Sox, Aces, Heat sweep Round One
18 November 2018
While no reasonable baseball pundit is ever going to read much into a first weekend of play – just four games of forty, after all, in the regular season – there was plenty of serious interest generated around Australian Baseball League as Opening Round drew to a close in Perth on Sunday evening.
Home clubs were dominant, with Melbourne Aces sweeping Canberra Cavalry at Melbourne Ballpark, and Sydney Blue Sox – at Blacktown - doing the same against Geelong-Korea. Challenged in its first two games, Perth Heat prevailed comfortably in four over a valiant Auckland Tuatara, while Brisbane Bandits dropped just one of its four games against Adelaide Bite in a strong opening at Holloway Field.
Match results are one thing, and four clubs will be delighted with their start to the season. However, there was more, much more to attract our attention, to pique our interest – or maybe even to piss us off - during Opening Round of ABL 2018/19.
First, the media coverage. There were some disappointing technical problems – especially for Thursday night games – and there was some confusion over where and how streaming links could be accessed, if at all. Those are issues that need to be, and no doubt will be addressed as the season progresses. None of that should be dwelt upon for the time being at least.
On the flip side, Australian Baseball League and its affiliate clubs produced consistently timely and coherent written coverage of games on league websites, including full match statistics and images. May that level of commitment and the quality of that coverage continue to be enhanced. Although there will be some late nights and some early mornings involved for dedicated staff, it is a service that is recognised, appreciated and is vital for league credibility and development.
Ed Wyatt and Craig “Frita” Kernick provided off-site commentary for the Saturday night game in Sydney. Now while we may share differing tastes in terms of style and presentation, I found their work to be outstanding. It was well-researched, it was knowledgeable, it had a relaxed and conversational vibe about it while it remained totally respectful of the game, and of baseball culture. It was fun, as it should be. Easy listening. While Ed Wyatt was not born here, he has lived in Australia for many years and relates beautifully to our sporting culture.
That commentary prompted me to again wonder just why we do not seem to be engaging far more of our proven – and even prospective - local media personnel in Australian Baseball League online and written coverage. Qualified, passionate baseball people are out there, yet we seem to suffer some sort of cultural cringe when it comes to more willingly enabling Australians to speak and write about a sport dear to their hearts.
Briefly, on the eight clubs.
Brisbane was, well, just Brisbane of the past three years, a complete package that will again be very tough to beat, while Adelaide acquitted itself very well at Holloway and will be heartened by the efforts of Markus Solbach, Stefan Welch, Aaron Whitefield and Mitch Edwards among others. Melbourne started wonderfully well and will surely be a tough opponent – especially at home – while Canberra has a surfeit of quality arms on its pitching roster and is obviously far better than what an 0-4 start might suggest.
Looking again to many of its regular players, Sydney enjoyed a perfect start to the 2018/19 campaign – while Geelong-Korea appeared to improve and to adjust over the course of the opening series but will need to tighten up in defence and develop some serious hitting capability.
Placing heavy emphasis on brilliant emerging young talent such as Alex Hall, Jess Williams and Jake Bowey, Perth Heat will always be a tough opponent – especially at home – and it is of distinct credit to Auckland Tuatara that it could negotiate a tough past two weeks of travelling the country, still to compete so manfully and be a bit stiff to have not posted at least one win.
Attendances provided in Alumni pages are taken from the website of MiLB, which has been compiling numbers since the start of the resurrected ABL nearly a decade ago. While attendance records might be an interesting study in themselves over that period, there were a couple of striking statistics provided for Opening Round this weekend.
As has been the pattern for some years now, Perth consistently attracted well over 1000 people, with 1350 listed for Game One against the Tuatara. Brilliant support out west! In a huge fillip for the Blue Sox organisation, 1691 people attended the Saturday night game against Geelong-Korea – believed to be a sellout and a record since the league was revived. For Brisbane and Melbourne the numbers were fairly modest, although the Aces managed to attract 884 for the Saturday twin-bill – probably among their more healthy crowds for that day of the week.
Attendance figures will remain a focus for franchise operators and for league administrators, especially with widespread discussion continuing around ground locations, marketing, admission costs, catering and value for money – particularly for families.
In all, a fascinating Opening Round for the expanded Australian Baseball League. Check back with us later in the week as @AJ Mithen pens his reflections and his expectations for ABL Week Two.
