Tigers drop thriller to old rival

Upwey Ferntree Gully Baseball Club's senior playing group. Picture: ADAM BATTYE.

By Sean Talbot

In a weekend that saw the Upwey Ferntree Gully and Waverley baseball clubs square off against each other in five different divisions, the Premier League Tigers were unable to claim the points in a last inning thriller that saw the Wildcats manufacture the go-ahead run in the top of the 9th inning to claim a win by the narrowest of margins.

With the Tigers handing the start to Wes de Jong and Waverley countering with Jamie Papanicolaou, it was a clash of contrasting styles as the crafty de Jong competed with Papanicolaou who, though rehabbing from an arm injury, claimed bragging rights when it comes to having the better fastball velocity. Waverley threatened to strike first in the top of the 1st inning after Rhys Longstaff doubled and Liam Evans walked, however de Jong induced a fielder’s choice to end the inning. The Tigers in turn then looked to get on the board in the bottom half of the 1st after Wade McConnon walked and Jordan Elliott was drilled by a pitch with one out, however Josh Hendricks popped out and Donavon Hendricks lined out to end the frame.

An uneventful 2nd innings saw both pitchers’ breeze through without much fuss, and while de Jong was able to hang a third scoreless innings against the Wildcats, his contemporary was not so fortunate and saw Upwey take their first lead of the game. Pete Schroeders singled, McConnon walked again, and Elliott was also walked to load the bases with no outs before singles to the Hendricks brothers and a sacrifice fly by Jack Ratcliffe quickly pushed the score to 3-0 before Papanicolaou struck out Staci Rogers and Harvey Chinn lined a hard hit ball for a fly out. The Tigers however were not out of the woodwork, as the Wildcats counterpunched with four runs in the top of the 4th inning to take a 4-3 lead. Longstaff and Evans both singled before Mitchell Lording singled with two outs to lead the bases. Shakore Bragg-Taylor worked the first of his three walks on the day to bring home the visitors first run of the game before a Jack Ratcliffe error allowed Evans to score. Homfray then singled to right field to score Lording and Bragg-Taylor, and before the Tigers could say “what the heck just happened?!” they trailed 4-3.

Not looking to be outdone on their home turf, Upwey threw a haymaker counter punch in the bottom of the 4th, as Nick Rice was drilled with a pitch, Schroeders was walked and Elliott was plunked for the second time for the day, ending Papanicolaou’s day and bringing Tyler Evans in from the bullpen for Waverley, looking to steady the ship. It was not to be however, as both Hendricks’ worked walks to tie the game then put the Tigers ahead, Ratcliffe grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Schroeders, Rogers lifted a sacrifice fly and Chinn doubled for his first hit of the season to see Upwey score five for the frame and see themselves back in front, this time leading 8-4. de Jong again found himself in trouble in the top of the 5th as Longstaff and Evans again both singled to lead off the inning, however a timely double play and a groundout saw de Jong escape with the lead intact and his day come to an end. Upwey looked to score again in the bottom half of the inning, however McConnon was struck with the ball on a ball in play from Elliott to be out due to runners’ interference before Elliott was picked off to end the frame.

Ryder Wilson was called upon to start the 6th for the home side, however he immediately issues walks to Lording and Bragg-Taylor while battling release point issues. A fly ball secured the first out of the inning, however a wild pitch advanced both runners to second and third before Homfray grounded out to Ratcliffe to score Lording and reduce the lead to 8-5 before a weak fly ball to Schroeders ended the half inning. The Tigers were unable to capitalise on a J Hendricks lead off walk, as D Hendricks grounded into a double play that saw a hotly contested and dubious call at first base go against the Tigers. Waverley scored again in the top of the 7th as Longstaff led off with a double (his fourth hit of the game) before advancing to third on the same play as Schroeders could not find the handle on the ball before eventually scoring on an Evans ground ball to narrow the margin to 8-6.

Upwey were sat down in order in the bottom half as T Evans had truly settled into his work, with Upwey calling on Rogers for the 8th in a high pressure situation in the righty’s first appearance of the season. Two quick outs for Waverley turned into a two-run, two-out rally as Bragg-Taylor walked, Homfray singled, Maxfield singled and Longstaff singled again (his fifth hit for the game) to tie the game at 8-8 before Jarrod Turner was called on to escape the jam. An unintentional/intentional walk to L Evans loaded the bases, however Turner induced a weak fly ball to end the inning. Upwey were again sat down in order, sending the game to the 9th with the result not very much up for grabs. Turner recorded a quick first out before Lording singled to give the Wildcats a chance. Pinch hitter Jordy Ley saw his bat shattered by a Turner fastball, however Lording was able to scamper to second base to put a runner in scoring position, before Ned Hargreaves doubled to right field to score the go-ahead run and give Waverley a 9-8 lead. The Hendricks brothers looked to get the Tigers going in the bottom of the 9th, however Josh saw a hard hit ground ball deflected off the foot of T Evans for the first out before Donavon was robbed by an amazing diving play in right by Finn Weichard to find the Tigers down to their last out and looking for a miracle. Ratcliffe singled to give the Tigers hope, however Rogers grounded in a fielder’s choice to end the game.

