Aces make history: Cavalry and Blue Sox looking strong

It has taken over six seasons of the revamped Australian Baseball League, but Melbourne Aces (8-4) have finally broken through for a long-awaited series win on the road – and it could not have been against a more worthy opponent in Brisbane Bandits (5-7), the reigning Claxton Shield champion.

 

While there was much for success-starved Aces fans to celebrate after a clean sweep at Holloway Field – a result that gives Melbourne outright league leadership - Canberra Cavalry (7-5) and Sydney Blue Sox (7-5) were thoroughly impressive with their home series wins over Adelaide Bite (5-7) and Perth Heat (4-8), although both of the latter managed to avoid the sweep with a win in the last of four scheduled games.

Kingsley Collins

4 December 2016

 

It was another enthralling round in the Australian Baseball League, one which will surely excite all baseball supporters who dare to dream of a locally-owned, independent, viable and long-lasting national competition of the outstanding playing standard that we continue to witness.

 

Incredibly enough, we are almost one-third of the way into the 2016/17 Australian Baseball League season – one that by general consensus will be the most important yet if a semi-professional national competition is to survive, and hopefully to prosper in continuing to provide elite playing opportunities for our home-grown talent and that of our baseball friends and partners overseas.

 

If there was ever any doubt, Round Three again demonstrated the pitching, defensive and offensive capabilities of playing personnel across the league. There were again some superb pitching performances – headed no doubt by the complete-game pearler spun by Mark Hamburger for the Aces on Friday night, along with other less-dominant but equally effective stints from the likes of Trever Foss, Luke Wilkins and Craig Anderson for Sydney, Daniel Schmidt for Perth in its Game Four win, Canberra teenager Brodie Vassalakis, Adelaide tyro Jack O’Loughlin and Melbourne right-armer Keisuke Honda.

 

With other quality arms still to be utilised or still to arrive in the league – including another former Major Leaguer who we have not yet seen on an Australian ballpark – we are in for a treat.

 

Although the offensive highlights were many across the league, the high-scoring encounters between Canberra and Adelaide produced a wealth of individual brilliance that continued to supply the long-ball hitting entertainment for spectators. A few pitcher dominated defensive affairs – two of those in Sydney -  were again generated in stark contrast to other games of free scoring, the big innings and stirring comebacks from ostensibly difficult positions.

 

Aside from addressing its dismal away series winning record – or lack thereof, to be more correct – Melbourne Aces posted what is surely a unique achievement in having three of its players hit consecutive home runs in the same game.

 

Nearly 400 runs have been scored across the league in just three rounds. Three players are currently averaging over 0.400 and nearly twenty average over the magical 0.300. Over forty players have left the yard and we have been treated to an unusually high number of triples and countless doubles by players on all teams who can flat out hit – and who continue to provide terrific entertainment value by taking on some of either the very best or the most promising pitching talent that the Australian Baseball League has at its disposal.

 

This has been another round of high-quality, thrilling baseball. Perth Heat, Adelaide Bite and Brisbane Bandits may not agree on this occasion, although their fortunes will almost certainly turn in weeks to come as the competition ramps up and standings fluctuate.

 

 

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND THREE 2016/17

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus ADELAIDE BITE (Narrabundah)

 

Canberra Cavalry won this series 3-1.

 

While the Bite made its offensive intentions clear with a run in the first of GAME ONE, the home side responded in spades by driving four across the plate against the well-performed Steven Chambers – who was uncharacteristically wayward and was made to pay when Mike Reeves tripled to clear the bases before himself scoring on a Boss Moanaroa single. A wild pitch, a grounder and a Jordan Cowan double off Lee Sosa levelled scores in the top of the second before Moanaroa drove in another couple in the equaliser for a lead that was short-lived as the Bite continued to apply offensive pressure with a three-spot in the third and another couple in the fourth – compliments of a two-run Marcus Greene homer – as both starters headed for the showers, leaving behind what was already a slugfest in great hitting conditions. Having an evening to remember, Moanaroa collected his third hit – for his fourth RBI – and the Cavalry edged ahead when Robbie Perkins slapped a two-out, two-RBI double in the bottom of six. Making full use of its bullpen, Canberra held the visitors scoreless after the fourth, while Matt Williams was terrific at the end for the Bite, who were shut down by Steven Kent for the Cavalry to record a 10-9 win against an opponent that played out of its skin. Moanaroa (three hits and four RBIs), Robbie Perkins (three and two), Reeves (two and three) were standouts in offence for Cavalry, while Tim Atherton was credited with the win against a Bite offence that generated productive hitting through the likes of Greene (three hits and two ribbies), Karl Hoschke (two and one), Josh Altmann (two and one) and Cowan (two and one).

