Cavalry sweep Sox: post-season wide open

Kingsley Collins

6 January 2019

 

Canberra Cavalry (19-13) stunned Australian Baseball League divisional leader Sydney Blue Sox (20-12) with an impressive four-game whitewash in Round Eight to currently share second with Brisbane Bandits (19-13), who packed too many guns for a valiant Auckland Tuatara (10-22).

 

Still well in the mix for a finals berth, Adelaide Bite (17-15) dropped one game and was stretched in another before flexing its offensive muscle for a Southwest division home series win over Geelong-Korea (6-26), which again appeared seriously undermanned for pitching.  

 

In a wonderfully tight series, Melbourne Aces (18-14) won the first two games at Laverton before Perth Heat (19-13) regrouped for a split that enabled the visitors to retain top billing on the Southwest standings – for now at least.                 

 

Indicative of the competitiveness of the 2018/19 Australian Baseball League season as it entered its final regular season rounds was the generation of so many close games – including one-run results and contests stretching into extra innings.

 

On Friday night alone, three of four games were decided by one run – under international tie-breaker rules – with Canberra producing a remarkable comeback by out-scoring Sydney six to one over the final three innings.

 

Application of the tie-breaker rule continues to create some consternation among fans and in online discussion, although it is now widely accepted in world baseball and has a particular, sensible function in this league – where curfews have applied at certain grounds over the years and where flight schedules and work commitments need to be met. While the tie-breaker rule may not appeal to some baseball purists, it enables a decisive resolution of the contest and it certainly creates the opportunity for interesting and strategic play.

 

Despite its series loss to Brisbane, Auckland again displayed its genuine fighting spirit – a quality that has endeared the club to fans across the league, especially given the challenge of being away from home for the past three weeks – while Geelong-Korea continued to string together some solid, aggressive baseball interspersed with other less than laudable performances, such as the woeful series finale at West Beach.

 

The series split between Perth and Melbourne resulted in a modest twenty-one runs being scored over the four games – eleven to the Heat and ten to the Aces, again suggesting that there is little between these clubs, who have each won four games from their meetings this season.

 

While Canberra has had its doubters – those who felt that the club might fall away later in the season – the Cavalry was ultra-impressive in its four-zip series result over Sydney, which still heads the Northeast group and remains a legitimate championship contender.

 

With little separating the top three clubs in each division, an already intense regular season will ramp up another notch for Round Nine, although final standings may yet come down to the final round – a situation, one assumes, that league officialdom would find quite satisfying. While Sydney is clearly best placed to qualify for the post-season, there will be much riding on the Brisbane/Canberra Round Nine series and the Melbourne/Adelaide clash at Laverton – a series that the Bite will surely need to win.

 

BRISBANE BANDITS versus AUCKLAND TUATARA

 

The first of a five-match series, GAME ONE was dominated early on by Bandits shortstop Logan Wade, who clubbed two two-out home runs for five RBIs from his first two trips as Tuatara starter Stephen Swagerty was chased from the hill and Auckland called heavily upon its bullpen – which was solid through the middle innings until Brisbane pulled further away late in the game for a clear-cut 9-4 win despite the visitors plating runs in the bottom of nine of this make-up contest.

 

While Auckland began GAME TWO brightly, with a run in the first and a couple in the second – compliments of Zach Clark (who starred with two home runs and three RBIs) – the Bandits were in belligerent offensive mood, belting three in the first and seven in the second on their way to a thumping 15-4 result that owed plenty to the clean hitting of Riley Unroe (home run and four RBIs), Andrew Campbell (home run, four ribbies), Wynton Bernard (four hits) and David Sutherland.

 

Former Major Leaguers Travis Blackley (Brisbane) and Josh Collmenter (Auckland) held sway in style through the early innings of GAME THREE before the Tuatara scored on a Zach Clark RBI-single in the fourth as both clubs squandered offensive opportunities until Wade Dutton cracked an RBI-single in the sixth, the Bandits quelled an eighth innings challenge and the game was forced into tiebreaker extras – when the Tuatara plated three and held on under enormous pressure for a 3-2 win.

 

A seven-innings contest, GAME FOUR was controlled early on by Tim Atherton (Brisbane) and Jimmy Boyce (Auckland), with the Tuatara scoring three in the fourth – on a grounder and singles to Daniel Lamb-Hunt and Luke Hansen – although TJ Bennett homered for the Bandits, Wade Dutton cracked an RBI-double and Ryan Battaglia singled off Scott Cone to level scores before the Brisbane offence exploded with four (including a three-run Riley Unroe bomb) and held on for a thrilling 8-7 win.

 

Brisbane started GAME FIVE in positive manner with a two-run TJ Bennett homer off Scott Richmond, although the Tuatara hit back strongly with three in the fourth – including a Zach Clark homer and a Taylor Snyder in-the-park round-tripper – before the Bandits offence ignited with a three-run Daniel Nilsson homer and a David Sutherland solo shot, a second Bennett moonshot and a four-spot in the seventh as the home club forged to an explosive 12-4 victory on fourteen hits.

 

Brisbane won this series 4-1 (including the make-up game from earlier rainout in Auckland).

 

ADELAIDE versus GEELONG-KOREA

 

Geelong-Korea plated a run in the second of a GAME ONE contest dominated by starters Markus Solbach (Adelaide) and Byeong-Jun Kim (Geelong-Korea) until the Bite offence exploded through the later innings – including a game-breaking eight in the eighth – before the visitors rallied for a three-spot that proved inadequate against an Adelaide side that had nine players contribute to an eighteen-run hit parade in support of Solbach, who was sensational over eight in the 13-7 win.