Please feel free to engage on Alumni FACEBOOK regarding these or any other matters of Australian baseball interest.
AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE 2018/19: ROUND ONE
SYDNEY BLUE SOX versus GEELONG-KOREA
With just a fortnight for the players to acclimatise before this contest against an unfamiliar opponent at Blacktown Sportspark, Geelong-Korea struck first blood when first sacker Yong-Wook Lee (three hits for the night) drove in a run in the top of the second of GAME ONE while starter Jin-Yong Yang tossed three scoreless frames until the Blue Sox offence sprang to life with a four-spot followed by multiples in the fifth and sixth for a commanding lead. Eventually carding the win with five innings of solid work, Alex Maestri was supported by relievers in Tyler Herr, Craig Anderson and the hard-throwing Dean Aldridge, who combined to comfortably protect the lead and nail an 8-1 win. Although Korea-Geelong matched Sydney on hits (eight to nine), they racked up an extraordinary twenty-one strikeouts – while the Sox enjoyed effective scoring conversion delivered by Jake Levin (hit, two walks and three RBIs), centrefield Hao Wei Shen (triple, double, walk, RBI) and shortstop Dwayne Kemp (two knocks). Attendance: 621 GAME ONE BOX
It was a rugged start for Geelong-Korea in GAME TWO, when Sydney drove a pair across the plate in the bottom of the first and its Manager Dae-Sung Koo was ejected as it all threatened to unravel for the Korean outfit. Despite conceding two more in the third – off starter Jae-Gon Lee – Geelong-Korea settled to claw a run back in the fourth off Blues Sox starter Nick Fanti and another in the top of six, when Hak-Jun Noh tripled and scooted home on a sacrifice fly. Quick to respond, however, the Blue Sox plated a fifth run in the bottom of seven and Geelong-Korea called Ki-Hoon Ryu from the pen – a strategy that came unstuck as Jake Levin slapped a two-RBI single into centre for a five-run lead. It was a break comfortably protected as the Blue Sox made full use of their bullpen options, with Garrett Granitz, Ty’Relle Harris and Todd Van Steensel each spinning an innings of scoreless work towards the end as the home club registered a 7-2 victory – Levin being the offensive standout with three hits for four RBIs. Attendance: 782 GAME TWO BOX
Despite conceding a run in the bottom of the first of GAME THREE, Geelong-Korea started brightly, levelling scores in the second when Kwang-Min Kwon doubled and was caught in an ugly rundown play before Tae-Joon Lim drove in Dae-Gun Kook – who had reached third during the carnage. Continuing to rack up the hits and give themselves a chance against Blue Sox starter Luke Wilkins, Geelong-Korea was given a solid start by Na-On Gil, who paid for a lead-off walk in the bottom of three with an Alex Howe RBI-double and a Jacob Younis RBI-single. Struggling to capitalise on scoring opportunities against winning pitcher Wilkins (six innings for six hits and one earned run), Geelong-Korea found the going no easier against reliever Garrett Granitz and big man Ty’Relle Harris – although the effort of Na-On Gil (7.2 innings, five strikeouts and three earned runs) was quite outstanding for a Geelong-Korea outfit that appeared already on the improve. When Zac Shepherd laced a run-scoring triple, the Sox held a three-run break after eight – more than enough for Todd van Steensel to close out the game 4-1 in favour of Sydney Blue Sox. Attendance: 1691 GAME THREE BOX
While starters Josh Guyer (Sydney) and Sang-Hak Lee (Geelong-Korea) were effective in going scoreless through the first three of GAME FOUR, it was the Blue Sox who broke the deadlock in the bottom of four, when a Trent D’Antonio double, a HPB, a Michael Campbell hit and an Alex Howe single combined with a defensive error for a two-run lead that was never going to be surrendered. With Guyer well in control, Sydney edged away with another run in the sixth and two more in the seventh as the Geelong-Korea defence faltered under pressure. Whiffing six over seven innings of work (two hits and a solitary walk), Guyer was relieved by Todd Grattan and Shogo Nakashima, who each spun an innings of scoreless work to nail a 5-0 result in favour of the Blue Sox. Although Geelong-Korea had drastically reduced its percentage of strikeouts since Game One on Thursday night, four scattered hits was never going to trouble Sydney, whose old hands in Jacob Younis (three hits), D’Antonio (two hits) and Michael Campbell (two hits, walk and RBI) were well among the offensive action to secure a series sweep. Attendance: 955 GAME FOUR BOX
Sydney Blue Sox won this series 4-0.
