Aussies challenged, but emerge too strong
WBC QUALIFYING FINAL: AUSTRALIA 12 defeated SOUTH AFRICA 5
Taking the start for Australia, big leaguer Travis Blackley was driven deep by South African lead-off Gift Ngoepe in the first – a massive, confidence-building solo blast that reflected the aggressive manner in which his side has approached the series.
Retiring James Beresford and Logan Wade, right-armed starter Kyle Gaddin branded Mitch Dening and Stefan Welch singled to the right side before Trent Oeltjen laced a run-scoring shot into the rightfield corner – with Welch gunned down at the plate on a great relay play.
Singling to lead off the second, Brett Willemburg advanced on a sacrifice bunt and a grounder before Rowan Ebersohn drew a walk and the South Africans stranded both.
Luke Hughes hit safely in the equaliser and Designated Hitter Trent D’Antonio drew a pass to spell trouble for Gaddin, who was momentarily struggling for control and was helped out bigtime when Brad Harman popped up and Ngoepe initiated a slick double play to escape the innings.
Turning an infield double to get out of the third frame, Australia came up empty against seasoned South African reliever Carl Michaels, who conceded a chinker to Luke Hughes in the bottom of four in a super-efficient stint that kept his side well placed in an already tense contest.
Going strong into the fifth, Blackley was supported with some wonderful defence – including a pearler by Beresford at shortstop – that enabled him to retire eight out of the nine hitters he faced before Brad Harman delivered Australia a lead for the first time with a solo blast over leftfield in the equaliser.
Not to be outdone, recent Royals signee Allan de San Miguel – hitting nine in this power packed lineup - smashed a follow-up bomb into the wind and the Aussies were out to a two-run lead, compliments of a couple of their team leaders.
South Africa posted their third and fourth hits of the game - in the bottom of six – when Anthony Phillips singled and brother Jonathon doubled to set the table for catcher Kyle Botha, who blasted a three-run homer off the first pitch he saw to hand his side a sudden and dramatic lead.
While it was a tough end to what had been a stellar outing over five, Blackley was relieved by Peter Moylan, who whiffed Shannon Ekermans to end a momentous innings – potentially the most decisive of the four-day tournament as Australia was placed seriously under the pump.
Trent Oeltjen doubled and Hughes walked to give their side a chance in the bottom of six – one that D’Antonio was not about to pass up as he blasted a double over centrefield that tied the game and spelled the end for Michaels.
In relief, Callan Pearce induced a Harman flyball and a grounder by de San Miguel as the tied game stretched into the seventh, where Kyle Ettisch walked and Ngoepe hit into a double play off Moylan.
Hitting safely to lead off the seventh, Beresford advanced on a Wade sacrifice and scored the go-ahead when Dening tugged a single into rightfield.
Dening stole second and Stefan Welch hit safely to put runners at the corners before Oeltjen delivered his third hit – this time an RBI-single into rightfield for a two-run lead.
Entrusted with the closing task, Ryan Searle conceded a single to Anthony Phillips and a walk to Jonathon Phillips before a weak grounder put both in scoring position for Brett Willemberg, who grounded out on a tight call at first to score a fifth run before Searle whiffed Keegan Swanepoel to dodge a bullet – thanks largely to the silky defensive skills of Beresford, who played an absolute blinder at shortstop.
Replacing Pearce, Dean Jacobs walked D’Antonio, Harman legged out a bunt and a de San Miguel bunt was mishandled by the South Africa defence for another two runs to cross the plate as harbinger of what was effectively a period of junk time that finally exposed a South Africa bullpen that had been courageous though undermanned in the final analysis.
Belting six runs in the eighth off a string of hurlers, Australia took a seven-run lead into the top of the last, more than enough for Searle to nail what was in the end a comprehensive winning margin – one that was not at all indicative of the opposition provided by an emerging baseball nation that will have learned plenty from the qualifying series.
While the long ball was a decisive factor through the early innings, the depth of the Australian offence was impressive – with all of the starting nine making contributions to a team total of seventeen hits.
Although Australia emerged the winner – as was widely expected – what we all witnessed was four days of hard, skilled and intense competition played in a spirited and fair manner as international baseball should always be.
Congratulations to the Australian team. Feel free – as you will - to celebrate long and hard!
Images: World Baseball Classic
14 February 2016
Australia has qualified for the 2017 World Baseball Classic - its fourth - by defeating South Africa 12-5 in the WBC Qualifying Final that was decided at Blacktown Sportspark this afternoon.
A super national squad superbly managed by Head Coach Jon Deeble, Australia was seriously tested by an aggressive South Africa outfit that will have gained plenty of admirers across the baseball world for its skill and its competitive spirit.
In the end, though, it was the quality and depth of the Aussie pitching roster, its classy defence and its hitting capacity that proved the decisive factors in achieving a result that is vital for the future of Australian baseball on the world stage.
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(CEO, Baseball Australia)
(Major League Baseball)
(President, Baseball Australia)
(BA High Performance)
RYAN ROWLAND SMITH