Cavalry marches into ABLCS shootout with Bandits

Kingsley Collins

4 February 2018

 

Fully extended by a dogged Perth Heat on its home turf, Canberra Cavalry had the best of its three-game Semi-Final series to set up an Australian Baseball League Championship Series showdown with double reigning champion Brisbane Bandits – which qualified for the big dance after winning a sudden death Sunday thriller over Melbourne Aces.

 

Recovering from a Game One loss, the Cavalry rode two outstanding pitching outings, by Lake Bachar and Frank Gailey, to quell a Heat offence that struggled for offensive conversion in the Saturday and Sunday fixtures - while Brisbane owes a serious debt of gratitude to stalwart David Sutherland, whose two decisive late blows at Holloway Field proved pivotal against a gutsy Aces outfit that just kept coming against the Claxton Shield favourite.

 

The 2017/18 Australian Baseball League Championship Series will start on Friday 9 February.  

 

Regardless of the outcome of next week’s Australian Baseball League Championship Series – and this in no way diminishes the superb achievement of Brisbane and Canberra in making the final week – the 2017/18 Semi-Finals series will for some time be remembered for the uncertainty and decision-making on the run that appears to have characterised what was scheduled as a three-game series in Brisbane.

 

Of course we have no control over the weather. And what happened to cause abandonment of the first two games at Holloway Field might have transpired at any venue – given the heavy and persistent rain that arrived at the most inopportune time.

 

However, there will for some time – rightly - be discussion over how this situation was managed, whether the course of action decided upon was the fairest and the most appropriate to reflect credibility of a semi-professional baseball league and whether the league had an appropriate risk management strategy in place to avoid what may quite frankly have done significant damage to a league already dealing with significant challenges, including its projected incursion to the critical Asian market.

 

Most Australian baseball people would accept that a three-game Semi-Final series is quite adequate for either of the competing clubs to produce its best and to proceed to the deciding week. While it is used in many other sports, the one-game knockout clash into which the Brisbane/Aces contest morphed was manifestly lacking as an appropriate reflection on what had been a highly competitive regular season dominated largely by the reigning champion.

 

The Bandits should not have found themselves in a situation where one poor game, or one unlucky break could have eliminated them from contention after such a stellar season. There is a clear and reasonable argument that the top-placed side should enjoy any potential advantage should there be adjustments to the schedule. If no games could be played of the three, for instance, then the Bandits would have gone through to the championship round under current procedures. For their part, the Aces could also argue that finishing fourth should not have been used against them, since they qualified legitimately for a playoff berth and deserved to be given a shot at beating the Bandits – not told, effectively, that if it is too wet, bad luck, you can go home with nothing.

 

As it happened, the one game played between the Bandits and the Aces was an absolute cracker that showcased some of the very best players, and the very best action in the Australian Baseball League. It was a ripper that was decided by a single, decisive blow in the bottom of the ninth.

 

Both clubs were worthy Semi-Final opponents – and they proved they were worthy contenders for the ABL Championship Series.

 

So what is my point?

 

The situation in Brisbane turned into a fiasco that should never again be repeated. Sure, weather can always be a factor, and that is precisely why scheduling of a vital outdoor event should have some built-in level of flexibility so that every team has every possible chance of playing and performing to its best. While I understand that there are financial constraints, this is a semi-professional league that already struggles for traction – and integrity - without shooting itself in the foot through poor peceived planning.

 

The weather forecast days out from Game One suggested that heavy rain was on the radar. Would it have been possible to start the Semi-Final series on Thursday night, and at least get one game in before the heavens opened? Or even to reschedule the entire series to start from Sunday? Alternatively, after the Friday and Saturday rainouts, two games could have been scheduled for the Sunday, with the Aces required to win both to progress to the championship series. What about rescheduling games to Monday, Monday evening, even Tuesday? Obviously there would be a financial loss in that – and there would be implications for staffing, volunteers, attendances and the like. All legitimate concerns that would have somehow to be worked around.

 

Of course there is the argument that players need to work on the Monday and Tuesday. I am not convinced that applies in more than perhaps a few cases – and even then, surely it would be possible to negotiate a couple of days leave under the circumstances.

 

Quite simply, more thought needs to go into strategies for dealing properly, fairly and transparently with how playoff rainouts or other interruptions can be dealt with in the future. League officials and paid staff need to concede that the situation in Brisbane was simply not adequately planned for. There seems to have been no contingency plan in place- evidenced by the fact that the league General Manager publicly admitted to spending "all of Saturday on the phone" negotiating a resolution. Any potential scheduling adjustments were not spelled out clearly and unambiguously in advance – notwithstanding the terrific game that was eventually generated between two quality ball clubs.

 

Fortunately for all involved, no such weather issues applied in Perth, where “Best-Australian” crowds estimated at consistently above 2000 saw a wonderful series between the hometown heroes and Canberra Cavalry. Two of the most consistent Australian Baseball League clubs all season, the Heat and the Cavalry slugged out a terrific Semi-Final series – with the Cavalry qualifying for the Championship Series while the Heat came up just short after a magnificent season for the club.

 

Well done to all four clubs on qualifying for the ABL Semi-Final series. Best wishes to the Cavalry and the Bandits for a memorable Championship Series next weekend.

 

 SEMI-FINAL 1:   BRISBANE BANDITS versus MELBOURNE ACES (Holloway Field)

 

Brisbane won the only game, to qualify for the ABL Championship Series.

