By Alexis Brudnicki - TheABL.com.au
MELBOURNE – After a tight battle between pitching staffs at the fifth-annual Australian Baseball League All-Star Game presented by Boral, Team Australia walked off the World All-Stars with a squeeze bunt to take the matchup 3-2 on Wednesday night at Melbourne Ballpark.
Coming into the tie ballgame to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth inning with a runner on third base, first-time all-star and CompassMarkets.com Sydney Blue Sox utility player Trent D’Antonio laid down the bunt to end the affair, giving the national squad its third victory in five Midsummer Classic games down under.
“It was an awesome game,” D’Antonio said. “The pitchers threw well and it’s always tough when you’re running out one pitcher after another to try and stay in it. I mean, it was a good first experience for me.
“I wasn’t really surprised by the squeeze, to be honest. That’s kind of part of my game, and [Team Australia] manager Jon Deeble knows that, so when I got the sign I thought it made sense. The game was a lot of fun, it really was.”
Representing the Brisbane Bandits, proudly presented by WellDog, outfielder Andrew Campbell scored the winning run for the home squad. Though he had some trouble not cheering for the five of his teammates he was playing against, the 23-year-old couldn’t have had more fun with the Aussie team.
“It was an awesome experience,” Campbell said. “That game was so close the whole time. That’s a good ballgame when you finish in the ninth inning like that. Everyone wants to win that way so it was good. It was exciting. I was happy to score for Australia at the end…It was good to get around the other Australian boys and we felt like a team tonight so it was good. It was good to win.”
After a similar finish last year for the national team, its skipper was happy to leave Melbourne Ballpark with another exciting win, and a look at many of the potential members of the upcoming squad for the World Baseball Classic qualifier, taking place in Sydney in February.
“It’s always great to come down here and play in this All-Star Game, and give our Australian kids a chance to play,” Deeble said. “When they get a chance to play, they’re really good. When you put that Australian uniform on, our guys take it up to another level. I thought we played really well tonight…
“And every time we go out and play, we go out to win. We were giving the kids a chance to play tonight to see what we’ve got [for the qualifier] and the guys really impressed us, the coaching staff. So there are going to be some guys here who are going to make this club.”
Craig Anderson got the start for the home team, and the left-hander representing the Blue Sox allowed one run on two hits with a walk and two strikeouts. The World All-Stars got out to an early lead against the southpaw, his teammate Rhys Hoskins plating the first run with a sacrifice fly in the opening frame.
Anderson was followed out of the bullpen with scoreless outings from right-hander Steven Chambers of the Adelaide Bite, proudly presented by SA Power Networks, Daniel Schmidt of the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat, and Sydney teammate Wayne Lundgren.
Steve Kent was the sole representative of the Canberra Elite Cavalry, and in his 1 1/3 innings of work for the Australian side, he allowed a solo home run to Bandits outfielder Justin Williams. The remaining members of both all-star squads from Canberra were unable to attend due to unexpected flight cancellations caused by inclement weather.
Sydney’s Aaron Sookee, the Bite’s Josh Tols and Matt Williams, and Brisbane’s Matt Timms and Ryan Searle all came on in relief and held the visitors off the board to finish the game. Searle earned the win after throwing a scoreless ninth before his team walked it off.
The World All-Stars used eight hurlers with Perth’s Edwin Carl getting the nod to start the game. Bandits southpaw Rick Teasley came out of the bullpen first and allowed two runs on two hits – to his Brisbane teammates Mitch Nilsson and Aaron Whitefield, the outfielder driving in both – with a walk.
Blue Sox hurlers Alex Balog and Calvin Drummond followed with scoreless appearances, with Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces pitchers Yasuo Sano and William Wu coming on for more of the same. Eric Green, the Bandits lefty voted in by the fans, kept the Aussies off the board for one inning before Bite pitcher Kody Kerski came on in the final frame, taking the loss after giving up one unearned run.
“They ran some really good arms out there tonight,” Deeble said. “There were some 95-96s for sure. They ran some good arms out there and they swung the bats particularly well too. I thought some balls they hit into the wind they hit pretty well but that’s Altona with the wind blowing in.”
The World squad was paced by Aces shortstop Tanner Vavra and Bandits utility player TJ Bennett, who had three hits apiece. On the home side, Brisbane shortstop Logan Wade had two hits, the offence led by some of the youngest players on the squad.
“It’s great to be back down here with the boys,” D’Antonio said of his first Team Australia appearance in almost a decade. “There were a lot of faces that I recognise from last time I was down here and a lot of faces that I knew, which was really good to see.
“We had a lot of young guys, so that’s good and bad that I’m one of the older guys now and in the [All-Star Game] for my first time, but Melbourne put on a good show and this was a great game.”