BRISBANE BANDITS versus ADELAIDE BITE
The Bandits were off to a flier in GAME ONE, on back-to-back bombs by Andrew Campbell and TJ Bennett in the bottom of the first, although switch- hitting Bite catcher Mitch Edwards responded with a solo blast in the third – from his first at-bat with his new club. Giving his club a solid start over four, Sam Holland kept tabs on the Adelaide offence, while Campbell and Bennett figured prominently to generate another couple as the Bite continued to play catch-up. It was a valiant first-up effort from the Bite, who would be well pleased with Jorge Perez and Tohru Kikue – who combined to spin five innings of quality relief work for a solitary earned run. Reliever Ken Frosch earned the win for the Bandits, who demonstrated their pitching depth by employing six quality arms in a 5-3 first-up win. Attendance: 530 GAME ONE BOX
Adelaide was off to a flier in GAME TWO, when doubles to Aaron Whitefield and Mikey Reynolds were back by a two-run bomb to Michael Gettys for a three-run first inning that was built upon in the third – compliments of a solo blast by Whitefield and a two-out Mitch Edwards double for a five-zip lead off Ryan Searle, now cast in the starting role for Brisbane. Showing exceptional control early days – notwithstanding a solo homer by David Sutherland - Bite starter Markus Solbach was dominant on the hill and completed a wonderful first-up outing for his new club – carding the win with eight innings of work for eleven punchouts, three hits and one run before handing the pill to Ryan Chafee, who negotiated the last despite the Bandits hitting back with a couple of runs to draw closer in a contest that was decided 5-3 in favour of Adelaide to split the series thus far. Attendance: 634 GAME TWO BOX
After a scoreless first innings, it was the Bandits who opened GAME THREE scoring with a bang, when Mitch Ellis clubbed a three-run homer in the bottom of the second and Donald Lutz drove in a fourth run in the third to chase Bite starter Greg Mosel from the hill. While Brisbane starter Travis Blackley had been well in control from the outset, catcher Danny De La Calle stretched the lead with a solo shot in the next before Adelaide plated its first on doubles by Nicholas Shumpert and Aaron Whitefield and Blackley was relieved by Ryan Bollinger. Back-to-back doubles by Daniel Nilsson and Ellis gleaned another for the Bandits before TJ Bennett singled off Jackson Brebner-Russ to give the host club a match-winning break in a seven-inning contest that was closed out 7-1 by Bollinger. Blackley earned the win and fellow former Victorian Ellis was the offensive standout against an Adelaide outfit that was well contained for this one. Attendance: 637 GAME THREE BOX
Brisbane flexed its offensive muscle early in GAME FOUR, with a three-spot ignited by an Andrew Campbell solo home run, a Wade Dutton RBI-single and a Ryan Battaglia sacrifice fly to give seasoned starter Tim Atherton a substantial buffer against his counterpart in Michael Gahan, who was relieved by Ryo Takeuchi. Stefan Welch doubled and Jordan McArdle slapped an RBI-single for Adelaide in the top of four, although David Sutherland responded for the Bandits with a solo homer off Ryan Chafee in the sixth, when the lead was stretched even further by a TJ Bennett RBI-walk and a ringing Chi-Hung Hsu double that drove another couple across the plate for a decisive lead in another seven-innings match up that was again decided 7-1 by Brisbane – which won the series three games to one. In a contest that saw both clubs play errorless baseball, Atherton carded the win for a Bandits side that owed plenty to the offence of Chi-Hung Hsu (three doubles and two ribbies), Campbell and Sutherland, while the Bite could muster just four scattered hits against the early title favourite. Attendance: 637 GAME FOUR BOX
Brisbane Bandits won this series 3-1.
