigns.

 

In contention until Round Nine, Adelaide Bite will be understandably disappointed that they could not qualify for the post-season, although they will have taken plenty from their summer – which included their share of wins (nineteen) and some outstanding individual performances from the likes of Markus Solbach, Mitch Edwards, Michael Gettys, Michael Gahan and Nick Shumpert.

 

Of the two new club entries, Auckland Tuatara would surely be delighted with their inaugural season in Australian Baseball League – especially given that they did not have a genuine home base and they spent the final forty days on the road in Australia.

 

An overall record of fourteen wins and twenty-six losses was certainly commendable – considering that the club is building from the ground up and lost pitching ace Kyle Glogoski early in the season. The Tuatara’s historic last-round series win over Melbourne Aces capped an impressive first season – one about which club ownership, administration, Manager Steve Mintz, his support staff and the players should all feel immensely proud.

 

With its form ranging from ultra-competitive on occasions to abysmal on others, Geelong-Korea showed real heart in a number of comeback performances and some stunning wins, although its record of seven wins and thirty-three losses was disappointing and will prompt serious thought by club management about what will be required to make a drastic improvement next time.

 

While the club played solid defence and there was a real enthusiasm among the younger players – especially exciting youngster Hak-Jun Noh and hard-hitting catcher Seung-Won Shin - lack of pitching depth was an issue, with too much expected of workhorse Jin-Yong-Jang and Byeong-Geun Kim.   

 

Although Round Ten again produced innumerable highlights which have been or will be spoken about elsewhere – including a remarkable nine home runs blasted by the Bandits in a single game, along with the imperious offence generated by Sydney Blue Sox in its two wins at West Beach – the focus will now be squarely upon the post-season, starting with the elimination Wild Card game at Altona on Wednesday evening.

 

Much has been said – and done – about streaming and commentary of games this season. Just like onfield performances across the league, some of it has been outstanding. Most has at least been serviceable – interspersed with some that has been ordinary and at other times forgettable.

 

The two Saturday games streamed from Melbourne Ballpark this weekend were to my mind the most impressive of all. Both were anchored by long-time media professional Ed Wyatt, who – like all of us – must have been blown away by the early-game guest contribution from Tuatara pitcher Josh Collmenter, an absolute natural who was outstanding in the role. For the second game, Ed Wyatt teamed up with his long-time associate Craig Frita Kernick – with the duo generating their typically informed and relaxed style that was high on “listenability” while remaining unbiased, balanced and yet incisive.

 

I have followed plenty of streaming and commentary during the Australian Baseball League season. From my perspective (and of course such judgements – especially on style – can be largely subjective), those two games have been far and away the best. Arguably the most refreshing and engaging work produced under league auspices this season. Let us hope for plenty more of the same standard as we negotiate what should be a fascinating post-season of high-quality baseball.

 

GEELONG/KOREA versus BRISBANE

 

A subdued GAME ONE start changed complexion quickly when the Bandits posted three in the third – including solo shots by Danny De La Calle and Riley Unroe – chasing Geelong-Korea starter Byeong-Geun Kim from the hill prior to follow-up blasts from Wade Dutton, TJ Bennett, Donald Lutz and David Sutherland that placed the game well beyond reach before De La Calle belted a grand slam as the Bandits built to a massive 21-5 win built around Ryan Bollinger (seven innings) and nine homers.

 

Back-to-back hits off Bandits starter Travis Blackley created a chance for Geelong-Korea in the second of GAME TWO, although the sole run then scored was negated when Brisbane took Jin-Yong Jang for three in the fourth of a contest in which starters were superb until Geelong-Korea plated a run in the sixth to spell the end for Blackley (who picked off four) and Jyong-Hyuk Lim stroked a late RBI-single off Sam Holland – to no avail, as the Bandits offence ignited late for a tight 7-3 win.

 

Although Seung-Won Shin and Kwang-Min Kwon slapped solo homers off Tim Atherton early in GAME THREE, Brisbane was in no mood for niceties in a vital contest, smacking four in the second and scoring regularly after that – including long balls by TJ Bennett and David Sutherland – as the Bandits pitching staff held off an opposition offence that was valiant against a quality opponent that posted a 9-2 win, with Atherton (seven innings, nine strikeouts) taking the pitching honours.

 

Seeking to finish its season on a high, Geelong-Korea began GAME FOUR brightly, with two in the first off Brisbane starter Ko-Chien Lin - while Ji-Woong Park pitched two scoreless for the home club before the Bandits drew to a narrow lead in a largely pitcher-dominated affair that saw a Korean assault undone with a triple play in a one-run seventh and Logan Wade (solo homer) produced a timely late blow that secured a 4-3 win and a series sweep for Brisbane.

 

Brisbane won this series 4-0.

 

AUCKLAND TUATARA versus MELBOURNE ACES

 

Back-to-back doubles off Josh Collmenter in the top of the second gave Melbourne in early lead in a seven-innings GAME ONE, although Beau Te Wera Bishop squared the ledger with a solo homer in the third off flamethrower Scott Shuman – who continued to rack up the strikeouts in a pitcher-dominated affair before his side squandered serious scoring opportunities and the game stretched to extras, when Auckland was able to manufacture the go-ahead for a 2-1 win in the eleventh.

