By Sean Talbot
In what must have felt like a cruel dream, the Upwey Ferntree Gully Tigers saw themselves lose a comfortable 8-2 lead late into Saturday 11 November’s game against Sandringham turn into less comfortable 8-6 lead, which wound up eventuating into a walk-off, 9-8 loss at Tjilatjirran Reserve in Sandringham.
It was a hot start for the Tigers in the 1st inning, fresh off their 8-2 win against Geelong as young gun Jack Ratcliffe opened the afternoon with a booming double, eventually coming around to score the first of two runs for the inning, giving the visitors an immediate 2-0 lead before the Royals had even seen a pitch on offense. The Tigers were certainly buoyed by the return of veteran catcher Jordan Elliott, who missed the previous two games whilst preparing to and then running the New York Marathon. Taking the ball after a sensational start last week, staff ace Jarrod Turner set the tone early, making quick work of the Sandringham hitters, putting them quickly back into the field and continuing to carry the momentum for the Tigers.
Settling into his work, Sandringham’s starter traded a scoreless 2nd with Turner and kept the visitors off the board in the 3rd, whilst the home squad combined base hits with aggressive baserunning and a defensive miscue to plate two runs and tie the game up. It was a short-lived celebration however, as the Tigers exploded for 6 runs in the 4th inning, sending 10 hitters to the plate whilst taking full advantage of multiple base hits, walks, errors and a Royals squad unsure how to stem the flow of runs, as the Upwey side seemingly scored at will, before a call to the bullpen saw former multi-time Victorian representative Grant Irving take the ball in relief in his first outing of the season.
To his credit, Irving was sensational in his role, getting out the inherited jam in the 4th and keeping the Tigers off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game, settling into his work and matching one of the leagues best pitch for pitch as the middle innings came and went with no change to the score. Reaching his pitch count for the game, Turner gave way to lefty Wes de Jong in the 8th inning after another phenomenal start, scattering a handful of hits and leaving his squad in firm position to record their third win of the season. It was not to be however, as the Royals jumped de Jong from the very first pitch of the 8th inning, making continual hard contact on their way to quickly scoring four runs to cut the deficit and leave them well within striking distance, going to the top of the 9th with an 8-6 scoreline. Irving threw up another 0 in the 9th, and the Royals could sense an upset was on the cards. Taking the sword to teenage reliver Ryder Wilson, the Royals continued putting the ball in play, eventually scoring the tying and winning runs on a long double to walk-off with an improbable win and a 9-8 final score. The result now sees both teams sporting a 2-4 record in a 5 way tie for 10th place along with Doncaster, Port Melbourne and Williamstown.
The Tigers will regroup and look to rebound in their midweek clash with the Port Melbourne team by the bay on Tuesday night in what is without a doubt a must-win game to keep their hopes of playoff baseball alive.
It wasn’t a happy story for the 2nds either, as they saw the home team jump to a 4 run lead in the first inning after a walk, a hit, an error and 4 consecutive two-out walks saw starter Tristan Mealey chased from the game after on 2/3 of an inning and leaving Sean Meldrum with an uphill battle to keep the game within reach. To his credit, the crafty veteran needed just 4 pitches to escape the jam and then threw a scoreless 2nd while the boys in black worked on getting back into the game. It would be a game of missed chances though, as the usually disciplined Upwey hitters were uncharacteristically over-aggressive in their at-bats and unable to capitalize on chances provided, and were not able to pin the early lead back, going down 6-4. All is not lost though, as the loss still sees the Tigers tied for 1st place with Geelong sporting a 5-1 record and with a league best offensive record as they look ahead to Malvern next weekend.
At Kings Park playing host to Sandringham, it was a much happier result for the 3rds and 4ths, who both posted wins on home turf. The 3rds ran away with their game to post a comprehensive 12-4 final scoreline, lead by starter Kol Halupecki who threw 3 solid innings, more than ably backed up by Luke Allridge and Harry Snoxell. On the offensive side of the ball, the team executed right from the word go, scoring 6 runs in the first innings while playing team first heads up baseball, laying down bunts, hit-and-runs and plenty of timely situational baserunning which saw Sandringham wilt under the constant pressure. The win sees the team improve to 4-1-1 and tied for 3rd place, more than within striking distance of Geelong in top spot.
It was much the same for the 4ths, who were led by batboy-turned-game day manager Tate Sadler. The star of the U/12 Metro team, Sadler took the reigns from regular coach Richard Ferguson and was able to masterfully guide his team to a comfortable 13-2 win. Daniel Smith excelled on the mound, throwing 4 solid innings before being relieved by Riley Johnson who closed out the game. Smith was also kept in check by his pint-sized manager, who paid him a visit in the 4th innings to check on his starter in a move that showed poise and game awareness well beyond his years. The win sees the team in 1st place with Essendon nipping at their heels.
The 5ths hosted Waverley Black but were unable to take the chocolates, going down in a nailbiter 7-6. Both teams had their chances to put the result out of reach but were unable to capitalize, however the boys from High Street Rd held on long enough to take the points. The loss sees the team slip into a tie for 7th with a 2-4 record, shared with Research gold and Doncaster Gold.
The 6ths were on the road to Moorabbin and were dealt a loss by the home team, who scored early and throughout the contest to take out a hard-fought 10-6 win. Despite the loss, the Tigers remain at .500 and clear in 4th spot, trailing only Blackburn, Bonbeach and Springvale heading into Round 7.
Heading into their game on Saturday sporting an unbeaten record and one of the leagues strongest lineups, the Lady Tigers scored runs early, often and aggressively against an overmatched Cheltenham team, as they ran out easy 12-4 victors on the road to the Rustler Women. As they have been all season, the hitters were sensational, putting pressure on the opposition pitchers all game long, working themselves into hitters counts and taking full advantage of pitching that was not strong enough to keep them off the scoreboard, with the pitchers providing plenty of chances to keep stepping in the batters box and keep applying pressure. The only downside to the win was the ejection of starting centerfielder Victoria Chinn who was handed a red card after a pair of dubious strike calls and a very questionable decision to run her, however she is expected to take her place back in the outfield next week. The win sees Upwey maintain their perfect record at 6-0 and sitting 1.5 games clear of 3rd in equal 1st place with league powerhouse Berwick, with both teams likely watching the schedule and circling the date the two will eventually clash.
As previously mentioned, the Mens 1sts are on the road for a midweek clash at Port Melbourne on Tuesday before they and the 2nds host Malvern, while the 3rds and 4ths will be on the road to the Braves at Wadsworth Field for what should be a pair of exciting games.