Cavalry wilts under Perth heat: Bite find form

Kingsley Collins

31 December 2017

 

Although its form leading into Round Six was already impressive, second-placed Perth Heat (15-8) has affirmed its credentials as a contender for the Claxton Shield by doing a demolition job on the visiting Canberra Cavalry (12-11) in front of massive supportive crowds at Perth Ballpark.

 

Dominant in their opening clash, league-leading Brisbane Bandits (15-7) were forced to a split result by Adelaide Bite (6-18) – who performed admirably with a revamped line-up – while Melbourne Aces (11-12) retained fourth placing after splitting its away series against Sydney Blue Sox (10-13).

 

While this was a wildly entertaining, indeed record-breaking round that produced many outstanding team and individual highlights, competition for finals berths – especially third and fourth – remains in the balance.  

 

The final round of Australian Baseball League competition for 2017 could not have been more engaging, with some thrilling results across the league counterbalanced by the odd blowout and slugfest – all of which contributed to some of the largest and most passionate crowds seen since the birth of the new league.

 

Drawing 1896 punters on Friday night and a throng of 2553 for the Saturday twin bill, Perth Harley Davidson Ballpark was clearly the place to be for a baseball community that has historically provided great succour for the sport, while Holloway Field attendances of 1285 (Friday) and 1343 (Saturday) would have delighted Bandits management. Attendances at Blacktown Ballpark were somewhat less impressive (867 on Friday night), confirming that location of that quality facility (whether we like it or not) will always be something of a disincentive – as will Melbourne Ballpark to many of those living in the eastern suburbs.  

 

All in all, Round Six attendances, the tightness of the competition and the increasing engagement of quality Asian players and the frenetic online support suggests that there is reason for the Australian Baseball League to enter 2018 with a guarded spirit of optimism. There is still much to be done, however – notwithstanding the extravagant hyperbole emanating from ships passing in the night.

 

The playing standard of the Australian Baseball League continues to improve, attracting increasingly even more quality players from United States and Asia. The challenge now – as always - is to translate the opportunities and the exposure into practicable, viable strategies that will secure a long-term future for a uniquely Australian baseball product in a crowded sporting market.

 

 

SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus MELBOURNE ACES

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

Taking his first start for Sydney, Chang-Sung Ko breezed through the first of GAME ONE before Mark Hamburger returned the favour for a revamped Aces outfit that escaped a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the second. With Ko dominant, the Sox landed runners at first and second in the third, but were again thwarted by Hamburger with a strikeout and two pop-ups. Backed by stellar defence – including a couple of brilliant outfield flyballs – Ko continued to mow down the Melbourne hitters until the top of the sixth, when Ryan Dale hit safely and Darryl George doubled to set the table for Tyler Neslony, who delivered with a three-run blast over the rightfield wall. Again used in middle relief, Craig Anderson conceded a double to Delmon Young before his side made another quality play – this time at the plate – to end the Aces assault. An error and a Max Brennen single created another chance for the Blue Sox, who cashed in on a two-out, two-RBI double by catcher John Collins. When a mis-hit Jacob Younis single scored Collins, Gavin Fingleson doubled and Chieh-Hsien banged a three-run homer, it was suddenly a six-run frame and a three-run lead for the Blue Sox. While a Jarryd Dale RBI-triple and a George single drew a couple back, the Aces defence faltered behind reliever Christian Meister before the Sox took Blake Cunningham for two more and Sven Schueller iced the game 9-5 for Sydney. Anderson carded the win for Sydney and the Aces conceded seven unearned runs in a contest that featured outstanding Sox offence by Chih-Hsien Chiang (three hits and three RBIs), Brennen (three and one) and Lars Anderson (two and one), while Neslony and George showed the way for Melbourne.

