Bandits break out: ding-dong battle for third
10 January 2016
With two rounds to play in Australian Baseball League – a total of eight games for each club – the competition is beautifully poised, with five of the six clubs still a chance of qualifying for post-season action.
League-leading Brisbane Bandits (30-18) is on target to host the Claxton Shield Championship Series after proving too strong for Sydney Blue Sox (23-25), while third-placed Adelaide Bite (24-24) is well among the mix after splitting its series with also-rans Melbourne Aces (18-30).
Despite splitting its series with Canberra Cavalry (27-21) - which must be favoured to finish second - Perth Heat (22-26) still has prospects of squeaking into third should it win both series and results fall its way.
AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND TWELVE
BRISBANE BANDITS versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX (Holloway Field)
After dropping the first of this four-game set to a Sydney outfit that remains well in the running for a post-season berth, Brisbane Bandits regrouped to dominate a Friday night slugfest, to pinch a Saturday thriller and to strengthen their position at the top of the table with another imperious performance in the Sunday finale. Brisbane Bandits won this series 3-1.
Matching Craig Anderson against Rhys Niit on the hill to start GAME ONE, Sydney cashed in on a fielding error to plate a run in the first, followed by a lead-off Alex Howe homer in the second before Mitch Nilsson doubled and scored for the Bandits on a sacrifice fly ball in the second. Introduced early for the Bandits, Travis Blackley relieved Niit and was welcomed back to the league with a solo blast by Rhys Hoskins before completing two innings and handing the pill to Justin Erasmus, who struggled with control as the Sox plated another three. Inheriting a bases-loaded situation, Bandits reliever Sam Holland branded Jacob Younis for a five-run lead. Relieving Anderson after another stellar outing (six innings for five hits, one run and five punchouts), Keiji Uezono gave up run-scoring doubles to Riley Unroe and Justin Williams before whiffing Mitch Nilsson in a dangerous situation. Although Holland, Eric Green and Matt Timms tossed scoreless frames for the Bandits, the lead was decisive as Todd van Steensel closed out the game 7-3 in favour of the Blue Sox, who edged into third after this game – at least momentarily.
Blue Sox were off to a flier in GAME TWO, collecting five hits off Brisbane starter Jason Jarvis, including a Grant Heyman RBI single and a two-run Michael Quesada knock that gleaned three in the first, followed by two more in the second - on a Josh Dean bleeder - while Sydney veteran Wayne Lundgren continued to pound the strike zone against a dangerous offence. The Bandits came alive against Lundgren in the bottom of three, though, when a HPB, a walk and a Bralin Jackson single set the base for a big innings – as Justin Williams, Mitch Nilsson and Donald Lutz all stroked RBI-singles that were backed up by a defensive error, a sacrifice fly ball and a David Sutherland hit that gave the Bandits a one-run break. A two-run Williams homer spelled the end for Lundgren before reliever Vaughan Harris was tagged for a two-out, two-run bomb by Logan Wade as the Bandits exploded for a massive lead. Replacing Jarvis after six innings for four earned, Eric Green loaded the bases and tattooed Josh Strong to shave the lead before Matt Timms conceded a couple to draw the Blue Sox within two – only temporarily, as the Bandits offence delivered another three in the bottom of seven before calling on Ryan Searle to seal the deal 13-8 for Brisbane.
The fascination of this series stretched into GAME THREE, when the Blue Sox exploded in the first against Rick Teasley – compliments of a three-run Rhys Hoskins shot over the right centre wall. While Sydney starter Lachlan Wells conceded a run in the third, he ran into serious strife in the fifth by loading the bases and handing the pill to Brandon Zywicki – who was unable to stem the flow as the Bandits put up a five-spot. When Hoskins smacked his second homer of the night – a two-run shot – the Blue Sox were within a run before Brisbane replied with one in the bottom of six as they continued to rack up the offence. Reactive to the challenge as they have been all season, the Blue Sox drew level in the eighth when Hoskins doubled and Grant Heyman left the yard with a two-run blast. With neither side able to score in the ninth, the game went to extras. Under international tie breaker rules applied in a dramatic eleventh innings, the Blue Sox were unable to score before the Bandits advanced both runners on a bunt and loaded the bases with an intentional pass that set the table for Bralin Jackson to drive a ball deep into rightfield for a walk-off 8-7 result to Brisbane.
