Orioles force Game Three, Lady Tigers fall short in finale

2023/24 Upwey FTG Lady Tigers, Picture: ADAM BATTYE.

Sean Talbot

Coming into Saturday’s game with a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three series, the Upwey FTG Tigers travelled to Billabong Park to again take on Blackburn, looking to secure a second win and advance to the Grand Final series, where they would face off against the winner of Waverley v Essendon.

Entering the game knowing they had not been able to secure a win in either of their regular season contests at the Burners home fortress, the Tigers knew they would be needing to be at their best to secure the points and end the home sides season.

With club coach Donavon Hendricks taking the ball for Upwey and being countered by Blake “Sauce” Hodgson for Blackburn, runs were potentially going to be quite hard to come by, as both starters entered the game with more than 25 years of Division 1 baseball between them.

Upwey struck first in the top of the 1st inning, as Peter Schroeders led off the game with the first of his three hits for the day, eventually coming round to score on a two-out Josh Hendricks single, his first of four hits for the afternoon, before a ground ball ended the inning with Upwey sporting a 1-0 lead.

D Hendricks made quick work of the Orioles in the bottom half of the inning, striking out leadoff hitter Andy Tierney before a ground ball and a pop-fly sat the home side down in order.

Hodgson was able to recover from his trip at the starting line, quickly recording two quick outs via foul fly and a three-pitch strikeout before Ryder Wilson slapped a first pitch, two-out single to extend the inning, however a groundball to shortstop Taichi Nagano negated the threat and ended the inning.

D Hendricks again made quick work of the Burners in the bottom half of the inning, as a flyball and two ground balls ensured the Tigers were able to quickly put Blackburn back in the field.

Leading off the top of the 3rd, Schroeders laced his second hit of the day to center field, however a fielder’s choice ground ball and a 6-3 double play quickly snuffed out the rally and ended the inning.

Undeterred by the short inning, D Hendricks worked around a one-out double by Koetsu Sakamoto to induce a foul pop-fly and a fly ball to end the inning and again keep Blackburn off the scoreboard.

Leading off the inning and continuing to show the form that has led him to be known as the Big Puma, J Hendricks laced a double to left field then advanced on a one-out groundball to pitcher Hodgson.

Staci Rogers drew a full count walk before intentionally getting hung up between first and second, drawing Blackburn’s defense long enough to allow J Hendricks to charge home and score Upwey’s second run of the game before being tagged out to end the inning.

Looking to get themselves on the scoreboard after seeing their deficit double in the top of the inning, Blackburn closed the gap to 2-1 after a leadoff double to Ryan Berg allowed Ben Leslie to single to right field to score Berg from second while advancing to second himself on the throw.

A ground ball to third base and a fly ball to left field threatened to leave Leslie stranded, however an infield error extended the inning before a Ben Aslett single scored Leslie to tie the game at 2-2 before Sakamoto grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.

Wanting to find a way to create a new lead for themselves, Upwey were unable to secure any baserunners in the top of the 5th, save for a two-out Schroeders walk before a fly ball ended the half frame.

Using the quick inning and their newly created momentum, the Orioles manufactured a third run as Andy Tierney was plunked with a pitch, Berg hit his second double of the game to put runners at second and third before Leslie singled to centerfield, scoring Tierney and stopping Berg at third.

A sharp line drive to Jack Ratcliffe at second base froze the runners before D Hendricks struck out power threat Hayden Dingle to leave two stranded, but not before Blackburn edged in front 3-2.

The Tigers looked again to grind themselves into the game, however a J Hendricks single was followed by a hard hit ball that found Nagano on the move up the middle at shortstop, resulting in another 6-3 double play and another potential rally ended despite some great hitting from the Tigers.

Carrying their momentum into the bottom half of the inning, Blackburn pushed the score to 4-2 on the back on a lead-off single by Nick Rossell who was forced out on a rare 9-6 fielder’s choice, before another Sakamoto double scored Aslett all the way from first base and saw the Orioles right fielder advance to third on the play, eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly by Nagano before Tierney flew out to end the inning.

Desperate to capitalize on their created chances, the Tigers got that chance in the top of the 7th, as a two-out rally was sparked by pinch hitter Andy Kane who singled to centerfield. Rice hit a high fly ball that landed in no-man’s land in shallow centerfield, allowing he and Kane to advance to second and third respectively and Schroeders at the top of the order coming up.