 

Celebrating the milestone of Allan de San Miguel playing his three hundredth game in the resurrected ABL, Melbourne Aces plated two in the first of GAME TWO, followed by a four-spot in the second – highlighted by a Darryl George RBI-single and a two-run Delmon Young homer off Blue Sox starter Luke Wilkins. Although Connor MacDonald went deep in the bottom of the frame, Aces starter Josh Tols was sharp early and was accorded further offensive support in the third - when Michael Crouse homered off Kyle Glogoski and Jarryd Dale swatted an RBI-double as part of a three-run blast. With his side already under the pump, Sox reliever Matthew Rae conceded a solo bomb to Brett Cumberland and was punished for consecutive passes later in the sixth, when RBI-singles to Jarryd Dale and Jared Cruz stretched the Aces lead to eleven. Relieving Tols after a superb stint (six innings for eight strikeouts and one earned run), Matt Beattie conceded a run on a wild pitch before de San Miguel blasted a two-run shot in the top of nine. Called upon to close out the game, a wayward Blake Townsend ran into strife by conceding late runs that drew Blake Cunningham from the pen to mop up a messy last innings and record a 14-7 win for the visitors. Winning pitcher Tols was accorded terrific support from a Melbourne offence that shared nineteen hits between nine players – the standouts being Crouse, de San Miguel and Jarryd Dale.   

 

In another explosive start, the Aces plated three in the first of GAME THREE – compliments largely of an RBI-double by Brett Cumberland off Sydney starter Todd Grattan. While a walk, a single and a grounder off Jon Kennedy produced one in reply for the Sox, Cumberland restored the three-run buffer with a solo blast in the third. A throwing error, two infield plays and a Darryl George RBI-single gleaned another for the Aces, who sent Jackson Boyd to the hill in place of Kennedy (five innings for three hits) while Sydney again went to Craig Anderson mid-game. Although three successive singles loaded the bases for Melbourne in the top of seven, Anderson escaped the inning before conceding a two-out RBI single to Delmon Young in the top of the eighth. Relieving Boyd after two scoreless frames, Scott Shuman tattooed Jacob Younis and walked Michael Suchy, allowing Chih-Hsien Chiang to cash in with a single into rightfield that plated both and reduced the Blue Sox deficit to three. A single to Lars Anderson brought the potential tying run to the plate in the person of the dangerous Connor MacDonald – whose grounder forced a defensive error for a fourth run to the home club before Shuman fanned Michael Campbell with bases loaded. Well held by Craig Anderson, the Aces took a narrow break into the bottom of the nine, when Shuman loaded the bases on successive singles that brought Matt Marksberry from the pen with one out. A walk to Chih-Hsien Chiang scored a fifth for the Blue Sox before Marksberry stepped up with the big pitches to strike out Lars Anderson and MacDonald to seal a 6-5 win for Melbourne Aces. Kennedy carded the win and Marksberry the save in a hard-fought contest highlighted by the Cumberland contribution for Melbourne (three hits – including the three run homer), multi-hit outings by George, Tyler Neslony and Young, while Chih-Hsien and Max Brennen were productive for the Blue Sox.

 

Looking to split the series, Sydney was off to a positive start in GAME FOUR, when Trent d’Antonio and Michael Suchy both stroked doubles off Virgil Vasquez to score in the first. While Clayton Freimuth kept tabs on the Melbourne hitters early days, the Sox scored again in the second on successive singles by Mitch Edwards, Alex Howe and d’Antonio. Although two hits, an error and a Tyler Neslony RBI-single broke the ice for the Aces, Suchy left the yard in the bottom of three before Aces Michael Crouse and Allan de San Miguel (double) combined to score in the top of four. Relieving Vasquez, Christian Meister paid for early walks and conceded four earned runs before Blake Cunningham ended a five-run frame for the Blue Sox, who proved that they had plenty more in the tank by blasting another four in the fifth – including a two-RBI double by Max Brennen. With the Aces facing an eleven-run deficit after Sydney plated another in the bottom of six, both clubs availed themselves of the opportunity of actively engaging their full roster. Relieved after six solid innings (seven hits and seven strikeouts, two earned runs), Freimuth gave way to Vaughan Harris - who spun a scoreless two innings – while the Aces looked to Matt Beattie and Blake Townsend for some quality mound time. Relieving Harris with his side in a seemingly unassailable position, Tom Roberts conceded successive hits to Brett Cumberland (single), Crouse (RBI-double) and de San Miguel (RBI-single) before Jarryd Dale smacked a two-run bomb. It was too little, too late, however, as the Blue Sox closed out the game 13-6 to split a highly-competitive series in which both clubs enjoyed periods of real dominance. Freimuth was the deserving winning pitcher for a club that had eleven players contribute to an eighteen-run hit parade – with the standouts being Suchy, Brennen, d’Antonio and Chih-Hsien Chiang – while Darryl George (four hits), Crouse, de San Miguel and Jarryd Dale flew the flag for the Melbourne offence.

