Bite sweeps Aces: Bandits poised to strike

Kingsley Collins

22 January 2017

 

Strengthening its hold on second placing, Adelaide Bite (20-16) continued its season dominance over Melbourne Aces (24-12), who head the Australian Baseball League table but have still not secured the minor premiership and the home Championship Series that seemed inevitable just days ago.

 

Splitting its away series with Sydney Blue Sox (14-21), Canberra Cavalry (19-17) currently holds third placing but appears vulnerable after Brisbane Bandits (18-17) earned a hard-win sweep over a valiant Perth Heat (12-24), which is well out of contention but may still play a vital role in the makeup of the top three.

 

Just another brilliant round of hotly-contested and high-standard baseball as we head to the final regular season games next week. 

 

With one full round to play – and the reschedule of a rainout between Brisbane and Sydney if required – there will be enormous interest leading into Round Ten starting on Thursday evening.

 

While Melbourne is certain of a playoff berth, its supporters - some of them seemingly into premature jubilation - can still not be sure of a home Championship Series. Should the Aces lose all four of their Round Ten games in Perth, and should Adelaide – at home – take the brooms to Sydney, then the Bite would snatch top spot. Yes, the odds of both scenarios happening are remote, but we should never underestimate the capacity of the Heat to turn it on at home – especially when they can play with free abandon, in the knowledge there is nothing to lose. Nor should we understate the recent scintillating form of the Bite, who will be well cognisant of the situation when they host a Sydney outfit that has nothing to gain - albeit neither to lose - and may be looking more to winding down after an arduous season.

 

Although Sydney and Perth are both out of playoff contention, not so for Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane, who are all vying for two spots. Surely not happy with its series split against Sydney, Canberra has the white-hot Brisbane breathing down its neck after the Bandits toughed it out in remarkable fashion for a much-needed sweep of Perth Heat. While the Aces have been the glamour side of the 2016/17 season, four clubs still hold legitimate claims as potential Claxton Shield champions - including the ever-dangerous reigning titleholder, a Canberra unit that is accomplished in all aspects of the game and an Adelaide outfit that so far has clearly had the wood on a league leader that has set the pace this season. 

 

All eyes will be on Narrabundah next weekend for what should be a cracking series between the Cavalry and the Bandits. If the Bandits can make the Preliminary Final, look OUT (and this coming from a Victorian......).

 

 

AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE ROUND NINE 2016/17

 

MELBOURNE ACES versus ADELAIDE BITE (Melbourne Ballpark)

 

Adelaide won this series 4-0.

 

Needing one win from eight to nail a home Championship Series, Melbourne Aces offered early GAME ONE support to quality starter Mark Hamburger when Brad Harman launched a solo blast in the bottom of the second off the well-performed Max MacNabb. Continuing to slug it out in a classic pitchers’ duel, Hamburger and MacNabb put up goose eggs through the middle innings and Hamburger thwarted a Bite challenge in the top of six – when Jordan Cowan walked and Mitch Dening hit safely for no result. Relieving MacNabb after seven innings of outstanding work (five hits, five strikeouts and no walks for the solitary earned run), consummate closer Matt Williams lost the radar momentarily in the bottom of eight – walking Jared Cruz and Cody Jones with two out – before inducing a ground ball from Major Leaguer James Beresford. Given the opportunity of tossing a complete game for the Aces, Hamburger conceded a lead-off hit to Cowan and a single to Dening that put runners at the corners with none out in the top of nine. A fielder’s choice and a throwing error gleaned a tying run for the Bite, who stayed with Williams as the game progressed to extras. Relieving Hamburger after a fantastic nine-innings outing (five hits and eight strikeouts for an earned run), Peter Moylan conceded a lead-off hit to Marcus Greene before a strikeout and a double play ended the tenth. With the tie-breaker rule applied in the top of eleven, Cowan doubled for the go-ahead and Josh Tols intentionally passed up Dening to load the bases – a strategy that came unstuck as Jordan McArdle smacked a two-RBI double and Loek van Mil closed out the equaliser for a 4-1 win to the Adelaide Bite. This was a crucial win for Adelaide, which ultimately had the better of an enthralling duel that featured some of the very best pitching of the 2016/17 ABL season.