 

The Aces began the game brightly, with Darryl George smacking a first-pitch single, stealing second and advancing on a grounder, although Bandits starter Tim Atherton was up to the task in completing a scoreless inning before Chih-Sheng Len went deep off Josh Tols – with two out – for Brisbane to take an early lead. With both starters assuming command, the Bandits turned a crucial double play before Tyler Neslony tugged a solo shot over rightfield as Melbourne drew level in the top of three. Brisbane catcher Adam Weisenburger doubled to lead off the equaliser, Tols tattooed Donald Lutz and paid dearly when TJ Bennett blasted a three-run homer for a decisive lead, although the Aces replied with an RBI-double by Kelii Zablan. A lead-off solo shot by Ryan Dale drew the Aces to within a run in the top of five, Neslony singled into rightfield and Delmon Young launched a three-run opposite field missile as the visitors surged to a lead and the Bandits called Ryan Bollinger from the pen to mop up. Lin hit safely in the bottom of six, TJ Bennett wore a pitch and Logan Wade tugged a single into leftfield to level the scores and post runners at second and third with none out – drawing Dan McGrath into the fray. A two-out double by David Sutherland brought the situational strategy unstuck, plating two for the Bandits – with two out – before Sam Street conceded a fourth for the frame. Facing a three-run deficit, the Aces pulled one back – on a George solo blast - and Jon Kennedy was handed the task of containing the Brisbane offence. Retiring the first six hitters he faced, Kennedy was offered offensive support when Jarryd Dale doubled and George belted his second homer – a two-run shot – to level scores at eight apiece into the bottom of nine. Already a remarkable game of baseball, this contest was decided by another decisive blow of the bat of Sutherland, who drove a monster walkoff shot over right-centre to secure a memorable 9-8 result for the Bandits – and a third successive berth in the Claxton Shield Championship Series.

 

GAME ONE (abandoned)                     GAME TWO (abandoned)                    GAME THREE

 

 

SEMI-FINAL 2:   PERTH HEAT versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Barbagallo)

 

Canberra won two of the three games, to qualify for the ABL Championship Series.

 

After starters Alex Boshers (Perth) and Brian Grening (Canberra) went scoreless through the first of GAME ONE, the Heat exploded in the bottom of the second, when Garrett Whitley walked, Robbie Glendinning stroked an RBI double and Matt Kennelly singled to set the table for Jesse Williams – who whacked a two-out, two RBI-single before Tim Kennelly hit safely for a fourth run of the inning. While David Kandilas singled and Jay Baum left the yard with a two-run shot in the top of four, Perth again stretched the lead when Tim Kennelly cracked a solo homer in the bottom of five. Conceding back-to-back doubles to Baum and Boss Moanaroa in the sixth, the Heat went to Joe Van Meter to hold the line before Cavalry reliever Tyler Herr lost the radar momentarily to allow a sixth run across the plate for a decisive break that was protected by Warwick Saupold and Cameron Lamb with a scoreless innings apiece. Boshers carded the win in a 6-3 result that placed Perth a step closer to a championship berth after a spirited contest in which Tim Kennelly and Jesse Williams showed the way in offence – while Baum, Kandilas and Robbie Perkins were best of the Canberra hitters.

 

Giving the Cavalry a terrific start, Lake Bacher dominated the early innings of GAME TWO and was given offensive support when his side exploded to a four zip lead in the third, compliments of six hits that included doubles by Cameron Warner and Casey McElroy. Although Heaters Jesse Williams and Tim Kennelly (RBI) smacked back-to-back doubles in the bottom of the frame, the Cavalry was again on the march when Robbie Perkins homered and Lee Mills singled for two more in the fourth – drawing Nick Veale from the pen to relieve Perth starter Matt Kennelly. Escaping a bases-loaded jam, Veale initiated a sequence of scoreless innings for the Heat, who finally collared Bachar for two in the bottom of six. However, with Canberra reliever Steve Kent also conjuring up some outstanding work in relief, the Cavalry maintained its break to emerge a 6-3 winner in another tight contest between two quality sides. Winning pitcher Bachar whiffed ten over a superb starting stint, receiving solid offensive support from the likes of Warner, McElroy, David Kandilas, Robbie Perkins and Mills while Tim Kennelly, Robbie Glendinning and Jake Bowey were best with the bat for Perth.

 

Canberra posted an early lead in GAME THREE, when a Casey McElroy single and two defensive errors gleaned a run off Perth starter Kyle Simon, while Cavalry starter Frank Gailey was on song through a stellar several innings that saw him strike out seven and not concede a hit over the first five – while his side tacked on a second run in the fourth, after a single, a walk and a run-scoring grounder that drew Dylan Thompson from the pen to replace Simon. With both sides starved of scoring opportunities in a pitcher-dominated affair, Perth threatened in the bottom of six – when Tim Kennelly singled, Luke Hughes reached on an error and Garrett Whitley walked to load the bases with one out, a challenge that Gailey took up by retiring the next two hitters. Back-to-back doubles by McElroy and David Kandilas stretched the Cavalry lead in the top of seven, as Perth called on its bullpen to keep the game – and the season - alive. Calling on Van Meter, Warwick Saupold and Cameron Lamb, the Heat held their opponent scoreless through the later innings, although Perth was unable to deliver the offence against Gailey and polished closer Michael Click, who conceded a solo homer to Alex Hall in the bottom of the last before sealing the deal 3-1 in favour of the Cavalry – who have qualified for a Championship Series rendezvous with Brisbane Bandits. Magnificent over 7.1 innings (three hits, twelve strikeouts and no earned runs), Gailey earned a famous win for a Canberra side that out-hit its opponent eight to four – with McElroy and Kandilas prominent among a Cavalry offence that was seriously tested by all five Perth pitchers called upon.

 

GAME ONE                              GAME TWO                              GAME THREE