 

GAME ONE                    GAME TWO                    GAME THREE                    GAME FOUR

 

 

BRISBANE BANDITS versus ADELAIDE BITE

 

This series was split 2-2.

 

Starters Pat Young (Brisbane) and Greg Mosel (Adelaide) went scoreless through the first of GAME ONE before Angus Roeger blasted a solo home run to lead off the second for the Bite, who kept the home side scoreless until the fourth – when a weak Logan Wade grounder levelled scores. Relieving Young in the fifth after a solid start, Zac Treece was rocked by a solo shot to Rodrigo Ayarza, although the Bandits tied it up again on back-to-back doubles in the equaliser before edging ahead on a Chih-Sheng Lin sacrifice flyball. Relieving Mosel after a terrific stint for the Bite, Nick Hutchings was greeted with a solo blast by TJ Bennett, a single to Wade Dutton, a David Sutherland double and a three-run homer by nine hitter Adam Weisenburger as the Bandits surged to a five-run break that drew Tim Day from the pen to replace Hutchings. A two-run Donald Lutz single inflicted further pain on the Bite and the home club called on Matt Timms before Andrew Campbell drove a two-run shot deep over the rightfield wall as the scoreline bloated further in favour of Brisbane. Although Jordan McArdle took Ryan Ihle deep in the top of eight, the Bandits remained well in charge as Rhys Niit closed out the game 11-3 – a remarkable scoring turnaround after a tight first five innings. Treece earned the win for Brisbane, which played errorless defence and had grand contributors in Bennett (four hits, including a home run), Campbell (three hits and three RBIs), Weisenburger (two and three), Lutz and Lin, while Ayarza, McArdle and Roeger all struck long balls for Adelaide.

 

Adelaide began GAME TWO brightly, bunching three hits in a two-run first before Isaias Quiroz took Tim Atherton deep in the top of the second to give Bite starter Matt Williams an early buffer as the Bandits called Justin Erasmus from the pen. Singles to Andrew Campbell and Kenshi Sugiya set the table for Chih-Sheng Lin, who belted a three-run shot over the rightfield wall that was followed by a Logan Wade triple and a Wade Dutton single as Brisbane took the lead and Jack O’Loughlin relieved for Adelaide. Not about to fly the white flag, the Bite hit back with three in the top of five – a three-run Tai-Shan Chang round tripper - to regain a lead that was minimally shaved by a TJ Bennett solo shot. Although Sam Holland and Matt Timms combined to throw a scoreless sixth for Brisbane, Loek van Mil was virtually untouchable for the Bite, whiffing six of seven hitters he faced in closing out the game 6-5 for Adelaide – the Bandits’ first home loss for the season. O’Loughlin earned the win in a seven-innings contest that saw the clubs evenly matched on offence, with Tai-San Chang (two hits and three RBIs), Stephen Lohr (three hits) and teenager Curtis Mead (three hits) the standouts for Adelaide – while Chih-Sheng Lin, Bennett and Dutton were productive for Brisbane.