 

Starting pitchers Virgil Vasquez (Melbourne) and Steve Chambers (Adelaide) negotiated the early innings of GAME TWO safely, although the Aces squandered a couple of scoring opportunities as Chambers settled into his work after issuing three passes. Aces Designated Hitter Darryl George drew a walk to lead off the bottom of five, advanced on a passed ball and scored on a soft liner by Liam Bedford, who went to second on a Wigberto Nevarez sacrifice bunt and crossed the plate on a Cody Jones double for a two-zip lead to the home club. Threatening with runners on and none out in the top of six, Adelaide hit into a double play but drew level when Mitch Dening belted a two-run triple off Aces reliever Jon Kennedy. Marcus Greene singled to score Dening and the Bite went to Greg Mosel when Roman Collins singled to lead off the bottom of six for Melbourne. Brad Harman drew a walk, Mike Walker laid down a bunt and a George grounder scored the tying run at three apiece – although the visitors were not to be denied, as Dening cracked an RBI-double to again give his side the lead in the top of eight and draw former Bite hurler Dushan Ruzic from the pen. Finding it tough going against Mosel, the Aces failed to threaten in the seventh and eighth before the Bite called on Loek van Mil to close out the game 4-3 in favour of the Adelaide side – which continues to trouble Melbourne in its otherwise dominant season to date. Carding another win for Adelaide, Mosel extended his club’s pitching dominance over the Aces, who could muster just five hits (three by Collins) against an Adelaide offence that was carried by national representative Dening with his two doubles for three RBIs in a stunning evening out.

 

Still in search of an elusive win that would assure them of a home Championship Series, the Aces were on the board early in GAME THREE, scoring a first innings run off Bite starter Christopher Horne, who struggled for control through that frame. Conceding more passes than he would have liked, Melbourne southpaw Daniel McGrath ran into strife in the top of three, when Marcus Greene smacked an RBI-single and Josh Altmann blasted a three-run bomb for an Adelaide lead. Calling Dushan Ruzic from the pen, the Aces escaped a threatening situation in the fourth and gave themselves a shot in the bottom of the inning by landing runners at the corners with none out. An infield double allowed Brad Harman to come home for the Aces, who played some great defence to escape another tricky situation in the top of five. Replacing Horne after five solid innings (five hits and four strikeouts for two earned runs), James Snelgrove tossed a scoreless sixth while the Aces called upon Yuta Watanabe and Sam Street to keep the Bite hitters in check until the top of nine, when Angus Roeger belted a two-run homer for a 6-2 break that became the final score in Adelaide’s favour as Hei-Chun Lee and Loek van Mil combined to stifle the Aces offence. Horne earned the win for the Bite, who out-slugged the home club thirteen to seven – largely through the efforts of Altmann (two hits – including a home run - for three RBIs), Roeger (three and two, including the home run) and Marcus Greene (two and one), while James Beresford (two hits) and Mike Walker (one and one) were best of a quiet Aces offence.

 

With the celebratory champagne still on ice, Melbourne Aces sent Sam Gibbons to the hill in GAME FOUR, while Zach Cooper took the pill for Adelaide, who were still a rough chance of snagging the minor premiership – pending other results. While the Bite had a couple of early chances, Melbourne struck first blood when Mike Walker belted a solo homer in the bottom of two – although the Bite flexed its offensive muscle in the fourth, when Mitch Dening doubled, and scored on a Stefan Welch single before Josh Altmann smashed a two-run homer over leftfield for a two-run break. When LeDarious Clark drove a two-run shot over the right-centre wall it was curtains for Gibbons, who was relieved by Josh Tols with the Aces facing an uphill battle. A single to Austin Darby and a James Beresford double gave the Aces a scoring chance in the bottom of six, but both were lost on base as the Bite played impeccable defence behind Cooper – who was relieved by Greg Mosel after a superb outing (six innings, five hits and four strikeouts for one earned run). Although Tols was on song against his former club, a slick infield double thwarted another Melbourne scoring opportunity in the seventh and Matt Williams was called on to perform the last rites for Adelaide, which continued to play stellar defence and emerged a comfortable 5-1 winner for a series sweep. Cooper earned the win for Adelaide, which defended brilliant and had outstanding hitters in Clark, Dening and Altmann, while Beresford (three hits), Darby and Walker were best of a subdued Aces outfit that faces the trip west next week in search of what will by no means be a gimme win over the Heat.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

BRISBANE BANDITS versus PERTH HEAT (Holloway Field)

 

Brisbane Bandits won this series 4-0.

