Blue Sox sweep Heat: three clubs deadlocked

Kingsley Collins

23 December 2018

 

In another fascinating round of Australian Baseball League, Northeast divisional leader Sydney Blue Sox (17-7) underscored its improvement with a series sweep over Perth Heat (14-10), which still heads the Southwest group of clubs.

 

A series winner over Melbourne Aces (13-11), Brisbane Bandits (14-9) sits second in the Northeast group, while the Aces share second Southwest placing with Adelaide Bite (13-11), which took three of its four games from Auckland Tuatara (7-16).

 

A game behind Brisbane in Northeast, Canberra Cavalry (13-11) found it tough going at times but still managed a sweep of Geelong-Korea (4-20), which remains anchored to the cellar in the Southwest group.

 

With six rounds completed (there is a catch-up game that may yet be required), competition for placings remains intense between the six foundation clubs, while Auckland and Geelong-Korea have had their moments but are well off the pace for a Wild Card or Semi-Finals berth.  

 

Even at this busy time of year, attendances held up pretty well across the league, with Canberra and Perth consistently attracting crowds of over the thousand mark – including 1252 at Narrabundah on Friday and 1259 on Saturday, along with 1053 (Friday) and 1283 (Sunday) at Harley Davidson Ballpark.

 

Melbourne Ballpark drew 947 for a Saturday doubleheader and more modest numbers on the Sunday, while the first ever Australian Baseball League games at Mount Gambier that featured an international team were attended by nearly 1500 people over the three days.

 

A centre with a long history in Australian baseball, Mount Gambier turned out Blue Lake Sports Park in pristine condition – a credit to local authorities, local media support and ABL personnel who assisted in preparation of the facility. Although Adelaide was too strong in the first three games, there were positive signs for the visiting Tuatara – who stuck to their guns and were rewarded with a thumping win in the series finale that featured a stunning start by former Major Leaguer Josh Collmenter.

 

Spectators would clearly have enjoyed four spirited contests and the quality of some of the outstanding individual efforts – including a complete-game blinder pitched by Marcus Solbach and the extraordinary streak constructed by his teenage teammate and Phillies prospect Curtis Mead, who set the Saturday doubleheader alight with six hits (including two home runs – one a grand slam) for a staggering ten RBIs over the two games.

 

While Sydney went a long way towards dispelling any lingering doubts over its championship credentials, Perth was well and truly in all four contests and would have lost very few friends during what was effectively a reality check for Heat supporters against an organisation that appears to have gone from strength to strength since franchise arrangements were put in place.

 

Changes to the Melbourne roster occasioned through comings and goings of key players may have had a temporarily unsettling effect, although management may be more concerned about team offensive production – with a league-lowest batting average of 0.223, generation of just 95 runs thus far and a clear reliance on the same half-dozen players to score runs. Just nine runs in four games against Brisbane says something about this ongoing issue – as well as being a reflection on the high quality of Bandits pitching, which is always going to keep the club in any contest.

 

While Canberra would happily take the home-town sweep of Geelong-Korea – which places the Cavalry equal on wins with Melbourne and Adelaide – their opponent was competitive in three of the contests despite its humble win-loss record thus far. Like the Aces, Canberra will surely be looking to its offence to produce far more during the final four rounds and not to rely on the likes of superstars Craig Massey and Zach Wilson to do the lion’s share in support of a terrific pitching roster.

 

CANBERRA CAVALRY versus GEELONG-KOREA

 

Their rare GAME ONE triple play sparked Geelong-Korea, who plated early runs off Cavalry ace Steven Kent before Cam Warner took Byeong-Jeun Kim deep with a two-run bomb in the fifth, Zach Wilson tied the game with an RBI-single off reliever Hwi Kwon, David Kandilas singled for the go-ahead and Wilson hit safely for another as the Geelong-Korea defence faltered and Yuki Kuniyoshi combined with Tomoya Mikami to ice the game 6-4 for Canberra - despite a late challenge.

 

With Frank Gailey starting strongly, Canberra plated a run in the first of GAME TWO and surged ahead with a three-spot in the second before Joo-Ho Lee stroked a two-RBI double for Geelong Korea and Seung-Won Shin doubled for a third run to create real optimism for the Korean team that was thwarted as the rains arrived and the game was called 4-3 in favour of the Cavalry after five legal innings.

 

Cavalry slugger Boss Moanara homered in the second of GAME THREE, when Jin-Woo Kim (Geelong-Korea) and Shota Imanaga Canberra) exercised serious authority over this contest until Canberra broke away with a two-spot in the sixth – aided by some errant defence - and another three in the seventh (compliments of a two-run Cam Warner triple) to set the base for a comprehensive 6-0 win for the Cavalry, whose pitching staff conceded a solitary hit and no walks while striking out thirteen.

 

Strong with the GAME FOUR start for Geelong-Korea, Jae-Gon Lee was accorded run support in the fourth – when Hak-Jun Noh cracked a two-RBI double – although Designated Hitter Zach Wilson (three-run homer) headed a five-run resurgence in the fifth as the Cavalry asserted their authority behind quality relief pitching and charged away for a 6-2 win and a series whitewash against a club that was again competitive for the most part without being able to put its opponent away.   

 

Canberra won this series 4-0.

 

MELBOURNE ACES versus BRISBANE BANDITS

 

Taking advantage of walks by Aces starter Hayato Takagi, Brisbane plated two in the first of a seven-innings GAME ONE, followed by three-spots in the second and fourth – including home runs by Daniel Nilsson (two-RBI) and Mitch Ellis – while winning pitcher Tim Atherton (six scoreless innings, three hits and five punchouts) remained in charge on the hill for the Bandits, who shrugged off a late challenge as Matt Watson closed out the game 9-2 in favour of Brisbane.