 

Looking to atone for a one-run loss on Thursday, Adelaide exploded to an early GAME TWO lead when Jordan Cowan scored a first and Mitch Dening blasted a two-run bomb off Scott Cone for a break that was largely pegged back in the bottom of three – when Boss Moanaroa slapped a two-run single off Bite starter Greg Mosel to continue his sparkling offensive form. Replacing Cone in the top of five, teenager Brodie Vassalakis conceded a Cowan double and an RBI Josh Altmann single before the Cavalry applied the pressure in the bottom of the frame – when a sacrifice flyball, a bases loaded walk and a grounder off Adelaide reliever Christopher Horne gave the home side the lead. With Vassalakis holding sway on the hill, Canberra strolled away with three more in the bottom of six as Matt Williams was summoned from the pen in a tough situation. Intent on protecting its lead, Canberra used Andrew Case and Brad Inglis for an innings apiece – with the later earning the save and Vassalakis carding the 8-4 win. Again producing serious offence, Canberra was well served by Moanaroa (two hits and three RBIs), Aaron Sayers (two and three), Aaron Sloan (three and one), David Kandilas (two hits and two walks), River Stevens and Robbie Perkins – in a consistent team effort – while Cowan, Dening and Altmann were best with the bat for an undermanned Adelaide.

 

Canberra wrapped up its home series with an imperious 14-6 over Adelaide in GAME THREE, which produced a staggering twenty-one hits for the home club. While there was nothing much doing in the first, Adelaide rightfielder Karl Hoschke spanked a two-run bomb off Josh DeGraaf in the top of the second – although the response was decisive, as the Cavalry blasted a seven-spot on a string of extra base hits, including a two-RBI double by D.J.Davis, an RBI Josh Almonte triple and consecutive productive doubles to Mike Reeves and Jason Sloan that together chased Taylor Hawkins from the hill. Marcus Greene (Bite) and Reeves homered for their respective sides in the fourth and Adelaide bothered the scorer in the top of five before the Cavalry jumped all over Hei Chun Lee with a five-run blast that included a three-run bomb by David Kandilas. It was an innings that effectively put the game beyond doubt for Canberra – which posted a 14-6 win that owed much to the damaging offence of Reeves (three hits and three RBIs), Aaron Sloan (three and two), Kandilas (two and three), Jason Sloan (three and one), Davis and Kyle Perkins. DeGraaf carded the win and Hawkins took the loss after another display of explosive hitting that will have managers across the league pondering how they will stall the Canberra Cavalry hitting machine.

 

Looking down the barrel of a series sweep, Adelaide made the early running with two in the second of GAME FOUR off Cavalry starter Sean Guinard – compliments of a single, a walk, an RBI-grounder and a wild pitch – while Jack O’Loughlin was on song early to contain the Canberra offence over four scoreless frames. The Bite exploded in a game-breaking five-run fifth sparked by a three-run homer to Marcus Greene and a solo blast by A.C.Carter that drew A.J.Holland from the pen with one out and Canberra on the ropes. A HPB, a single and a throwing error set the table for a two-RBI single by Scott Kelly in the bottom of five and O’Loughlin (six hits and two strikeouts for no earned runs) was relieved after an outstanding start against the form offence of the league. With relievers on both sides doing a mighty job in holding their opponents scoreless through the later innings, Adelaide converted some errant defence and timely hitting to an insurance run in the top of nine before Zach Cooper closed out the game 8-2 to record the Bite’s only win of a hard-fought series that was in reality much closer than the final count shows. O’Loughlin took the win for a side that was wonderfully served in offence by Greene (two hits, including the home run, for four RBIs), Nathan Van Der Linden (two hits), Josh Altmann and backup catcher Bas Nooij, while Canberra’s offensive output was shared between several players without the conversion that the club would have liked.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

BRISBANE BANDITS versus MELBOURNE ACES (Holloway Field)

 

Melbourne Aces won this series 4-0.