MELBOURNE ACES versus CANBERRA CAVALRY
With GAME ONE start time sensibly delayed because of traffic issues on a main arterial, the Melbourne Ballpark opener developed into an early shootout between starters Luke Westphal (Aces) and fellow southpaw Steven Kent (Canberra) – with the visitors breaking the deadlock in the top of three when Canberra shortstop Justin Lopez doubled, went to third on a grounder and crossed the plate on a Craig Massey single. Luke Hughes homered to open scoring for the Aces in the bottom of the fourth. Loading the bases in the top of five, Westphal was replaced with two out by Tyler Fallwell – who closed out the inning and kept scores knotted until handing the ball to Hiromasa Saito in the eighth. Spinning six quality innings for the Cavalry (eleven strikeouts), Kent was relieved by J.R.Bunda, who held the line through the seventh and eighth before handing the pill to Zech Lemond. Walks to DJ Burt and Hughes and a double steal in the bottom of nine set the table for Aces DH Jake Romanski, who slapped a single into rightfield to walk off a pitcher-dominated contest 2-1 in favour of Melbourne. Attendance: 648 GAME ONE BOX
Starters Hayato Takagi (Melbourne) and Yuki Kuniyoshi (Canberra) breezed through a scoreless first frame in GAME TWO before the Aces generated a run on doubles by Garrison Schwartz and Allan de San Miguel in the bottom of the second. A two-out RBI-single by Cavalry shortstop Justin Lopez squared the ledger in the top of three – only momentarily, as DJ Burt drew a walk and Luke Hughes teed off on a full count in the equaliser, driving a two-out missile over the leftfield wall. Canberra reliever Jason Lott negotiated the fourth and fifth unscathed, while Takagi was proving a tough proposition for the Cavalry, which was placed under further pressure when Schwartz stroked his second hit, advanced on a de San Miguel walk and cruised home when DH Mike Walker slapped a two-out double. Outstanding over a seven-innings complete game stint, Takagi (three hits, one walk and five punchouts) earned the win for Melbourne, whose second win from two starts – this time a 4-1 result - suggests that pitching and defence are again going to make the Aces a tough proposition at Melbourne Ballpark. Attendance: 884 GAME TWO BOX
Luke Hughes again featured prominently early in GAME THREE, doubling to drive in Darryl George, who picked up his first hit of the season and stole second in the bottom of the first. With Dushan Ruzic in dominant form, Melbourne exploded in the bottom of three – including a bases-clearing double by Garrison Schwartz. Although Canberra starter Frank Gailey constructed scoreless innings through the fourth and fifth, the Aces were again on the march in the top of six, when a Jared Cruz RBI-single and a Jarryd Dale double gleaned two more for the home club – which added to its tally when Darryl George took Grant Piccoli deep in the seventh, Cruz drove in a run and Jarryd Dale walked another across the plate to hand the Aces an insurmountable lead. Outstanding over seven, winning pitcher Ruzic (three hits and four strikeouts, one earned run) handed the pill to Luke Abels, who conceded a run in the eighth before Harrison Cooney did likewise in the ninth – although the game was well gone by then, with the Aces cruising to an imperious 11-3 win and raising the spectre of a series sweep. Amassing fourteen hits to eight, the Aces had standouts in George (three hits, including the homer), Jake Romanski (three hits and an RBI), Dale (three and two, with a walk), Cruz (two and two) and Schwartz (one and three, with two walks), while the Canberra offence was well held until late in the game. Attendance: 884 GAME THREE BOX
Entering its season with considerably less fanfare than might have been expected, Melbourne Aces were off to a superb start, blanking Canberra Cavalry in the GAME FOUR Sunday matinee for a comprehensive series sweep. While Josh Warner was impressive with four innings of scoreless starting work for the Cavalry, the Aces gained a break in the bottom of five, when a defensive error and sacrifice fly balls by DJ Burt and Luke Hughes gleaned a couple in support of youngster Jack Enciondo – who was superb over a scoreless six innings stint for two hits and five strikeouts before Scott Kuzminsky (two innings) and Tyler Fallwell slammed the gate in a whitewash that stretched to 4-0 after DJ Burt stroked an RBI-double in the seventh and Allan de San Miguel scored Jake Romanski on a sacrifice flyball in the eighth. Again playing errorless defence behind quality pitching, the Aces constructed what was effectively the game of team baseball in an intense contest against a strong opponent that found scoring a tough assignment in its opening foray. Attendance: 700 GAME FOUR BOX
Melbourne Aces won this series 4-0.