 

Starters Kramer Champlin (Brisbane) and Lex Rutledge (Perth) were untroubled through the early innings of GAME ONE before Wade Dutton doubled to lead off the bottom of three for the home club and crossed the plate on a passed ball and a throwing error by the Heat catcher. Delivering the big pitches to escape what could have been a more damaging innings, Rutledge conceded a lead-off single to David Rodriguez in the bottom of four but the Bandits again came up empty. Posting the Heat’s first hit with two out in the top of five, catcher John Riley was left high and dry as Bandits shortstop Logan Wade played a superb defensive innings to retain the narrow lead for his club. Relieving Rutledge after five strong innings (five hits, four hits, no walks and five strikeouts for an earned run), Cameron Lamb conceded two-out singles to Mitch Nilsson and the white-hot Rodriguez before whiffing Wade in a threatening situation. Relieving Champlin after a brilliant outing (six innings for one hit and eight strikeouts), Zac Treece breezed through the seventh before handing the pill to Justin Erasmus – who was taken deep by Perth leftfield Derek Peterson with a solo shot to level scores in the top of eight. With the scores deadlocked, former big leaguer Luke Hughes stepped up for Perth in the top of nine, blasting a solo shot over the rightfield wall for a lead that appeared to be enough until Wade uncorked a two run bomb over the centrefield wall – off Warwick Saupold – that sealed a memorable 3-2 result for Brisbane. Erasmus carded the win for the Bandits, who gave up the bombs to Peterson and Hughes but who themselves had magnificent game-changing offensive contributors in Wade and Rodriguez.

 

Mitch Nilsson opened GAME TWO scoring for Brisbane in the bottom of the first with a booming home run off Perth starter Tom Bailey, although the Heat responded promptly when John Riley slapped an RBI-single off Rick Teasley. Back to back singles by Wade Dutton and Aaron Whitefield set the table for the Bandits in the bottom of three, when David Rodriguez delivered with a two-RBI single for a two-run lead that was promptly erased when Riley belted a three-run Perth shot over the rightfield wall. With its finals prospects still on the line, the Bandits responded with a three-spot in the bottom of four – highlighted by a two-run Dutton bomb and a Nilsson grounder for a two-run break. Perth reliever Scott Mitchinson was greeted with a Logan Wade homer in the bottom of five while the Bandits called upon Sam Holland and Ty’Relle Harris to hold the line after Teasley’s 4.2 innings of work (eight hits and eight strikeouts for four earned runs). Not about to capitulate, the Heat were given a boost when Tim Kennelly swatted a solo homer off Matt Timms in the top of seven, although the task again became tough for Perth when Trent Oeltjen slapped a soft RBI-grounder into rightfield in the bottom of eight. Called to the fray in the top of nine, Ryan Searle conceded a lead-off homer to Joey Wong before retiring the Heat – with a runner at first – for an 8-6 Bandits win that keeps the reigning champion in contention for a playoff berth. Holland carded the win and Searle the save for a Brisbane side that had offensive livewires in Dutton, Nilsson, Whitefield and the irrepressible Rodriguez, while Riley (two hits – including the home run – for four RBIs) was the standout for a Perth lineup that had eight players contributing to a potent offence.

 