 

The Bandits generated a run in the first of the GAME TWO shootout between starters Dushan Ruzic (Melbourne) and Travis Blackley (Brisbane), although the home club hit back with two in the bottom of four before a wild pitch momentarily tied scores and Luke Hughes blasted a two-run shot over left-centre for a lead that was well protected by set-up man Hiromasa Saito and closer Scott Kuzminsky as the Aces emerged a 4-2 winner – with Darryl George playing an outstanding game.

 

A two-run Luke Hughes homer off Brisbane starter Ko-Chien Lin gave the Aces a lead after four in GAME THREE, although the visitors – after being well-held early by Scott Shuman – squared the ledger when Riley Unroe took Jon Kennedy deep (two RBIs) and TJ Bennett followed suit with a solo shot in the sixth before Ryan Bollinger closed out the seven-innings game 3-2 in favour of Brisbane, which had been out-hit eight to four but utilised the long ball to effect.

 

Brisbane was off to a flier in GAME FOUR, blasting five in the second to spell the end for Melbourne starter Jack Enciondo, while Brisbane starter Ryan Simpler (three hits, nine strikeouts and one earned run) spun a seven-innings pearler for the Bandits – who tacked on one in the sixth and another in the ninth while amassing eleven hits to four en route to a convincing 7-1 victory that was nailed down by Cameron McVey and Matt Timms with scoreless innings apiece at the end.

 

Brisbane won this series 3-1.

 

ADELAIDE BITE versus AUCKLAND TUATARA

 

Scoring a run early in GAME ONE, Adelaide stretched its lead before Auckland shortstop Taylor Snyder took Kurt Heyer deep in the fifth – drawing a response from the Bite, whose Aaron Whitefield belted a two-run homer off Tuatara reliever Chen Yu-Hsuan for a three-run break that was shaved in the bottom of seven, although the Bite had the offence to plate two more and rely on seasoned Indy League right-armer Dylan Brammar to close out the contest 7-2 for Adelaide.

 

Taylor Snyder homered off Markus Solbach to give Auckland an early lead in GAME TWO, although the response was emphatic as Aaron Whitefield belted a two-run shot off Elliot Johnstone, who was chased from the hill in the third by a Curtis Mead grand slam while winning pitcher Solbach (two hits, ten strikeouts) continued to dominate the Tuatara offence and Mead stroked a late two-run double for a personal contribution of six RBIs in a thumping 9-1 Adelaide win.

 

Auckland opened scoring in GAME THREE on a Guiyuan Xu double as starters Michael Gahan (Bite) and Atsuki Taneichi both proved tough propositions and the Tuatara momentarily stretched their lead before Curtis Mead (solo homer) and Stefan Welch (two-run bomb) wrested the lead for Adelaide before the Tuatara edged ahead again in the bottom of six and the Bite blasted a five-spot in the seventh before sealing the deal with two in the ninth for an entertaining 11-7 Bite win.

 

With Greg Mosel (Adelaide) and Josh Collmenter (Auckland) giving their sides solid GAME FOUR starts, there was nothing doing in offence until a mid-game Tuatara breakout that gleaned ten over two innings on timely hitting by Max Brown (home run), Eric Jenkins and Beau Te Wera Bishop – for a lead that proved more than enough as winning pitcher Collmenter (seven innings and six strikeouts for one earned run) was backed up by Chen Yu-Hsuan and Yuki Harada in the 10-3 Auckland win.

 

Adelaide won this series 3-1.

 

PERTH HEAT versus SYDNEY BLUE SOX

 

Despite a bright Perth start with three in the first of GAME ONE – including a Tim Kennelly solo shot – the Blue Sox maintained the pressure on Heat starter Ryan Flores and rebounded in support of eventual winning pitcher Alex Maestri (seven strikeouts) by belting five in the fourth for a lead that was protected by Ty’Relle Harris and Todd Stensel as Sydney closed out the contest 7-4 against the league offensive powerhouse.

 

Conor Lourey (Perth) and Nick Fanti (Sydney) traded zeroes early in the seven-innings GAME TWO, with the Sox scoring first on a Gift Ngoepe RBI-single and extending their lead on a bases-loaded walk in the fifth of a pitcher-dominated contest that saw both clubs well held through the later innings of a 2-0 Sydney Blue Sox win that featured terrific work by winning pitcher Fanti (five scoreless innings), Tyler Herr and Todd Van Steensel.

 

Already proving a tough opponent for the Heat, Sydney started GAME THREE in imperious manner, chasing Heat starter Nick Veale from the hill with six early runs – including a three-run Gift Ngoepe homer – although the Heat hit back with a massive third to level scores in a gripping relief pitching contest that stretched into the twelfth innings, when the Blue Sox plated three under tiebreaker rules and held on for a famous 10-8 result to secure a series win in hostile territory.

 

With his side gunning for a series sweep in GAME FOUR, Zac Shepherd clubbed a homer in the second for Sydney, who rode another superb start by Josh Guyer while doubling their lead in the fourth before Tim Kennelly doubled for a Heat run in the fifth, Sox reliever Dean Aldridge walked a run across the plate and a sacrifice flyball handed Perth the lead – momentarily only, as Sydney hit back with a three-spot in the eighth and emerged a 6-4 winner despite a late Sam Kennelly homer.

 

Sydney won this series 4-0.