Upwey’s veteran leadoff took full advantage of the extended inning, lining a ball to right field to score Kane and Rice and advancing to second base on the throw.

Blackburn catcher Chase Hodkinson looked to catch Schroeders advancing, however a close play at second base saw an injury to Nagano and the ball roll to the centerfield wall, scoring Schroeders to complete the “little league home run” and see Upwey now back in front sporting a 5-4 scoreline.

Wade McConnon singled to left field to keep the rally alive before Jordan Elliott reached base on an infield error, drawing an end to Hodgson’s day and summoning left handed flamethrower Andy Jones from the bullpen, his second appearance in the series.

Jones needed just one pitch to produce a fly ball to Sakamoto in right field, ending the inning before the Tigers could keep piling on. D Hendricks took the mound in the bottom of the 7th and made quick work of the Orioles, needing only 10 pitches to record two fly balls and a ground ball that ended the inning in quick fashion.

Jones began the 8th inning attempting to quell the Tigers fire, managing to navigate around a two-out single to Rogers before inducing a fly ball to end the inning and strand the Tigers third baseman.

Knowing that if the Tigers held a lead in the 9th inning that they would be sending staff ace Jarrod Turner to the mound to close the game down, Blackburn saw Nick Rossell single with one-out before advancing on an Aslett single to put runners at the corners and ending D Hendricks’ day.

The Upwey skipper was absolutely sensational, navigating in and out of trouble and keeping his side firmly in the game. Wes de Jong was called on to try and find a way out of the two-on, one-out situation, however Sakamoto put another ball in play, this one an RBI single to left field to score Rosell and tie the game at 5-5.

Mitch Whiting (pinch hitting for Nagano) managed a two-strike single to load the bases, however de Jong was able to strike out Tierney looking to record the second out of the inning.

Berg again came up big for Blackburn, as the veteran singled to left field to score Aslett and Sakamoto before Leslie triples to center field, scoring Whiting and Aslett to suddenly see the Orioles holding a 9-5 lead.

Knowing they would need a full team effort to either tie the game or take the lead, the Tigers battled in every at-bat in the top of the 9th, as McConnon reached on a two-out outfield error, Elliott reached on a two-out infield error and J Hendricks produced another single, this one scoring McConnon to reduce the score to 9-6.

Randy Senn singled to centerfield to score Elliott and reduce the lead to 9-7, however a flyball to right field ended the game with the result going the way of the Orioles.

Game 3 on Sunday was now required to decide whose season ended and who advanced, and both teams were going to be sending their best for the affair: Upwey with Turner, and Blackburn with import Michael Cabeza.

J Hendricks (4 hits, 2 RBI) and Schroeders (3 hits, 1 walk, 2 RBI) were the pick of the Upwey hitters, whilst D Hendricks’ 7 1/3 innings of work ensured his charges were never out of the game, also allowing the Tigers to ensure Turner was fresh for his start on Sunday.

Travelling to Melbourne Ballpark in Altona for their much anticipated, epic Grand Final clash against Chelsea, the Lady Tigers found themselves in early trouble and unfortunately were unable to climb the mountain that was the ladder leader, eventually falling to the eventual premiers 19-5.

Despite the bloated scoreline, the Lady Tigers were in this game for a large portion of the game, however some untimely errors at crucial times allowed Chelsea to run away with the game, scoring in each inning played whilst keeping the pressure on the Upwey bats for the entirety.

The Lady Tigers managed six hits and seven walks against the leagues best defense, however it was unfortunately not enough to overcome the Dolphins offense assault.

As has been the case the entire season, the Lady Tigers used production from up and down their line-up to score runs, with the dynamic duo of Hayley Mather and Caitlin Kiel continually the lynchpin for some of Upwey’s biggest innings on the year as they regularly got on base at the bottom of the order before setting up the big hitter at the top and middle of the order.

Chelsea Mosbey can take a huge amount of positives out of her growth into the true ace of the team, and was ably supported by Jess McDonald in a season that saw the latter continually produce in the batters box whilst adding more feathers to her cap on the mound and at shortstop.

While a win was the ultimate goal on the day, the program can take a lot of positives from this season in just their second since re-forming prior to the 2022/23 season, both of which have seen the team play off in finals (2022/23 saw Upwey fall in the Semi Final, this year making the Grand Final).

With a great mix of young talent and experienced veterans, the future certainly is bright for the Lady Tigers as they look to take lessons from the season’s final game and look ahead to next season where they will aim to go one step further and go home premiers.