Taking the GAME FOUR start for Brisbane, Travis Blackley was in early strife, walking two hitters, conceding a single and giving up a two-run Josh Dean hit before an infield double halted the assault. The response was immediate and decisive off Blue Sox starter Jan Stoecklin, as Bralin Jackson walked and Justin Williams singled to set the table for big man Donald Lutz, who left the yard on a one and one count to hand the Bandits an early lead. When Lutz walked and Logan Wade smacked a two-run homer in the third it was a three-run break in favour of Bandits, although the Blue Sox clawed one back off Brisbane reliever Justin Erasmus in the top of four. Stoecklin was relieved by Gyoung-Wan Lim after 5.1 innings of work and Erasmus was replaced by Taylor Stanton as both sides were held scoreless until the bottom of seven – when the Bandits exploded with five against Blue Sox reliever Grant Piccoli, highlighted by a TJ Bennett grand slam. While the pugnacious Trent D’Antonio belted a solo shot in the top of nine, it was too little too late for Sydney as Stanton closed out a 10-4 win and another home series triumph for the Bandits.
ADELAIDE BITE versus MELBOURNE ACES (Norwood Oval)
Although well out of post-season contention, Melbourne has been strengthened by the inclusion of key players and put up a bold showing in both the opener and the finale of this four-game series against a contender that was far too good in the Friday and Saturday games without yet convincing the punters to plonk their hard-earned on the Bite as a serious championship hope. This series was split 2-2.
Buoyed by the inclusion of Twins AAA infielder James Beresford, the Aces were off to a flier in GAME ONE when two-hitter Tanner Vavra went deep in the first and catcher Liam Bedford smacked a two-run bomb off Steven Chambers in the second – although the Bite looked dangerous with the stick and replied with a Travis Demeritte solo shot off Matt Larkins in the bottom of the second. Tom Brice drove in a second for Adelaide and it was not until the top of six that the Aces stretched the lead when Darryl George doubled and scored on a Mike Hill double. Dallas Gallant relieved Chambers in the top of the eighth, when George walked, advanced on a balk and scored on a defensive error for a three-run Aces lead as the Bite called on Hei Chun Lee – who conceded another run when Mike Hill doubled into centre. A Bedford single plated another and Troy Marks replaced Larkins, who had tossed another superb seven innings stint for five hits and two earned runs. While Kyle Petty blasted a solo home run – his fifth-round tripper against the Aces – the visitors emerged a comfortable 7-3 winner, with Larkins carding the win in a solid all-round team performance.
In his first outing for the Aces this season, Sam Gibbons was accorded some early offensive support in GAME TWO when James Beresford forced a fielding error and Brad Harman swatted a sacrifice fly ball for a two-zip Melbourne lead after the first as new-found Bite starter Josh Tols settled into his work. After fanning the first two hitters in the second, Gibbons ran into trouble in conceding two runs – on a Wilson Lee double and John Schultz single that drew William Wu from the Aces pen. A Mark Wik double and a timely Chris Adamson single gave the Bite a two-run lead after three before Tols and Wu both held the line for a couple of innings of scoreless work. Replacing Tols after five solid innings, Nick Talbot held the line for Adelaide while Aces reliever Sam Street conceded a two-out run when Wik slapped a single up the middle before DH Landon Hernandez swatted a two-run double for a five run buffer – followed up in the seventh with a two-run Schultz bomb. Melbourne called upon its pen with regularity as the contest turned into an unbecoming rout, with Kody Kerski closing out the game 11-2 in favour of Adelaide.
Although Masato Sakata, James Beresford and Darryl George were instrumental in plating a first innings GAME THREE run off Adelaide starter Matt Williams, the Bite hit back against Aces veteran Virgil Vasquez for two in the second – on a Landon Hernandez bomb – and another three in the fourth as Vasquez landed in trouble and was relieved by Kohsuke Tomita. Beresford drove in a second for Melbourne in the fifth to spell the end for Williams – who was relieved by Dallas Gallant and Hei Chun Lee in support. While both offences remained subdued, Aces set-up man Shane Lindsay struggled for command in the bottom of eight, when the Bite plated another couple and big man Loek van Mil closed out the game 7-2 for Adelaide. Although Sakata and Beresford were multiple hitters for Melbourne, their team’s pitching conceded a damaging eleven walks for a game in which Hernandez and John Schultz were prime offensive movers for the Bite behind winning pitcher Matt Williams.
After its hitters were retired in the top of the first of GAME FOUR, Melbourne conceded an early run before launching a ferocious attack on Bite starter Wilson Lee in the top of the second – taking the left-armer for four, two on a Darryl George double and another couple on a Tanner Vavra single into centre. Another three in the top of the third spelt the end for Lee after he had conceded another string of hits – including another George double – while Aces starter Jon Kennedy held the home side to two before being relieved by Brandon Stenhouse. Taking advantage of a defensive error, the Aces plated another in the fifth before the Bite replied with two on a Davis Page run-scoring single and a sacrifice fly as both sides looked to their bullpens for relief. While the visitors went scoreless after five, Sam Street and Troy Marks were effective over four scoreless frames to deliver a decisive 8-4 victory – and a share of the series – for the Melbourne Aces. Street carded the win as the Aces offence racked up thirteen hits to five – with Josh Davies (two hits and three RBIs), George (two and two), Keith Curcio (two and one) and Trey Vavra (three hits) figuring prominently.