 

Bandits starter Travis Blackley stranded two in the first of GAME THREE and another couple in the second, while Chris Powell was equally efficient for the Bite, who created serious scoring opportunities but were set on their heels twice by Blackley’s slick pickoff move. Challenging again in the fifth, the Bite landed runners at first and second – with none out. Rodrigo Ayarza advanced both on a sacrifice bunt but his side again came up empty – perhaps the spark needed by the Bandits, who converted hits by Adam Weisenburger and Michael Campbell into a first run before Powell was relieved by Steven Chambers after passing up Donald Lutz to load the bases with two out. TJ Bennett drew a walk for a second run that was cancelled out in the top of six, when Bite recruit Kuan-Jen Chen belted a solo home run off Blackley – who was otherwise superb in striking out seven for the one earned run. Continuing to press against Bite reliever Wilson Lee, the Bandits scored two on a defensive error and forged further ahead on a two-run bomb by Kenshi Sugiya before Ayarza drew one back for the Bite with a solo blast off Matt Timms. Logan Wade walked and Wade Dutton left the yard in the bottom of seven, followed by a two-run shot to Weisenburger as the early intensity drained from the game and the Bandits cruised to an 11-2 win. Although the Bandits amassed a reasonably modest nine hits (to seven), the bulk of the scoring damage was delivered in the form of three home runs – all with runners on.

 

Starters Hung-Wen Chen (Brisbane) and Ryo Koura (Adelaide) were dominant through the early innings of GAME FOUR and it was Donald Lutz who opened scoring with a two-run bomb for the Bandits in the bottom of four. When Darius Day and Rodrigo Ayarza hit back-to-back solo shots in the top of five it was shaping as another challenge to the ladder-leading Bandits, who were placed under further pressure when Angus Roeger singled to deliver the go-ahead for Adelaide in the top of six. Continuing to mow down Brisbane hitters, Japanese right-armer Koura was accorded further support when Tai-Shan Chang took Ryan Searle deep in the top of eight – for a two-run Adelaide lead. Called from the pen to replace Koura after a superb seven innings (three hits and twelve punchouts for two earned runs), Loek van Mil conceded a solo homer to Adam Weisenburger that drew the Bandits to within a run. When Ayarza doubled, stole third and scooted home on a Curtis Mead sacrifice flyball the assignment became extra tough for the Bandits, who were overpowered by van Mil as the Bite held sway for a 5-3 win and their first split in an otherwise disappointing season thus far. Koura carded the win in a super-impressive outing for the Bite, who out-hit the Bandits ten to four on the back of terrific contributions by Ayarza, Kuan-Jen Chen, Tai-San Chang and Day – while Lutz and Weisenburger were best of a subdued Brisbane offence.

 

GAME ONE                    GAME TWO                    GAME THREE                    GAME FOUR

 

 

PERTH HEAT versus CANBERRA CAVALRY

 

Perth won this series 3-1.

 

The Cavalry struck first in GAME ONE, when Buddy Reed singled in the first, advanced on a grounder and scored on a Jay Baum double off Alex Boshers, although the response was emphatic as Garrett Whitley belted a home run off Brian Grening to lead off the bottom of the second innings. David Kandilas doubled and Baum drove in another for Canberra in the third, while the Heat matched scoring in the equaliser before a period of defensive dominance by both sides through to the sixth – when the Cavalry edged away after back to back singles and a wild pitch by Heat reliever Matt Kennelly. Dan Lietz and Tayler Suacedo held sway after a stellar six innings by Grening for the visitors, who doubled their lead in the top of nine on a two-out Baum single - for his third RBI of the game. Taking the ball for Canberra, consummate closer Michael Click conceded a walk, a hit and a Jesse Williams RBI-single before whiffing danger men Jake Fraley and Tim Kennelly to seal a thrilling 4-3 win that drew the Cavalry level in second with Perth Heat for now at least. Grening carded the win and Click the save in a game that could have gone either way with the scoring opportunities created by both clubs. Baum (three hits and three RBIs), Kandilas (three hits and a walk) and Reed were outstanding in offence for Canberra, while Tim Kennelly (four hits), Robbie Glendinning (three walks) and Whitley were best with the bat for Perth.

