Blue Sox, Bite sweep: Bandits head North East

Kingsley Collins

9 December 2018

 

Sydney (10-6) made light of its trek across the Tasman for Australian Baseball League Round Four, downing the Tuatara (4-11) comfortably in four – while Brisbane (10-5) heads its division after taking three from Canberra (6-10) at Narrabundah.

 

Adelaide (9-7) is a clear third in the South West group after dispensing with Geelong-Korea (2-14), while a vaunted match up in the west disappointed no-one, as quality clubs in Perth Heat (11-5) and Melbourne Aces (11-5) shared the spoils to remain deadlocked atop their divisional table.

 

As trends begin to emerge across the two divisions, league officialdom would again be delighted with attendance figures in Perth (over 2000 for the Saturday twin-bill) and in Canberra, where the revamped Narrabundah Ballpark drew a throng of 1779 on Saturday night.  

 

While numbers out west and in the national capital were impressive, we should remember that those two series generated particular interest – in Perth (which is always well supported), the Heat was meeting Melbourne Aces in a top-of-the table blockbuster, while the Canberra series pitted two quality ball clubs who were meeting for the first time since the last ABLCS.

 

While Auckland drew a crowd of 615 for its Saturday doubleheader – the last games to be played at McLeod Park for the season – figures were relatively modest, as was the case at Geelong Baseball Centre as the Korean club strives to deliver playing success to its local support base. 

 

With four rounds effectively completed, the two expansion clubs face an important and challenging phase as they seek to become established in the Australian Baseball League.

 

Ultra-competitive thus far – despite a disappointing series against Sydney in which it scored just four runs in four games – Auckland Tuatara will transform into a travelling roadshow for its next six away rounds in Australia, including games in unfamiliar regional centres.

 

For its part, a thus-far modestly-performed Geelong-Korea will be looking desperately to string a few wins together to help nurture and strengthen its support base here and in Asia. The going is tough, however, as pitching staff can especially attest.

 

While Jin-Yong Yang has been steady and courageous over 23 innings (for a 3.13 ERA), he is the only pitcher on the roster who sits in the top twenty of the league, with half a dozen of his team-mates carrying ERAs of between eight and fifteen. Team average is a weighty and damaging 8.53.

 

The Geelong-Korea defence has been generally sound, with Sun-Gu Han and Tae-Joon Lim both class acts behind the dish - although it has been the struggle to apply consistent offensive pressure that is often landing the side in trouble. With the second-lowest number of runs scored across the league (ahead only of Auckland), Geelong-Korea has just six hitters averaging above 0.200 – Hak-Jun Noh, Seung-Hun Kim, Yong-Wook Lee, Kwang-Min Kwon, Sun-Gu Han and Tae-Joon Lim.

 

While the Auckland hitting numbers and run conversion have also been of modest proportions, its team pitching ERA is around 4.45 and it has enjoyed regular quality mound time from the likes of Kyle Glogoski (1.37 ERA), Josh Collmenter (2.37), Atsuki Taneichi and Jimmy Boyce.

 

Although it will understandably take time for the expansion clubs to develop the roster depth to play consistently strong baseball in what is a pretty tough league, at the other end of the scale it is already clear that Perth Heat, Melbourne Aces and Brisbane Bandits will be legitimate contenders for the 2018/19 championship – with Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide all poised to drive towards a post-season berth over the final six rounds. 

 

GEELONG-KOREA versus ADELAIDE BITE

 

Anchored with another outstanding start by Markus Solbach, the Bite began slowly against Jin-Yong Jang before Mikey Reynolds (two-RBI single in the fifth) and Austin Gallagher (solo homer) sparked an Adelaide offence that pressed on for a 6-0 win in GAME ONE.

 

Again off to a solid start in GAME TWO, Geelong-Korea was stunned by a six-run Adelaide third – including a three-run Mikey Reynolds bomb – that opened the floodgates against a bullpen that battled hard but whose team was light on for offensive conversion as the Bite cruised home 10-3.  

 

Striking early in GAME THREE – with a three-spot in the first – the Bite were well contained by a gutsy Jin-Woo Kim after a rain delay, although the Geelong–Korea offence found it tough going against Michael Gahan before some late hitting that came up short as Adelaide held on 7-2.