 

With Ki-Hoon Ryu escaping a GAME TWO bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the first, Geelong-Korea plated an unearned run off Kurt Heyer in the top of the third, although Ryu struggled with control and allowed the Bite to square the ledger before reliever Jin-Yong Jang again asserted his side’s authority and the contest stretched into extra innings – when Joo-Ho Lee swatted a three-run homer for Geelong Korea, which held on 4-3 as Geon-Yep Heo closed out a terrific win for the visitors.

 

Aggressive in offence for GAME THREE, Geelong-Korea plated a run off Michael Gahan in the second and continued to threaten, while Sang-Hak Lee was superb with the start for GK before the Bite edged ahead with two in the fourth – including an Aaron Whitefield homer – before two more in the fifth against an opponent that clearly out-hit the home club but was unable to convert as it would have liked before fireballer Ryan Chaffee whiffed three to close out a 4-1 result for the Bite.

 

Having serious control issues in GAME FOUR, Geelong-Korea starter Jae-Gon Lee conceded a run in the first and seven more in the second – including a Kuan-Jen Chen bases-clearing double – while Bite starter Greg Mosel was given further run support with a four-run fourth (including a Jordan McArdle homer) before handing the ball to his bullpen with the contest well-won as Adelaide pressed mercilessly ahead for a comprehensive and sadly lopsided 21-1 result.

 

Adelaide won this series 3-1.

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX

 

Spinning a superb seven innings for the Cavalry in GAME ONE, Steve Kent (six hits, five strikeouts, one earned run) was a key factor in an important contest that saw Canberra never headed after Michael Fransoso (three hits) whacked a solo homer off Blue Sox ace Alex Maestri in the first and Zach Wilson followed suit in the sixth before their offence (including a terrific contribution by Michael Crouse) regrouped for a three-spot in the eighth that set the base for a 6-2 Cavalry win.

 

Sydney scored early in GAME TWO on a Gift Ngoepe single and the Cavalry hit back with a two-run Zach Wilson homer, sparking a Blue Sox outburst that gleaned four in the second to chase Canberra starter Kyle Kinman from the hill before Wilson swatted his second homer and the clubs traded blows – including a Jack Murphy solo bomb – until Michael Fransoso (two-run homer in the eighth) went deep for the Cavalry, who proceeded to force an extraordinary 10-9 extra-innings win.

 

Although Canberra had early scoring opportunities in GAME THREE, Craig Anderson matched Cavalry starter Frank Gailey in putting up zeroes through three until Boss Moanaroa slapped a two-run single in the bottom of four before both clubs were henceforth held scoreless in a pitcher-dominated affair that saw Gailey (six innings for three hits and seven strikeouts) card the 2-0 win while his teammates Michael Fransoso (two hits), Michael Crouse (two hits) and Moanaroa provided the offence.

 

Looking for a crucial sweep, Canberra started GAME FOUR with a bang, taking Josh Guyer for five early runs before the Sox offence came alive – including a two-run Jack Murphy homer – to draw within a run after five, although the Cavalry consolidated on a Cam Warner RBI-single (his third hit of the game) and Kyle Perkins drew a bases-loaded walk for a two-run seventh before another in the eighth that set up an 8-5 result for Canberra over a Blue Sox unit that toughed it out to no avail.

 

Canberra won this series 4-0.

 

MELBOURNE ACES versus PERTH HEAT

 

Starters Scott Shuman (Melbourne) and John Anderson (Perth) traded zeroes in the early stages of GAME ONE and the contest remained scoreless until the bottom of six – when Jarryd Dale walked, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a Darryl George single as the Aces called upon Jon Kennedy and the returning Josh Tols to close out a pitchers’ duel 1-0 in favour of the Melbourne club, which played errorless defence while strangling a powerful Heat offence to the tune of just three hits.

 

Tim Kennelly homered off Luke Westphal in the first of GAME TWO and the Heat stretched their lead in the fourth – on an Alex Hall RBI-single and a sacrifice flyball – while Nick Veale kept tabs on the Aces hitters through four until a late challenge, when Melbourne plated a run in the sixth, drew level on a Luke Hughes two-run homer in the seventh and loaded the bases with one out in the eighth – a situation made for Darry George, who delivered with a sacrifice flyball for a gutsy 4-3 Aces victory.

 

Dushan Ruzic (Melbourne) and Conor Lourey (Perth) held sway early in GAME THREE, and a momentarily faltering Heat defence enabled the Aces to plate two in the third – although the visitors issued a prompt reply on three hits and a pair of run-scoring grounders before edging ahead on a Robbie Glendinning RBI-single and an inherited run off reliever Dan McGrath as the Aces offence was unable to convert its scoring opportunities in a vital 4-2 result for the Perth club.

 

A throwing error and a wild pitch by Ryan Flores enabled Melbourne to score in the first of GAME FOUR, although the Heat responded with three in the fourth – on four hits, a walk and a HPB off Jack Enciondo – and another in the fifth, off Jon Kennedy, before the Aces squandered a bases-loaded opportunity that would come back to haunt them as Daniel Schmidt (3.1 innings) spun a quality set-up stint and Cameron Lamb conceded a Luke Hughes homer before closing out the 4-3 Perth win.

 

This series was split 2-2.