Starting GAME THREE for the Bandits, Ryan Rowland-Smith breezed through the first but was taken deep by Derek Peterson in the second and conceded singles to Matt Kennelly and John Riley as the Heat sought to provide offensive support to starter Michael Lee. Right on cue, up and coming star Ulrich Bojarski blasted a solo shot over centrefield to give Perth a two-zip lead that was erased rather quickly – in the bottom of three – when Trent Oeltjen walked and Mitch Nilsson launched a two-run blast over rightfield. Logan Wade and Kevin Padlo singled before Thomas Milone walked for Brisbane – with two out – and David Sutherland forced a two-run defensive error as the Bandits edged away. With his side continuing to press, Aaron Whitefield drew a walk in the bottom of four, advanced on a throwing error and was driven in by Oeltjen, who in turn crossed the plate when Nilsson crushed his second round-tripper as the game threatened to become a rout. While a Matt Kennelly RBI-single reduced the lead to five, the Bandits were not about to let this one slip despite the best efforts of Heat reliever Benn Grice – who has had an outstanding season. Relieving Rowland-Smith after five innings (seven hits, four strikeouts and three earned runs), Ty’Relle Harris conceded a belated run in the top of eight to bring Matt Timms into the fray. Facing a four-run deficit, the Heat landed runners on base in the top of nine and Tim Kennelly delivered with a three-run blast to make this a one-run ball game before Ryan Searle was able to close out the contest 8-7 in favour of Brisbane. Rowland-Smith carded the win and Searle his ninth save of the season in an entertaining affair featuring great hitting by Nilsson (two home runs for four RBIs), Whitefield, Wade and Padlo for Brisbane, along with Tim Kennelly, Matt Kennelly, Riley and Bojarski for an ultra-competitive Perth Heat.

 

Nick Veale (Perth) and Justin Erasmus (Brisbane) both spun scoreless first innings in GAME FOUR before the Heat exploded with three in the top of the second – delivered on a three-run blast by Designated Hitter Josh Kennelly after Derek Peterson and John Riley had hit safely. David Sutherland singled in the equaliser to drive in a first run for the Bandits, although Perth was on the march again in the top of four – when Tim Kennelly walked and scored on a mis-handled hit by Peterson before John Riley singled and Josh Kennelly grounded out for another off Bandits reliever Zac Treece. When Peterson drove in another in the top of five it was looking grim for the Bandits, who drew three straight passes from Veale in the bottom of the frame and scored their second on a Logan Wade sacrifice flyball off Heat reliever Will Dennis. Two singles off reliever Sam Holland and a Bandits defensive error gleaned another run for the Heat, who stranded three but still held a five-run break in the middle of six. Brisbane stepped on the gas in the bottom of seven, when Jake Bowey and Benn Grice came in for some punishment – resulting in a four-run innings, including a bases-clearing single by David Sutherland. While Luke Hughes homered for Perth in the top of eight, David Rodriguez replied with a two-run bomb that tied the scores at eight apiece after eight. Ryan Searle – who ultimately earned the win - held the Heat scoreless in the top of nine and Kevin Padlo stepped up in the bottom of the frame with a solo blast that delivered a walkoff 9-8 win to the Bandits after a cracking contest. Sutherland, Padlo and Rodriguez were the standouts in offence against a Heat outfit that amassed fifteen knocks through the combined efforts of nine players – with the standouts being Peterson, Riley and Josh Kennelly.  

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR

 

 

SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Blacktown Sportspark)

 

This series was drawn 2-2.

 

With well-performed starters in Trevor Foss (Sydney) and Brian Grening (Canberra) going head to head, there was minimal offence early in GAME ONE until the top of three, when Scott Kelly walked and River Stevens blasted a two-run homer to break the deadlock. Successive hits to Jacob Younis, Josh Dean and Michael Campbell - with an RBI-single - loaded the bases for Sydney with none out in the bottom of five. Second-sacker Ryo Nishimura singled to drive in a second and Malik Collymore handed Sydney the lead with a line drive into leftfield. Kelly’s RBI-single drew Canberra level in the seventh and the Cavalry edged further ahead in the top of eight – off Blue Sox reliever Gyoung-Wan Lim – when Boss Moanaroa doubled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a Robbie Perkins single. A sacrifice flyball by Kyle Perkins forced another run across the plate for the Cavalry, who were held scoreless by Josh Guyer in the top of nine before Tim Atherton slammed the gate for Canberra to post a hard-fought 5-3 victory over a Sydney team that is now out of playoff contention. While Atherton earned the win, Grening (seven hits and five strikeouts for the three earned runs) was quite superb over six innings for a side that was well-served offensively by Robbie Perkins (three hits and an RBI), Stevens (two hits – including the home run – for two RBIs) and Moanaroa (two doubles). With two hits apiece, Collymore and Younis were the multiple hitters for a Blue Sox outfit that played impeccable defence but was unable to hold off a relentless Cavalry when the game was on the line.   