While Upwey never want to drop a game to Waverley, it does give them a great idea of what to expect come finals and sees the season series finish with each club claiming a win and a draw for good measure. The result sees Upwey retain their grip on third place, still sporting the strongest offence and stingiest defence. The Tigers will travel to Tulip Street to take on Sandringham on Tuesday night before hosting Blackburn on Saturday to wrap up the regular season.

The Reserves looked to end their regular season on a win as they look forward to finals as they faced a Waverley team that had lost four of its previous six games coming into their matchup with Upwey as both teams wanted a win to create some momentum. It was a day for errors and missed opportunities in the end, as the squads committed a combined seven errors and each threw away scoring opportunities and chances to break the game open for themselves. With Upwey and Waverley riding the terrific start of Sean Meldrum and Josh White respectively, both teams produced an inning that scored three runs, however neither team was able to find the killer blow to put the game away and take the win, with a 4-4 draw a seemingly fitting result.

Randy Senn and Manning Davison led the way for the Tigers with two hits apiece, whilst Meldrum threw 5 innings for an eventual no-decision in what was one of his best starts to date this season as he prepares to shoulder the majority of the innings for the Tigers in the finals. The result, coupled with Essendon’s 13-0 loss to Blackburn sees the Tigers jump back into first place and secure a home final this coming weekend, a great result for a team that started strong, stumbled out of the blocks after the break and have seen a number of players in and out of the team in recent weeks.

The Thirds travelled to Napier Park and promptly spent the late afternoon feasting on Wildcat, handing the hosts an 11-2 belting on home turf. Scoring four in the 2nd, three in the 6th and singles in the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th whilst tallying 12 hits, the Tigers ensured the result was never in doubt as they ran away with the game against the old rival, who committed five errors on the day and looked completely outplayed by the Yellow and Black Attack.

Daniel Williams (3 hits, 2 RBI), coach Tarquin Booth (2 hits, 3 RBI). Shaun Irvine (2 hits) and Kole Halupecki (2 hits) were the pick of the Tigers hitters, whilst Dan Smith went the distance on the mound, throwing 6 innings, surrendering just 3 hits and 2 walks whilst striking out 7 to earn the win in an appearance that may see him called upon for a spot in the Reserves in the coming weeks.

The win ensures the Tigers finish the regular season in third place on the ladder, two games behind Sandringham in third whilst being a full game clear of Waverley in fourth as they will play an away final this coming weekend.

The Fourths also were on the road and were looking to lock down another win on their impressive season, however they were unable to hold a 6-3 lead in the last inning as the Wildcats exploded for five runs to stun the Tigers and steal an 8-6 result over the ladder leaders. Richard Ferguson took the start for Upwey and was firmly in control of the Waverley hitters as his team scored freely before running into trouble in the bottom of the 5th inning, as a hit batter, a walk and a single to lead off the inning ended his day and summoned Dom McGrath from the bullpen (right field), however the Wildcats used a base hit, two fielder’s choices, stolen bases and an error to produce five, leaving Upwey on their heels and out of time to mount one last comeback.

The result however does not change the ladder for the Tigers, as their undefeated streak to start the season ensures they will finish in 1st and earn a home final next weekend, another terrific result for the club.

Regional Metro East 5ths scores were not available at time of writing; however, the team will not be able to make the Top Four, unfortunately ending their season.

The Regional Metro South 6ths travelled the KH Wearne Reserve to take on ladder leader Springvale and were dealt a respectable 11-4 loss. In a season that has seen the Lions play arguably below where they are capable of whilst remaining undefeated and bring the heavy premiership favorites, the Tigers can take solace in the fact that this was one of the closer results they have made Springvale work for this season. The result sees the Tigers finish the season in seventh place with a 5-13 record, also unfortunately ending their season.

The Lady Tigers also travelled to Waverley on Saturday, weathering the storm of a three-run 1st inning and a four-run 3rd inning from the hosts to rally in the 4th and 5th innings to grind out a 7-7 draw against the Lady Cats. Chelsea Mosbey and Jess McDonald shared pitching duties, whilst eight Lady Tiger hitters recorded either a hit, a walk or both in another fantastic team effort.

Whilst a draw was not the desired outcome, it retains their season long momentum coming into finals as they look to run the gauntlet and secure the premiership that eluded them last season.

The draw will see Upwey remain clear in second place with a 15-1-1 record behind only Chelsea, whilst ensuring they will have a home final against Waverley in a rematch this coming weekend in what should be an absolute barnburner.