PERTH HEAT versus AUCKLAND TUATARA
While the final result was not what team management would have hoped for in GAME ONE, Auckland Tuatara made a competitive albeit somewhat nervous start to its first ABL contest, with defensive errors playing a serious role – especially in the first and again in the fifth, with four of five runs scored off starter John Collmenter being unearned. A two-out bases-loaded walk in the top of four handed a first run to the Tuatara, who scored again on a Guiyuan Xu double in the sixth. Mounting a late assault against Scott Mitchinson in the eighth, New Zealand drew to within two – this time on a two run Xu single – before the Heat rallied in the equaliser on timely hitting by young guns Alex Hall and Jess Williams. Middle reliever Joe Peguero carded the win for Perth – which played errorless defence and had standout hitters in Hall, Tristan Gray and Tim Kennelly – while first-sacker Guiyuan Xu (three hits and three RBIs) offered the key offence for a team that would be delighted with the outings of its four pitchers, who collectively conceded just two walks and three earned runs in an 8-4 win by Perth Heat. Attendance: 1350 GAME ONE BOX
Outstanding for Auckland early in GAME TWO, Kyle Glogoski was provided run support when his side blasted three in the first off Heat starter Nathan Kutcha – with two out – before Eric Jenkins tripled in the second and was knocked in by Daniel Lamb-Hunt for a four zip lead. Although Heat reliever Lachlan Southee stemmed the flow, his side was stifled in offence by Glogoski, who was relieved by Yuki Harada after five superb innings for no hits, two walks and a half a dozen punchouts. As if a weight had been taken off their shoulders with departure of the right-armed starter, the Heat offence sprang to life in the bottom of seven, when Carl Chester, Chris Betts, Alex Hall and Chris Clare (RBI-single) all hit safely before a run-scoring wild pitch and a three-run Jake Bowey homer (as a pinch hitter) gleaned five in a trice to pinch the seven-innings contest 5-4 in a shattering loss for the Tuatara. Out-hitting the Heat nine to five, Auckland had seven players registering hits, while Perth pinched this game in extraordinary fashion after being totally outplayed over six. Attendance: 1187 GAME TWO BOX
Already making an impact for Auckland Tuatara, centrefielder Eric Jenkins swatted a lead-off triple in GAME THREE and scored on a Max Brown grounder in the first for a lead that was built upon in the fourth, when Kris Richards cleared centrefield with a solo blast. But while Tuatara starter Jimmy Boyce went scoreless over three, the game began to unravel in the bottom half of four – when a string of hits, walks and wild pitches gleaned five for the Heat. Trying Ross Vance, Elliot Johnstone and Nathan Crawford on the hill, Auckland plated one in the top of seven but was unable to contain the Heat offence – which scored freely over the final innings thanks largely to Tristan Gray (home run), Alex Hall (home run) and Sam Kennelly with a three-run blast in the eighth. Nicholas Veale carded the win for Perth, which out-slugged Auckland ten to four and cashed in thirteen walks for a comfortable 11-3 victory that owed plenty to Gray (home run and four walks), Hall (two hits – including the homer – for three RBIs), Kennelly (three-run shot), Chris Clare and Jake Bowey (two hits apiece). Attendance: 1187 GAME THREE BOX
Buoyed by its big win on Saturday night, Perth Heat came out firing in GAME FOUR, with Tim Kennelly (double), Tristan Gray (RBI-triple) and Carl Chester (RBI-single) combining for a two-run first off Auckland starter Chen Yu-Syuan before a defensive slip-up produced another in the bottom of the second. On song early for the Heat, Conor Lourey was accorded further run support in the third, when Chris Betts belted a two-run homer and Sam Kennelly left the yard, drawing Brandon Marklund from the Tuatara pen with his side facing a six-run deficit. Having another cracking game with the bat, DH Eric Jenkins stroked an RBI-single to get Auckland on the board in the top of five before Ryan Flores relieved Lourey and Heat shortstop Pete Kozma smacked a two-run bomb off Scott Cone as a tiring fortnight was clearly taking its toll on the visitors. While a two-out RBI-single by Zach Clark gave the Tuatara a belated lift, the game was well in hand for Perth Heat – which prevailed 8-2 to complete the hometown sweep. Attendance: 713 GAME FOUR BOX
Perth Heat won this series 4-0.
Image: Adelaide Bite Facebook