 

Continuing their brilliant offensive form, David Kandilas and Jay Baum stroked back-to-back doubles to open scoring for Canberra in the first of GAME TWO before Lake Bacher whiffed three Perth hitters to escape a jam in the bottom of the frame. Although Alex Hall squared the ledger with a solo shot in the second, the Cavalry continued to pressure Perth starter Kyle Simon, loading the bases with one out in the third yet managing just one run. After his side landed runners on base in the bottom of five, Perth outfielder Jake Turnbull blasted a three-run shot for a two-run lead that was stretched in the bottom of six, when a Luke Hughes lead-off single was converted on an Ulrich Bojarski sacrifice fly. Replacing Simon after six innings of quality work (four hits for two earned runs and six strikeouts), Dylan Thompson closed out the seven-innings fixture 5-2 for Perth to square the series thus far. Winning pitcher Simon was backed by scoreless defence in a contest dominated by pitchers and in which the timely blow by Turnbull was pivotal in his side’s total of four hits to the Cavalry five.

 

It was another explosive start for the Cavalry in GAME THREE, with Casey McElroy and Boss Moanaroa both whacking two-run bombs off a shell-shocked Tom Bailey in the first. A two-run Jake Fraley single off Steven Kent opened scoring for Perth in the bottom of the second, although Jay Baum replied with a solo blast for Canberra in the top of three. With both clubs making pitching changes, Kyle Perkins swatted a two-run homer in the top of five to extend the Cavalry lead, although the Heat responded with a three-spot as Sean Guinard and Grant Piccoli came under fire in what was shaping as a battle of attrition. A two-run Robbie Glendinning homer drew the Heat level in the bottom of seven – in front of a massive and animated home crowd – before Cavalry second-sacker Cameron Warner stroked a two-run single in the top of eight. Looking squarely down the barrel with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Heat engineered a stirring comeback sparked by a Fraley single and an RBI Tim Kennelly double. With Michael Click replacing an injured Tyler Herr on the hill, a Michael Brosseau RBI single was errored by the Cavalry leftfielder and converted into the go-ahead run as Brosseau scooted home on the blunder. The 10-9 result in favour of Perth featured standout performances by players on both sides – Fraley, Tim Kennelly, Brosseau and Glendinning for the Heat, while McElroy, Baum (four hits) and Moanaroa shone with the bat for Canberra.

 

Daniel Schmidt retired the Cavalry in order in top of the first of GAME FOUR and the home side took the early initiative against Jonathon Mottay – who conceded a double to Tim Kennelly, a single to Michael Brosseau and a sacrifice flyball to Luke Hughes before Robbie Glendinning and Alex Hall both smacked RBI-singles with two out. When Jesse Williams doubled to clear the bases it was six zip in a trice and the Heat went further ahead with a flurry of hits that drove Mottay from the hill in the bottom of second with eight runs against his name. There was no respite for Canberra reliever Thomas Holland, who was bludgeoned for another eleven – three of those inherited - including a three-run Garrett Whitley homer among five damaging hits. With his side holding a staggering lead of seventeen, Schmidt came under fire in the top of four, when Jay Baum (single), Boss Moanaroa (double), Robbie Perkins (double), Cameron Warner (double) and Kyle Perkins (two-run homer) combined to generate a five-run blast. Perhaps reminding themselves that “it ain’t over until it’s over”, the Heat again stepped on the gas, taking Dan Lietz for six – including a three-run Jake Fraley shot – before Tayler Saucedo was next put to the sword in a nine-run romp against an increasingly ragged Canberra defence. While Gabriel Arias swatted a belated two-run bomb off Perth reliever Nick Veale, the contest was well and truly over as both sides tacked on late runs and the Heat emerged a 32-10 winner in a scoreline that we believe breaks all previous offensive records in the league. Nine players posted multiple hits for the Heat, who had standouts in Williams (six RBIs) and Jake Fraley (five RBIs), while the Perkins lads continued to rack up the numbers for Canberra.

 

GAME ONE                    GAME TWO                    GAME THREE                    GAME FOUR