 

Melbourne was out of the blocks early in GAME ONE, plating two in the second off Brisbane starter Rick Teasley – compliments of a Mike Walker single, an Allan san Miguel double, a sacrifice flyball and a grounder that gave Mark Hamburger a decent buffer in his first appearance at Holloway, one that was stretched further in the third. Dominant through the early innings, Hamburger remained super-efficient and the Aces continued the offensive pressure when Ronald Acuna went deep with a two-run blast for the visitors to lead five zip in the middle of the fifth. Relieving Teasley in the seventh, James Albury conceded a first-pitch homer to Ryan Dale and was made to pay for back-to-back walks when Acuna laced a double into the leftfield corner for another two runs – and an insurmountable lead. Going to Simon Morriss, the Bandits held the Aces towards the end but their offence was no match for the visitors, who won the game 8-0 behind a magnificent complete game by Mark Hamburger – who conceded just two hits, walked one and whiffed twelve in a stunning outing. While the rangy import was clearly MVP on the evening, he enjoyed terrific support from a solid defence and an offence that owed much to Acuna (three hits, including the home run, for four RBIs) and Ryan Dale (two and two – with the round tripper).

 

Continuing its belligerent offensive form into GAME TWO, Melbourne was on the board early, when Roman Collins smacked a solo shot off Justin Erasmus – although the lead was short-lived as Connor Macdonald left the yard off Keisuke Honda with a three-run blast in the bottom of the second. Settling back into his work, Honda put up goose eggs in the third and fourth before the Aces offence went ballistic in the top of five – as the weather closed in. Singles to Brad Harman and Ryan spelled the end for Erasmus, although it was about to get far worse for reliever Zac Treece, who was on the wrong end of a two-run double to Cody Jones and a two-run jack by Ronald Acuna – who was clearly loving the confines of Holloway Field. After chasing Treece from the hill, the Aces did further damage – to Jake Pannunzio – when Collins blasted his second round-tripper of the game and Mike Walker backed up with a solo blast that gave the visitors a four-run lead that was protected by Honda as the rains arrived. After a lengthy break, the game was called – with Melbourne the 7-3 winner in another powerful display against the reigning champion. With no prospect of Game Three getting under way as scheduled, a doubleheader of two seven-innings contests was scheduled to be played on Sunday to decide the series.

 

With his new club in search of its first ever series win on the road, Melbourne starter Dushan Ruzic was roughed up in the first innings of GAME THREE – the first of a rescheduled seven innings doubleheader afternoon - when two-hitter Thomas Milone smacked a solo shot over centrefield, Logan Wade doubled and T.J.Bennett tugged a two-run blast over the rightfield wall for a three-zip lead. When Milone double for another in the third it was looking shaky for the Aces – who had been well-trumped by Bandits right-armer Kramer Champlin, who finally conceded a run in the sixth when Ronald Acuna walked, stole second and scored comfortably on a double to Mike Walker. While Matt Wilson and Brandon Stenhouse held the Bandits offence in relief of Ruzic, the Aces set about mounting a last-ditch effort in the top of seven (the last), when a Harman double, a Nick Rossell single, a Jared Cruz single and a Cody Jones double forced a pitching change at 5-3 with runners at second and third and the go-ahead at the plate. A tough situation for Bandits reliever Sam Holland, who conceded an RBI ground-out to Acuna before Roman Collins plated the tying run on an infield hit and Walker drilled a two-out double into rightfield for the Aces to take an unlikely lead. Called from the pen to help make history for Melbourne in the new league, Josh Tols retired Connor Macdonald, Ryan Battaglia and Aaron Whitefield in order as the Aces dugout exploded into raptures on posting the 6-5 win. It was a stunning comeback that owed much to the offence of Mike Walker (who had another day out, with three hits and two RBIs), Collins (two hits and an RBI), Jones, Acuna and Cruz.

 

Almost as if the weight of the fabled road curse had been lifted from club psyche, Melbourne came out firing in GAME FOUR, scoring a run in the first and bludgeoning five in the second off Daniel Nilsson – including a grand slam by teenager Jarryd Dale that drew Rhys Niit from the pen. Although Nathan Haas drove in a run for Brisbane in the equaliser - off left-armer Jon Kennedy - the Aces replied in the top of four when Mike Walker extended his hitting streak with a solo shot over his favoured rightfield wall. Shogo Noda relieved Kennedy in the bottom of four and the Aces hurler induced two quick outs to get out of the innings with his side still holding a six-run lead. Jeremy Young relieved Noda in the bottom of six, when T.J.Bennett doubled and Connor Macdonald drove him in. Seemingly too little, too late, the Bandits mounted a final effort that saw Aaron Whitefield belt a solo homer off Virgil Vasquez before he closed out the game 7-3 in favour of the visitors - for a series clean sweep that sees the Aces now a game clear at the top of the ABL table. Noda was credited with the win, which owed plenty to the telling blast by Jarryd Dale, the damaging hitting by Mike Walker and the contributions of Kyle Bedford (three hits) and Cody Jones (two), while Whitefield and Logan Wade were best of a Bandits offence that was out-gunned this time around.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus PERTH HEAT (Blacktown Sportspark)

 

Sydney Blue won this series 3-1.