 

The Tuatara began brightly in GAME TWO with a run in the first off Luke Westphal, while starter Sam Buccello was solid for Auckland and was offered run support by way of a two-run Zach Clark bomb in the fourth before the Aces hit back to force pitching changes as their offence generated three runs in the top of five in a revival that was short-lived as a dogged Tuatara outfit drove in two more in the sixth of a seven-innings game to emerge a 5-3 winner and inflict another damaging loss on the Aces.

 

Mitch Hughson (Auckland) and Dushan Ruzic (Melbourne) spun steady starts in the seven-innings GAME THREE, when Jarryd Dale drew a walk, stole second and scored on a Darryl George single that drew Taki Tashiro from the Auckland pen in the top of five – a tough situation exploited by Luke Hughes, who cracked a bases-clearing hit up the middle for a four-zip lead shaved by a two-run response from the Tuatara before Dan McGrath closed out the game 4-2 in favour of the Aces.

 

Jimmy Boyce (Auckland) and Jack Enciondo (Melbourne) traded zeroes in in the first of GAME FOUR, with Zach Clark providing the offence by way of a two-run bomb in a three-run Tuatara second followed up by a Taylor Snyder three-run monster blast off Scott Kuzminsky before the Aces hit back with a couple and Rudi Martin belted a solo shot that ultimately proved in vain as Tuatara closer Chen Hu-Hsuan backed up the fine work of winning pitcher Boyce to close out the 8-4 Auckland win. 

 

Auckland won this series 3-1.

 

ADELAIDE BITE versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX

 

Marcus Solbach (Bite) and Alex Maestri (Sydney) posted zeroes early in GAME ONE, with Solbach escaping a jam in the fourth and a Michael Gettys RBI-double and a Nick Shumpert hit delivering a two-run Adelaide lead after five – a break extended on a Mitch Edwards RBI-single as Maestri (six scoreless frames) was relieved by Tyler Herr and the Bite made full use of its bullpen, with Ryan Chaffee slamming the door for a 3-0 win with potential to have real bearing on final seedings.  

 

Matching the home side with a run in the first of GAME TWO, Sydney exploded for an eight-run lead after four – including a Trent D’Antonio solo homer and a two-run Gift Ngoepe double – while winning pitcher Craig Anderson (seven hits, four strikeouts, two earned runs) was brilliant over a complete nine-innings in the 12-2 Sydney win that featured outstanding offence led by D’Antonio (four hits), Ngoepe (three hits and three RBIs), Jason Rogers, Jacob Younis and Dwayne Kemp.

 

The Bite were on fire in GAME THREE, belting three in the first – including a two-RBI Jordan McArdle double – for a lead that was shaved by a run-scoring Gift Ngoepe single in the third and a Jason Rogers RBI-single in the sixth of a tight contest that saw neither side able to build on their offence as Adelaide emerged a 3-2 winner, with Michael Gahan carding the win and the McArdle hit proving decisive in a high-quality defensive contest.

 

Jack Murphy belted a two-run homer for an early Sydney lead in GAME FOUR that was built upon in the third and the fifth against a Bite outfit that struggled against Sox starter Josh Guyer despite plating three through the middle innings – although a clearly tired Adelaide outfit (which used seven pitchers) fell away in the later innings as Sydney piled on offence to the tune of twenty-seven hits in a 20-8 Sox victory, with a rare Bite highlight being a grand slam by catcher Mitch Edwards in the last.

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus PERTH HEAT

 

Tristan Gray opened GAME ONE scoring for Perth with a two-run bomb in the top of the first and the game was later suspended through rain until Saturday afternoon, with John Anderson (Heat) continuing to contain the Cavalry offence while Perth blasted four in the sixth – including a bases-clearing Alex Hall double off Jason Lott that proved more than adequate as Anderson (seven innings, six hits) completed a stellar stint before Nathan Kuchta closed out a 7-1 Heat win. 

 

A Kyle Perkins two-run homer off Conor Lourey gave the Cavalry an early lead in GAME TWO in a contest that featured another superb outing by Canberra starter Frank Gailey (seven scoreless innings, five strikeouts), whose side edged further ahead in the sixth before Pete Kozma and Robbie Glendinning drove Heat RBI-hits in the eighth – sparking a response from the Cavalry, who hit back on further homers to Michael Crouse and Boss Moanaroa that set up a vital 5-2 Canberra victory.

 

Both anxious for a win in GAME THREE, these clubs traded early blows – with the Heat gaining a three-run break after three of a seven-innings contest – and it was not until the bottom of six that Kyle Perkins smacked a two-run homer off Heat reliever Cameron Lamb and David Kandilas followed up with a solo shot to draw level, although the Cavalry passed up a serious scoring opportunity in the bottom of nine before the Heat plated an unanswered three in the tenth for an 8-5 Perth win.

 

A two-run Alex Hall double handed Perth an early lead in GAME FOUR, although the Cavalry hit back with a three-spot in the third – including a two-run Michael Crouse homer – and two more in the bottom of eight to give the home side a narrow break that was halved in the top of nine by a Heat offence that had extraordinarily out-hit its opponent sixteen hits to five but came up just short – as the Cavalry held on for a 5-4 win owing plenty to a workmanlike game by Steve Chambers (eight innings).

 

This series was split 2-2.