(Story by Marco Stoovelaar; Photo by Canberra Cavalry)
Australian postseason halted; Melbourne Aces wins title
MELBOURNE, Victoria (Australia) -
The postseason in the professional Australian Baseball League was stopped two days before its conclusion due to a lockdown in the state of Victoria.
However, the ABL had a back-up plan to crown a champion, as was discussed with the teams.
The initial double-elimination play-off format was changed into a single-elimination format and with that the Qualifying Final on Friday-evening (February 12) became the Championship Game, which was scheduled for Sunday (February 14).
In that game, reigning champion Melbourne Aces won 9-2 against Perth Heat to repeat as champion, which also was the second title in club-history.
With the championship, Melbourne won the Claxton Shield, which is handed out to the Australian baseball-champion since 1934.
It marked the 24th time that a team from the state of Victoria won this trophy.
Due to the measures against the coronavirus (COVID-19), the 2020-2021 season was adjusted.
Initially, the league was to have eight teams again in its league, but on November 12, both Geelong Korea and Auckland Tuatara withdrew.
The board of the New Zealand-team from Auckland stated:
,,The travel restrictions, additional costs associated with travel, quarantine costs, player availability, lack of commercial sponsorship in COVID times and the ongoing risk with committing to costs that cannot be recovered if we proceed any further formed the basis of the boardís decision''.
Regarding the withdrawal of the Australian-based Korean team, the ABL said:
,,The Australian Governmentís COVID-19 quarantine requirements proved the most challenging barrier with Geelong-Korea not able to complete the mandatory period in Queensland due to limited direct flights''.
And so, the season went underway on December 17 with the six remaining teams scheduled to play 24 games each.
It was to be a busy schedule with a lot of games to be played in the month of January.
However, more challenges followed.
Due to a rise of some cases in some states, travel restrictions, lockdowns, but also weather conditions, several games were cancelled and postponed.
Sydney Blue Sox played its first two games on December 17 and 18, but then was unable to play thereafter due to the measures taken or imposed, such as travel restrictions and not being allowed to play.
Due to an outbreak of COVID-19 north of the Sydney, some states closed their borders to New South Wales, where Sydney is located.
The team played its next games on January 22.
Overall, the team played only 14 games, but managed to finish in fifth place to qualify for the Play-Offs.
The regular season ended on February 7 with the top-3 qualifying for the Play-Offs, which also had a different format this season.
Former Dutch big league-player and former Netherlands National Team-player Bas Nooij played in eleven games for Canberra Cavalry in the 2020-2021 season.
Initially, he was on the reserve-list for this team, but he was added to the main-roster several times during the season.
The 33-year old catcher batted .219 (7-for-32) with no extra basehits, scored two runs and batted in three.
He struckout 15 times and walked twice.
During the Play-Offs, Nooij was not on the active roster of Canberra.
(© Photo: Cavalry)
Nooij played in eleven seasons (2004; 2006-2015) for L&D Amsterdam Pirates in the Dutch big league.
After the 2015 season, he moved to Australia and later became an Australian citizen.
Nooij made his debut in the Australian Baseball League in the 2016-2017 season playing for Adelaide Bite for whom he also played the next season.
He then didn't play in the 2018-2019 season, but made his comeback in the following season, appearing in 14 games for Auckland Tuatara.
Melbourne Aces finished in first place and with that, the team advanced to the Semi-Final 1.
The winner of this game would qualify for the Qualifying Game.
Second placed Perth Heat and third placed Adelaide Giants were to meet in Semi-Final 2.
Fourth placed Canberra Cavalry and fifth placed Sydney Blue Sox were to play the Wild Card Game.
Brisbane Bandits finished in sixth place and was eliminated for the postseason.
Except for the Wild Card Game, all games of the postseason were scheduled to be played in Melbourne.
The postseason went underway as scheduled on February 7 with the Wild Card Game.
Playing at home, Canberra Cavalry nipped Sydney Blue Sox 3-2 to advance to Semi-Final 1 and face Melbourne Aces.
With the loss, Sydney was eliminated.
On Thursday (February 11), at Melbourne Ballpark, the two Semi-Finals were played.
In the afternoon, Perth Heat won big with a 26-6 score against Adelaide Giants in Semi-Final 2.
With its 26 runs, Perth set a postseason-record, the old one being 18 runs.
The team also hit seven homeruns to tie a record.
Shane Sasaki and Alex Hall both hit two homeruns.
Sasaki batted in eight runs and scored five, Hall batted in five runs.
With a 5-1 lead, Perth rallied for eleven runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, then added five runs in both the fifth and sixth inning.
The team collected 23 basehits.
With the win, Perth advanced to the Qualifying Final, while Adelaide was to play in the Elimination Final.
In the evening, Melbourne Aces also recorded a big win, defeating Canberra Cavalry, 19-4, in Semi-Final 1.
Melbourne trailed 3-0 halfway the first inning, then answered with four runs.
The team then scored twice in the third at bat to expand its lead to 6-3.
From the fourth inning on, 13 more runs were added.
Melbourne collected 17 basehits, including a postseason-record of eight homeruns.
Damek Tomscha hit two homeruns.
Also, former Major Leaguer Delmon Young homered for Melbourne.
With the win, Melbourne advanced to the Qualifying Final to face Perth.
Canberra was to play in the Elimination Final against Adelaide.
On Friday-afternoon, the Elimination Final was played.
Canberra Cavalry nipped Adelaide Giants 3-2 to advance to the Preliminary Final.
With the loss, Adelaide was eliminated.
On Friday-evening, the Qualifying Final was scheduled to be played between Melbourne Aces and Perth Heat.
The winner of this game would advance to the Championship Game on Sunday, the loser was to play in the Preliminary Final against Canberra on Saturday.
The winner of that game was to become the second finalist.
But the situation changed on Friday-afternoon when it was announced that the state of Victoria would enter a five-day lockdown starting at midnight.
After completion of the afternoon-game between Canberra and Adelaide, the Australian Baseball League made the following announcement:
,,The Claxton Shield will be awarded to the winner of Melbourneís clash with Perth tonight after it was announced Victoria would head into a five-day lockdown from 11.59pm.
While the Victorian Governmentís advice permitted professional sports taking place without fans in attendance Baseball Australia chief executive Cam Vale said there was an obligation to limit the impact of the lockdown and subsequent introduction of restrictions around the country on players and officials.
Vale said concluding the playoffs tonight also allowed fans, who were a key reason behind the season going ahead, to attend and see the Championship Game.
Under the ABLís Playoff protocols, distributed to the teams prior to the postseason starting, the winner of the Qualifying Final will be named the 2021 champions with games not taking place on Saturday or Sunday''.
The Australian Women's Baseball Showcase also was scheduled for the weekend with the women's baseball-teams of Victoria Aces and Brisbane Bandits to play a game on Saturday and Sunday.
These games were postponed to a later date.
On Friday-evening, Melbourne Aces and Perth Heat faced each other in what originally was the Qualifying Game, but in the afternoon had become the Championship Game.
Melbourne won 9-2 to win its second consecutive Championship-title.
Melbourne opened the score in the bottom of the second inning on a single by Chris Burke off of starter Dylan Unsworth.
The team doubled its lead in the third on a runscoring single by Delmon Young.
Perth cut the deficit in half in the top of the sixth on a single by Alex Hall, but Melbourne then answered with a 7-run rally.
Jarryd Dale batted in two runs with a triple, then Colin Willis followed with a 2-run homerun.
A single by Delmon Young and a grounder by Damek Tomscha accounted for the next two runs.
The seventh run was scored on a wild pitch.
35-year old designated hitter Delmon Young (who was 2-for-5) played in ten Major League-seasons (2006-2015) for five teams.
He also played in Mexico and Venezuela in recent years.
The team also had a former Major Leaguer as short stop, which was South African Gift Ngoepe, who was 0-for-3.
In 2017, the 31-year old infielder became the first native from the African contininent to play in the Major League, while playing for Pittsburgh Pirates.
Ngoepe played for Toronto Blue Jays in 2018.
Now trailing 9-1, Perth scored its final run in the top of the ninth when Alex Hall homered.
Sam Kennelly, who in 2018 played in the Dutch big league for Twins Oosterhout, was the third baseman for Perth and batted 1-for-4, which was a double.
In 2018, he shared the Dutch big league-lead with six homeruns.
Winning pitcher Tyler Beardsley threw six strong innings.
The righthander struckout two batters, walked two and gave up six basehits, but held Perth to only one run.
Afterwards, he was named Most Valuable Player of the Championship Game.