 

While Perth had its chances early in GAME ONE, it was the Blue Sox that hit the scoreboard first – sparked with a Trent d’Antonio triple and a Zac Shepherd solo bomb that gave Sydney a three-zip lead after two before starters Michael Lee (Perth) and Trevor Foss (Sydney) held their opponents scoreless through until the top of seven, when singles to Luke Hughes, Nick Ruppert and Matt Kennelly drove in two for the Heat and brought Ryoto Yoshikoshi to the hill for Foss – who had been terrific over 6.2 for the two earned runs and eight strikeouts. Replacing Lee in the seventh, Cameron Lamb ran into strife when an infield error allowed another two to cross the plate for Sydney – although the Heat were not about to capitulate, with a string of hits and a ground ball gleaning two and reducing the Blue Sox lead to one run in the middle of eight. As it had done all game, though, Sydney was able to respond – tagging Scott Mitchinson for an inherited run in a bases-loaded situation before Sven Schuller took the pill from Josh Guyer to close out a tight contest 6-4 in favour of the Blue Sox. Outstanding with the win, Foss was provided with offensive support through the likes of Malik Collymore, Tucker Neuhaus, Stone Garrett, Shepherd and d’Antonio, while Luke Hughes (three hits and a walk), Ruppert, Matt Kennelly and Jesse Barron were best for the Heat.

 

Quality pitching was the order of the day in GAME TWO – the first of a Saturday twin bill – after Sydney scored a run in the first on a wild pitch by Nick Veale, who was quite superb for the Heat over five (five hits and two walks for the one earned run) before handing the pill to Connor Lourey in a tense situation after Perth had tied it up in the top of five on a Joey Wong grounder that followed some small to land Sam Kennelly in scoring position. With scores deadlocked after seven of the shortened contest, Perth was unable to score off Blue Sox reliever Gyoung-Wan Lim and Bite reliever Will Dennis ran into desperate strife by walking four – including the go ahead run – to hand Sydney a hard-fought, though in the end soft 2-1 victory. Although Luke Wilkins was terrific over seven for Sydney (seven hits and one earned run), Lim was credited with the win in a high-standard defensive game that saw Perth out-hit the Blue Sox eight to six but falter on the hill when it mattered most.

 

Already heading the series two wins to zip, Sydney Blue Sox wrapped it up in GAME THREE – with another 2-1 result in a seven-innings contest dominated by the pitchers. A Luke Hughes double and a Derek Peterson single scored for Perth in the first, but that was all she wrote for the visitors as Craig Anderson spun 6.2 innings of quality work and both sides struggled for offensive production. Spinning another terrific outing for the Heat, Tom Bailey whiffed seven over a complete-game outing but came unstuck in a ragged bottom of six, when a Zac Shepherd two-out triple made him pay dearly for earlier walking Guy Edmonds and Stone Garrett. With just four hits for the game, Sydney made the very most of that late golden opportunity, while Perth passed up a real chance with runners on in the fourth and was equally well held by Anderson – who did not issue a walk and scattered six knocks en route to another win for his club.

 

Enjoying a purple patch of winning form, Sydney Blue Sox entered GAME FOUR with the prospect of a series sweep over Perth Heat, who had dealt so much grief to all ABL clubs during their golden years as a four-time champion now embarking on a rebuilding phase. While Daniel Schmidt (Perth) and Aaron Sookee (Sydney) were in control over the early innings, the latter came under fire in the fourth – when Matt Kennelly drove in Luke Hughes – and more particularly in the top of six with a lead-off bomb to Hughes. A walk, a HPB and a wild pitch were followed by an RBI-sacrifice fly that spelt the end for Sookee, who carried the rap for two more off reliever Matthew Rae as the Heat strolled to a five-zip lead. Although a Josh Dean singled scored for Sydney in the equaliser, winning pitcher Schmidt (six innings for six hits and one earned run) had been terrific for the Heat, who squeezed scoreless innings out of Conor Lourey and Lex Rutledge before Scott Mitchinson closed out the game 5-1 in favour of Perth Heat. Although held to just four hits, the Heat took full advantage of its scoring opportunities through Hughes, Matt Kennelly and Alex Hall, while Josh Dean (two hits and an RBI) and Malik Collymore both collected a pair of hits for the Blue Sox.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR