IN PROGRESS: World Baseball Classic
Qualifying for its fourth appearance at this prestigious international event - involving sixteen nations drawn across four groups - Australia has drawn in Pool B for the First Round, to be played at Tokyo Dome in front of expected crowds of up to 45,000 people.
The top two teams from each group will progress to the second round of the World Baseball Classic - a stiff assignment for our own Southern Thunder, which will play Japan, China and Cuba in its three pool games scheduled from Wednesday 8 March through to Friday 10 March.
While Australian Baseball Alumni will provide modest coverage with assistance of members currently in Tokyo, followers can keep abreast of all developments through the WBSC website and the detailed reporting provided by Baseball Australia through its website and social media.
GAME THREE: Australia falls short in a thriller against Cuba
10 March 2017
Entering the final pool game with some of its very best pitching still available and with an air of confidence around its offence, Australia came up excruciatingly short of qualifying for the next round of the World Baseball Classic after Cuba exploded mid-game and held on to win 4-3.
While Warwick Saupold gave his side its third superb start over the series, Australia was unable to convert early scoring opportunities and its first run – in the fifth – was responded to with ferocity when the Cuban four hitter blasted a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the frame for a lead that was never relinquished.
Notwithstanding the disappointing end to our World Classic campaign, Australian baseball was well-served and wonderfully represented by an extremely talented squad that belted emerging power China and seriously challenged a brilliant Japan squad and a Cuban outfit that continues to be a dominant force in world baseball.
CUBA 4 defeated AUSTRALIA 3
Again assuming the lead-off role for Australia, David Kandilas singled in the first and advanced on a two-out infield single by Mitch Dening before Cuban ace Lazaro Blanco escaped the inning with no scoring damage.
Himself conceding a two-out hit, Aussie starter Warwick Saupold appeared comfortable early and his offence continued to threaten – with two on in the second and a two-out bases loaded opportunity in the third that drew lightly built left-armer Yeonnis Yera from the Cuban bullpen to retire the Aussie side.
With Yera experiencing control issues, Allan de San Miguel and Kandilas drew passes in the top of four – although Australia remained unable to convert against an opponent that challenged in the equaliser, when evergreen Frederich Cepeda drew a lead-off walk, Willian Saavedra was tattooed and Yurisbel Gracial singled to load the bases with one out.
Seriously under the pump for the first time in this contest, the Aussies were able to turn a double play through home and escape the frame unscathed – hopefully, at that point, the spark that was required for a team holding realistic prospects of its first progression to the second round of the Classic.
After walking and stealing second in the fifth, Dening motored home on a two-out Wade single that broke the deadlock – followed by a single to de San Miguel that spelt the end for Yera.
Replacing Saupold (four hits over four scoreless innings), Lachlan Wells struck out the first two hitters he faced before faltering to load the bases and set the table for dangerous Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne – who delivered big-time with a grand slam over the left-centre wall and a three-run lead for his side.
Both having a great game with the bat, Kandilas doubled and James Beresford singled to place runners at the corners with none out in the sixth – although conversion again proved elusive as Luke Hughes struck out and Dening hit into a deflating double play.
Calling on Peter Moylan, the Aussies held the line in the equaliser before Designated Hitter Trent Oeltjen revived flagging Australian hopes with a booming solo homer over rightfield in the seventh and the Aussies closed the gap to one when Hughes doubled and Dening smacked a two-out RBI single in the bottom of eight before his side was retired – again with runners on base.
With Moylan and Steve Kent combining for three scoreless innings and their side chasing a ninth-innings run to keep an enthralling contest alive, it proved ultimately a bridge too far for Australia – which out-hit Cuba thirteen to ten.
While the winning margin was effectively decided by one mighty Cuban blow, the Aussies would be ruing their rate of offensive conversion – nineteen runners on base to produce three runs - in a team performance that again featured outstanding pitching and the silky defence to which we have become accustomed.
It was a heartbreaking end to a valiant campaign that again demonstrated Australia’s capacity to compete against the very best on the world stage. The future of Australian baseball continues to shine brightly, and there will be many more chances – at all levels – for our players to represent both themselves and the nation with distinction. Well done to all for the planning, the organisation, the effort and the commitment that was expended on our fourth appearance at the World Baseball Classic.
What does our performance this time around mean in the wider scheme of things?
Well, in the first instance, the win over China should mean that Australia does not have to qualify for the next World Baseball Classic – assuming that it goes ahead, although there is some doubt over that.
Secondly, Australia again categorically proved that it belongs in competitions against the world baseball powers. We were literally a timely hit (against Japan) and one tougher pitch (against Cuba) away from possibly going through pool play undefeated. Our performance will not have gone unnoticed by other baseball nations who already have great respect for our capacity to compete at international level despite being a minor sport in this country.
Thirdly, simply qualifying for the event and having a win over China will earn Australia valuable ranking points for future events such as Premier 12 and the 2020 Olympic Games, with the significant funding and sponsorship support that will be potentially on offer.
Finally, after the intense disappointment and soul-searching subsides, Australian baseball will progressively enter a whole new and exciting phase in its development over coming years. With several, perhaps many, of our veteran players expected to soon hang up the cleats after years of outstanding service and great commitment, there will be opportunities and openings for the next crop of superstars to step up at the highest levels.
Athletes inspired to be their best by beating the best.
That is something about which we should all be enthused, and to which we should all direct our support and our energies.
GAME TWO: Aussies stun China in belligerent assault
10 March 2017
Rebounding from a narrow loss against Japan – the tournament favourite – Australia posted a massive 11-0 win over China in the World Baseball Classic at Tokyo Dome this evening.