PERTH HEAT versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Barbagallo)
Drawing a crowd to its home series against Canberra, Perth Heat was ultra-competitive in a series that produced two ripping one-run games, a strong Saturday win for the home club and a thrilling finale that was decided in the eleventh after application of the tie-breaker rule. While the outcome was somewhat less than the Heat faithful had hoped, their club is still in contention for the post-season. This series was split 2-2.
With his side desperate to stay in playoff contention, Perth starter Daniel Schmidt conceded a GAME ONE first innings homer to superstar Jason Sloan and a Ryan Miller solo shot in the second before the Heat bats erupted for a three-spot on a Correlle Prime solo blast and a two–run Luke Hughes shot that had Cavalry ace Brian Grening under the pump early on. Sloan homered again in the third before the Heat edged away in the equaliser and the offence remained quiet for a couple of subsequent innings. Having an extraordinary game for Canberra, Miller left the yard in the sixth, and again in the eighth – three bombs for the game – to hand the visitors a one-run lead. The Heat were not done with though, as Hughes again hit safely in the bottom of nine and Anthony Caronia singled before a Sam Kennelly sacrifice bunt set the table for a run-scoring Tad Gold hit and a throwing error that scored the go-ahead for a thrilling 6-5 win in a game that produced seven home runs. Warwick Saupold carded the win for Perth, whose lower order was outstanding in offence, while Miller and Sloan had games to remember for the Cavalry.
River Stevens tripled and scored in the first of GAME TWO on a Jason Leblebijian sacrifice fly against Heat starter Edwin Carl, although the home side was quick to respond when Michael Benjamin and Luke Hughes clubbed back to back doubles off Cavalry starter Louis Cohen in the second. The Cavalry made its charge in the top of four, loading the bases before a grounder broke the deadlock. Aaron Sayers singled to leftfield for a two-run Cavalry lead that was shaved in the seventh when Sam Kennelly doubled and scored on a fielding error after Phil Kish replaced Cohen in the bottom of seven. With the relievers on both clubs doing a fine job, the score remained static and Canberra emerged a 3-2 winner. Cohen took the win and Michael Click the save with a ninth innings of scoreless work. River Stevens went two from three (with two walks) and Bryan Pounds had two knocks for the Cavalry, while the Heat hitting production was shared between seven players.
Taking the GAME THREE start for Canberra, re-signed Atlanta Braves professional Steven Kent tossed three scoreless innings before the Heat scrambled a run back in reply to Cavalry establishing an early lead. After Perth starter Nick Veale walked a run across the plate in the top of five – to draw Scott Mitchinson from the pen – game momentum changed rather quickly when the Heat exploded in a four-run response as hits to Anthony Caronia and Tad Gold set the base for a two-run single to Derek Peterson and a two-run homer off the bat of Allan de San Miguel. Earning the win over 2.1 innings, Mitchinson handed the pill to Jay Johnson before Cameron Lamb closed out the game, while the Heat offence added insurance when Correlle Prime doubled to drive in another two runs in the bottom of seven to secure the 7-3 result. Given minimal support by a subdued Cavalry offence, Kent took a rare loss for his side, which was out-slugged by a Perth offence led by Peterson, de San Miguel and Prime – all with two hits for two ribbies in an important win for their club.
With plenty on the line for both clubs in GAME FOUR, the Cavalry struck early – with two in the first – before Joseph Dunigan homered in the second and Correlle Prime doubled, scooted to third after a fly ball and scored on a grounder for Perth. Jake Turnbull doubled and scored on a Derek Peterson single to tie the scores after three before the visitors edged ahead in the top of five with a Jack Murphy sacrifice flyball off Heat starter Tom Bailey. Still well in the contest, the Heat again drew level on a run-scoring Luke Hughes run-scoring double off Canberra reliever Phil Kish in the sixth, although a sacrifice fly enabled the Cavalry to again edge away. After Edgar Valle allowed two Canberra runners on base in the top of eight – with none out - Perth called on Warwick Saupold, who quelled the blaze with aplomb. With the tension building, hometown hero and league superstar Allan de San Miguel crushed a Colton Turner offering over the leftfield wall to again level the scores and force the game into extras. After a scoreless tenth, the game moved into international tie-breaker mode and Canberra finally broke the deadlock by exploiting a Perth defensive error that opened the floodgates for a four-run blast that set up a 9-5 win in favour of Canberra, a scoreline that was not indicative of what had been a stirring contest.
Craig Anderson collects his fifth win for the Blue Sox