 

With Luke Wilkins (Sydney) and Sean Guinard (Canberra) both delivering solid starts for their respective clubs in GAME TWO, there was little happening early in offence until Robbie Perkins singled in the top of three, advanced on a sacrifice bunt and a fielding error before scoring on a grounder to the right side. Responding in the equaliser, the Blue Sox plated two when Shane Kelleher walked and scored on an error-assisted single to Jake Webster, who crossed the plate on a Mark Collymore grounder. Relieving Guinard with two out in the bottom of five, AJ Holland walked Jacob Younis in the bottom of six and was not helped by some errant Cavalry defence that allowed the Sox to load the bases with one out – an opportunity seized upon by first sacker Kelleher, who drove a two-RBI double into leftfield for a three run lead to the home side. When Collymore singled to score another, it was looking bleak for the Cavalry, whose vaunted offence was unable to make inroads in the last of the seven-innings contest and the Blue Sox emerged with a comfortable 5-1 victory. While Collymore and Kelleher struck vital blows for Sydney with two ribbies apiece, the star of the show was clearly Wilkins, who conceded just three hits and one walk while whiffing five in an outstanding complete game for the Blue Sox.

 

Stifled for production in the afternoon fixture, Canberra brought the early offence to GAME THREE, taking Sydney evergreen Craig Anderson for a second innings run on a Jason Sloan double and an RBI Aaron Sloan single, while Louis Cohen was his usual reliable self in holding sway for the Cavalry. When Robbie Perkins singled, Jason Sloan singled and both advanced on a sacrifice bunt in the top of six, Sydney called Sven Schuller from the pen. A wild pitch scored a second run for Canberra, although the Sox hit back when Malik Collymore landed on base through a fielding error, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on an Alex Howe double. Called on in relief for Sydney, Vaughan Harris posted a scoreless eighth, while Zech Lemond repeated the dose as Canberra set-up man. Todd van Steensel held the Cavalry scoreless in the top of the last, although Sydney refused to capitulate in the equaliser – with Alex Howe hitting safely to lead-off before Steve Kent retired the next three hitters to secure an important 2-1 for Canberra, which remains in second placing ahead of Adelaide Bite. In a game dominated by pitching and defence, Cohen earned the win with the support of hitting provided by Jason Sloan (three hits) and Boss Moanaroa (two), while Howe (three hits and an RBI) was the beacon in a subdued Blue Sox offence.

 

Chris Oxspring (Sydney) and Scott Cone (Canberra) breezed through the early innings of GAME FOUR, with Oxspring escaping a potential jam in the third and the Blue Sox opening the scoring in the bottom of four, when Stone Garrett hit safely, stole second and scored on an Alex Howe single. After an error and a wild pitch, Josh Dean grounded out to plate a second and the Cavalry called Josh DeGraaf from the pen to relieve Cone with a runner at third and one out. Josh Strong and Ryo Nishimura stroked RBI-singles as the Sox surged to a four-zip lead after four, a break that was reduced when Aaron Sayers cracked a solo shot to lead off the fifth for Canberra. Making its move in the top of six, Canberra loaded the bases off Oxspring to draw Aaron Sookee from the pen with none out – a situation exploited by the visitors, who cashed in on a walk, a DJ Davis grounder and a two-RBI Scott Kelly single for a five spot that turned a deficit into a two-run lead. Going to Zech Lemond to toss a scoreless eighth, the Cavalry was able to contain the Sydney offence until the bottom of nine, when Steve Kent landed in an awkward situation by conceding a lead-off hit to Jacob Younis and a walk to Josh Dean. A fielding error allowed Younis to score and Strong singled for another – the equaliser - before Kent intentionally loaded the bases and his side was made to pay with another defensive error that allowed the go-ahead to cross the plate in a thrilling 7-6 win for the Blue Sox. Yuki Katayama carded the win for Sydney, who took full toll of Canberra defensive errors and had grand offensive contributors in Strong, Dean and Howe, while Sayers and Kelly were productive for the Cavalry in what might yet be a damaging loss in the context of their season.

 

BOX SCORES:          GAME ONE     GAME TWO     GAME THREE     GAME FOUR