 

Aided by errant defence, Geelong-Korea took a promising early lead in GAME FOUR before the Bite drew level on a Michael Gettys round-tripper before forging ahead – including homers by Nick Shumpert and Mikey Reynolds – for a strong 12-4 win against an opponent that tried five on the hill but was comprehensively out-played.

 

Adelaide won this series 4-0.

 

AUCKLAND TUATARA versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX

 

What started as a pitching duel in GAME ONE between Jimmy Boyce (Auckland) and Alex Maestri (Sydney) turned into a rout as the visitors blasted seven in the seventh – including a Zac Shepherd grand slam – before Craig Anderson closed out the contest 9-1 for Sydney.

 

With Luke Wilkins (three hits, seven strikeouts) spinning a seven-innings complete GAME TWO, Sydney plated two in the third off Tuatara starter Kyle Glogoski before breaking out with a four-run top of seven for a 7-1 Blue Sox win featuring timely offence by Younis, Howe and Hao Wei Shen.

 

Sydney jumped out with four in the first of GAME THREE – a seven innings contest - for a commanding lead as Nick Fanti (five innings, nine punchouts) and the Blue Sox bullpen dominated a Tuatara side that made errors and could muster just four hits to nine in being outplayed 5-1.

 

With Josh Guyer (nine strikeouts) dominant into the sixth, Sydney maintained a GAME FOUR lead against a Tuatara outfit that would be pleased with its pitching but struggled to convert its scoring opportunities against the Blue Sox – whose 3-1 win presented it with a crucial series sweep.

 

Sydney won this series 4-0.

 

PERTH HEAT versus MELBOURNE ACES

 

Matched against the hottest offence in the league, Melbourne started brightly in GAME ONE – with a Darryl George homer – but that was all she wrote for the visitors, whose hitters were stifled by Conor Lourey and Joe Peguero, who held the line in for 2-1 win, with all runs scored in the first.

 

The Aces gained an early break in a seven-innings GAME TWO before Perth hit back on a Pete Kozma homer in the fifth, although a stingy Melbourne bullpen - in Saito and Fallwell - was able to preserve the lead as the visitors  emerged a 3-2 winner to square the series after two.

 

Darryl George homered early in GAME THREE and the Aces kicked away before Perth plated three unearned in a tight contest dominated by Dushan Ruzic, whose seven superb innings guided Melbourne to a 5-3 win - despite the Heat posting eleven hits to nine, thanks largely to Chris Betts (four knocks and an RBI).

 

Well-held by Perth starter Robert Garcia in GAME FOUR – despite another solo shot by Darryl George – the Heat offence was relentless through the late innings of an intense contest, outslugging the Aces ten hits to five (with eight players contributing) on its way to a 7-1 win that squared the series and underscored the credentials of both clubs as legitimate contenders.

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus BRISBANE BANDITS

 

Playing at a wonderfully developed Narrabundah facility for the first time this season, Canberra shook off an early deficit against Brisbane- with a three-run Kyle Perkins homer – before the Bandits put up a decisive two-spot in the eighth to take GAME ONE 6-4.

 

Two of the league’s best in Travis Blackley (Brisbane) and Frank Gailey (Canberra) went brilliantly head-to-head in GAME TWO, with Gailey outstanding in a thrilling pitcher-dominated 2-1 Cavalry win that was decided with a walk-off ground ball in the bottom of the ninth to level the series.

 

Canberra was off to a GAME THREE flier when Boss Moanaroa belted a three-run homer off Tim Atherton, though Chi-Hung Hsu sparked a Bandits recovery in a strategic pitchers’ contest that stretched into extras, when Andrew Campbell smacked a two-RBI double to set up a 5-3 win for Brisbane.

 

A three-run TJ Bennett homer in GAME FOUR provided a perfect start for the Bandits, whose hitters were on fire against Steven Chambers and Jason Lott, while Canberra took until the sixth to collar Ko-Chien Lin, sparking a late recovery – including a Zach Wilson three-run blast – as Brisbane held on 9-7.

 

Brisbane won this series 3-1.

Geelong Baseball Centre on a balmy evening