SYDNEY, New South Wales – With two quick wins to open the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Sydney, hosts, Team Australia will head straight to the final game on Sunday, solidifying their spot with a 4-1 win over South Africa on Friday night at Blue Sox Stadium.
The Aussie arms led the way for the home squad, backed by an early offensive charge with their hitters plating three runs in the opening frame, and adding an insurance run in the sixth inning. Minnesota Twins farmhands Logan Wade and James Beresford each drove in a run for the Southern Thunder, with former big leaguer Trent Oeltjen adding an RBI of his own.
“We had some really good at-bats, we had four [hits] in a row, and I thought we swung the bat well,” Australian manager Jon Deeble said. “They contained us, but we had some real hard hits too that they made some plays on.
“They made some great plays tonight too and they’re a good club. And again, this is not going to be easy to win this, it’s going to be tough. Hopefully it comes down to pitching and we’ve got all our guys ready.”
Added South African manager Alan Phillips: “We feel we can play defence, we feel we’ve got pitchers who can manage the job on the hill with the defence behind them. As the tournament progresses, I’ve got no doubt the hitting will start coming through, the quality at-bats will start appearing more and more.”
Detroit Tigers prospect Warwick Saupold got the start for Team Australia and allowed one run – after a fly ball to the outfield was lost in the lights – on three hits with a walk and a strikeout over three innings of work. South African catcher Kyle Botha drove in his squad’s only run of the affair.
Saupold was followed on the mound by five-year Major Leaguer Ryan Rowland-Smith, Twins farmhand Todd Van Steensel and Australian Baseball League saves record-holder Ryan Searle. Rowland-Smith faced one batter over the minimum through three frames, Van Steensel threw two perfect innings, and Searle struck out the side to close out the game in the ninth.
“We build our team on pitching and defence,” Deeble said. “Our programs in Australia are about pitching and defence and that came to the floor tonight. Warwick was on a pitch count so we had to get him out of there but Ryan Rowland-Smith threw the ball as good as I’ve ever seen him throw it and Van Steensel was outstanding too, and then Searle, who’s had a good ABL [season], he continued his good work.”
The veteran leaders on the field have made significant contributions off the field as well, helping the Australian squad from all angles in the short tournament.
“We’ve got a group of guys who played in the big leagues but they act as a group, they work together,” the host team’s skipper said. “[Peter] Moylan’s been fantastic in the clubhouse and keeping guys loose. Oeltjen’s got a smile on his face every day, he’s a good leader. Even [Brad] Harman’s not a loud guy, he shows a lot of leadership, and [Luke] Hughes has been a leader for a long time too. They bring this club together and help these young kids.”
Seeing the success of the program firsthand and its development since they got their starts with the national team, returning to the squad has Rowland-Smith and Oeltjen both excited for the future and looking forward to more of the young players they’re seeing for the first time.
“Absolutely, it’s a good mix now of the older and the younger guys coming through and we really now don’t have any weak spots in our lineup,” Oeltjen said. “It’s really 1 to 9 and everyone’s contributing. So we’re a force to [reckon with] now that our lineup’s finally come together and it’s fun to be a part of it.”
Added the left-handed hurler: “This is the first chance I’ve had to meet some of these guys, especially from a pitching standpoint. Obviously Trent’s probably a little bit different with the hitters but we’re just trying to keep the same culture we’ve had since we won the silver medal in the Olympics. So we’re trying to keep that culture and we’ve got such a good group of guys here. I keep saying it because it’s so true. Everyone’s on the same page and we’re having a really good time and it shows on the field.”
Carl Michaels took the hill for South Africa and allowed the three runs in the first inning on five hits, walking two and striking out none. The visitors used four relievers to keep the Aussies at bay through the rest of the matchup.
With the victory, Australia advances straight to the final game of the Qualifier, facing the winner of Saturday’s matchup between South Africa and New Zealand.
“We’re as ready as we’re going to be for tomorrow,” Phillips said. “It’s just a case of keeping the guys injury-free and keeping the arms fresh. We’ve got staff circled down for tomorrow already. Jared Elario is going to start for us tomorrow so we’re in a good spot at the moment. We feel good.”
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