Inspired by a terrific start from Travis Blackley and exploiting timely hitting from the likes of Luke Hughes and Trent D’Antonio, Australia cruised to a four-zip lead after four and placed the game well out of China’s reach with a three-spot in the seventh that was backed up with a James Beresford grand slam in the eighth.
It was a comprehensive all-round performance by the Australian team, which will be forced to regroup rather quickly for a Friday clash with Cuba that will determine which of the two combatants advances to the second round.
AUSTRALIA 11 defeated CHINA 0
China starter Kwon Ju held Australia scoreless through the first, while Travis Blackley conceded an infield single before completing a scoreless first frame for both teams.
Coming off a strong showing against a tough Japan side on Wednesday, the Aussies threatened in the top of the second – when David Kandilas singled and Allan de San Miguel doubled into leftfield – before Luke Hughes opened scoring emphatically in the third with a two-run homer over left-centre.
Relieving Ju in the third, China right-armer Yanyong Yang had control issues – in walking Kandilas and Brad Harman – and was held to account when Designated Hitter Trent D’Antonio belted a two-run triple into rightfield for a four-zip lead to Southern Thunder.
Throwing a high percentage of strikes – something like eighty percent into the fourth – Blackley dominated the China hitters before handing the pill to Dushan Ruzic to mop up with two out and a runner at first in the bottom of four.
After both teams went scoreless through the fifth and sixth, Harman doubled in the top of seven and James Beresford drew a walk off China reliever Andrew Chin – setting the table for first-sacker Hughes, who capped a magnificent individual evening with a two-RBI double that effectively iced the game for Australia before Tim Kennelly singled to plate Hughes.
With Manager Jon Deeble introducing bench players into the contest, Australian reliever Todd van Steensel dealt a scoreless bottom of seven before the Aussies exploded in the eighth when Beresford blasted a grand slam over the rightfield wall.
Playing errorless defence throughout, Australia was especially well-served by starting pitcher Travis Blackley, former Major Leaguer Luke Hughes (two hits - including the home run - for four RBIs), Kandilas (two hits and a walk), second-sacker James Beresford (grand slam and three walks for four ribbies), D’Antonio and Kennelly.
Australia’s final Round One game will be a fascinating clash with Cuba – starting at 2.00 PM AEDST on Friday 10 March, with the winner effectively securing a berth in the next round.
GAME ONE: Squandered chances cost Aussies dearly
9 March 2017
Australia has fallen short of what could have been a famous victory over Japan – a world baseball powerhouse – after making the early offensive running at the World Baseball Classic but failing to deliver a decisive blow when it mattered most.
A superb start by Tim Atherton and a solo homer by Allan de San Miguel in the second gave the edge to the Southern Thunder, who passed up a serious scoring opportunity in the bottom of five – a letdown that proved pivotal in the contest as Japan took a lead in the top of seven, posted a couple of insurance runs and closed out the game 4-1.
While this was a disappointing result for its supporters, Australia was outstanding on the mound and in defence against the tournament favourite - giving our team justifiable confidence for games to come against China and Cuba.
JAPAN 4 defeated AUSTRALIA 1
Handed the pill to start for Australia in front of a baying capacity crowd of 45,000 in Tokyo Dome, Tim Atherton conceded singles in the top of the first to Tetsuto Yamada and Ryosuke Kikuchi, who both advanced on a grounder to no avail as the Aussie starter was able to escape the frame with a strikeout and a ground ball.
Slapping a one-out single off Japanese starting ace Tomoyuki Sugano, James Beresford was left high and dry before Atherton breezed through the top of the second and Allan de San Miguel brought the Aussie supporters to life with a two-out solo blast over the rightfield wall –precisely the start that his side was seeking against a quality opponent.
Supported by a tight defence, Atherton continued to put up zeroes and his side issued another challenge in the bottom of four, when Luke Hughes hit safely and advanced on a grounder but was stranded as flamethrowing Sugano whiffed Tim Kennelly and Stefan Welch.
A lead-off double in the top of five created an opportunity for Japan, with Seiya Suzuki stroking a single to place runners at the corners that drew Lachlan Wells from the pen in relief of a superb outing by Atherton, who was debited with the earned run when Nobuhiro Matsuda flied out on a sacrifice to leftfield.
A sacrifice bunt advanced the runner to second – with two out – before the young Aussie southpaw induced a flyball with the contest deadlocked at one apiece.
Tattooed by Sugano in the bottom of five, de San Miguel advanced on a Brad Harman single that capped a terrific nine pitch at-bat at bat for the classy shortstop and spelled the end on pitch count for the Japan starter – who was relieved by leftarmer Toshiya Okada with the game well in the balance.
Under enormous pressure in front of his home crowd, Okada walked David Kandilas – loading the bases with one out – although Japan was up to the task in turning an infield double to escape the innings and halt Australian momentum at what was clearly a crucial moment in the contest.
Kodai Senga tossed a scoreless sixth for Japan and Australia called upon Matt Williams, who was driven deep over the leftfield wall by Sho Nakata to hand the home team a lead in the top of seven – one that was built upon rather quickly when Jon Kennedy was taken for a two-run homer in the eighth that stretched the lead to a 4-1 margin that was protected by the Japanese bullpen.
With Travis Blackley expected to start, Australia will meet China on Thursday evening, starting at 9.00 PM AEDST, followed by a Friday game against Cuba. To advance to the next round, Australia will need to win both.