Australia at Under 21 World Cup
Playoff Game: Aussies falter in thrilling finale: sixth placing overall
16 November 2014
CZECH REPUBLIC 6 defeated AUSTRALIA 5
Backing up from a shattering loss to South Korea just fifteen hours earlier, Australia faced Czech Republic in the playoff for fifth and sixth placing – with the result instrumental to IBAF rankings.
The Aussies seemed on track in surging to a four-zip lead after four, but a spirited Czech recovery proved that this game is never over until it is over – forcing the green and gold to dig deep and draw level, only to have the game snatched from their grasp in a climactic ninth innings.
With three wins and five losses across the tournament, the squad would be disappointed with the finish but should feel immensely proud of the quality of baseball that it delivered.
MORE WORLD CUP IMAGES (kindly supplied by Helen Holland)
Feasting on opposition pitching in recent days, Aussie lead-off Jacob Younis singled in the first but was left high and dry, although his side was quickly on the board when a walk, an error and a James Philibossian single generated a run in the bottom of the second.
Australian starter Aaron Thompson was on song early – sitting down eleven of the first twelve hitters that he faced – while his offence delivered a second run on a Robbie Perkins sacrifice after Ryan Dale had walked and Guy Edmonds doubled.
With two out in the fourth, Jared Cruz singled, Philibossian walked and both crossed the plate when Younis smashed a triple into rightfield for a commanding four zip lead against an opponent that had less on the line in this game and would surely – like all sides – be feeling fatigued towards the end of a tough tournament.
Dominant through the early innings, Thompson conceded a walk and infield single in the sixth before a Martin Cervenka double and a Junec grounder halved the Australian lead.
Relieving Thompson after the Queenslander had spun six innings of quality work for three hits, two walks and the two runs, Lachlan Madden landed in immediate strife to concede a run before Wilson Lee was summoned from the pen with bases juiced.
Seizing upon the opportunity, Cervenka singled to drive in a couple and the Czechs were in the lead – albeit momentarily, as Zac Shepherd slapped a lead-off single in the equalising seventh and scored for Australia when Perkins doubled to centrefield for a 5-5 ballgame.
A timely Lee strike out quelled a Czech challenge in the eighth – with runners at second and third – and it was Australia’s turn to apply the blow torch to reliever Jan Tomek, who walked Younis, Dale and Shepherd but managed to play grand defence to escape a pivotal innings.
Called upon in the ninth, Josh Guyer walked Sila and Hajtmar hit safely for the Czechs – again setting the table for Cervenka, who capped his outstanding offensive game by driving in the go-ahead and making it super tough for a deflated Australian outfit that again fell away in the later innings despite some superb individual performances.
Terrific over six innings, Thompson received great support from Younis (two hits and two RBIs), Perkins (two and two) and Philibossian (two and one), in this game among the many young players on the squad promising so much for the future of Australian baseball.
Considering the relatively limited number of world-class baseball tournaments in which Australia participates, sixth placing overall is a commendable result although not quite securing the points and the improved ranking that may have qualified our senior national team for the 2015 Premier Twelve.
Players and staff are entitled to feel intensely proud of their collective contributions, while sharing in the understandable disappointment that comes from getting so close in several games against world-class opponents.
For those of us following the game back home, it was an exciting ten days (and a few late nights). A roller-coaster ride that will tangibly remain in the memories of players, officials and supporters for a lifetime.
We thank all of you for representing Australian baseball with such classy competitiveness, and with such distinction.
Images: Helen Holland