Tigers fall to Orioles in heartbreaking decider

Upwey FTG premiership winning 4ths. Picture: SUPPLIED.

Sean Talbot

Coming into Sunday’s game looking at a win or go home scenario as they battled to extend their season and book a spot in the Grand Final series, the Upwey FTG Tigers took on the Blackburn Orioles in Game 3 of their best-of-three series at Kings Park in Upper Ferntree Gully.

With staff ace Jarrod Turner taking the ball looking to ride his momentum after Tuesday’s complete game shutout, the Upwey righty found himself in unfamiliar territory as a two-out rally in the top of the first inning saw Ben Leslie single before coming all the way round to score from first on a Chase Hodkinson single to centerfield to give Blackburn an early 1-0 lead.

With Blackburn giving the ball to American import Michael Cabeza, Upwey looked to make Blackburn’s ace work for his outs, however a two-out walk to catcher Jordan Elliott was not able to turn into a run, as a fly ball to right field ended the inning.

Looking to settle into his work, Turner was able to side step a two-out single by Koetsu Sakamoto to get Mitch Whiting to groundout to himself on the mound, securing the third out and the end of the inning.

Wanting to give their starter some run support, Donavon Hendricks led off the bottom of the 2nd with a walk and was followed by a groundball with eyes to left field by Jack Ratcliffe.

Harvey Chinn lined a laced a ball to right field to load the bases with none out.

A hard hit 5-2 fielder’s choice saw the first out of the inning forced out at home, however the bases did not remain loaded for long, as Nick Rice singled to left field to score Ratcliffe and tie the game at 1-1, but a hard hit 6-4-3 double play brought a quick end to the inning.

Not to be outdone, Blackburn went back on the offensive in the top of the 3rd, as Andy Tierney led off with a walk, Leslie singled with one out before Hodkinson tripled to left field to score both Tierney and Leslie.

A double by Hayden Dingle scored Hodkinson, and suddenly Blackburn had a 4-1 lead and threatened to blow the game out, especially after Nick Rossell was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second, but a timely double play allowed Upwey to strand two and escape the jam.

Leading off the bottom half, Wade McConnon drew a four pitch walk before Elliott was drilled in the back with a fastball to put runners at first and second, however another 6-4-3 double play advanced McConnon to third but left Upwey with two out.

D Hendricks worked a full count walk, however an infield fly ball was not enough o score any runners and ended the inning.

Blackburn started the bottom of the 4th swinging though their batted balls found fielders, save for a two-out Tierney double before Ryan Berg flew out to Rice in centerfield to end the half.

Looking to again reduce the deficit, Staci Rogers lined a one-out double to left field, coming around to score on Rice’s single before advancing to third on Schroeders’ single to right field, however a fielder’s choice and a ground ball stranded two to end the inning, but not before the score read 4-2.

Sensing a chance to ride their escapes on defense into offensive momentum, Hodkinson singled to left field with one out and advanced to third on Dingle’s single to right, coming into score on Rossell’s single to left field before a 6-4 double play ended the threat.

Understanding that Cabeza was starting to become wayward as he tired, the Upwey hitters continued to apply pressure to the Oriole import, as D Hendricks lined a one-out single which spelled the end of Cabeza’s day and saw Andy Jones called in from the bullpen for this third appearance of the series.

With the change of righty to lefty on the mound, Upwey sent Randy Senn to pinch hit and were rewarded with a two-out walk to put runners at first and second, but a fly ball to right allowed Jones and Blackburn to again tight rope out of danger still sporting a 5-2 lead.

Turner began the top of the 5th breathing fire, striking out Sakamoto and Whiting before a walk to Tierney and a single by Berg put runners at first and second, but an infield pop fly by Leslie was accepted by McConnon and ended the Orioles half of the inning.

Starting the bottom half afresh, Jones was able to work a 1-2-3 bottom half of the sixth as a strikeout and two fly balls saw the game head to the top of the 7th with Blackburn still holding on a 5-2 lead.

Taking the ball in the top of the 7th, Wes de Jong was greeted by a single by Hodkinson to centerfield before Dingle flew out and Rossell grounded into a fielder’s choice to leave a runner at first base with two outs.

Ben Aslett was hit on the leg with a breaking ball to give Blackburn two baserunners, but de Jong responded by striking out Sakamoto for the third out of the inning.

Taking their turn at bat, Upwey were unable to capitalize on J Hendricks one-out single, as a fly ball and a lineout saw Jones escape yet another jam and the inning end.

Aiming to work a scoreless top of the 8th, de Jong started well by striking out Whiting but Tierney was hit with a pitch to give the Burners a baserunner.

Berg grounded into a fielder’s choice to find himself at first base with two out, but two infield errors, a double and a single allowed Blackburn to score three runs with two outs and balloon their lead to 8-2 before Aslett struck out to end the frame.

Upwey were unable to do much in response in the bottom half of the inning, as two groundouts and a lineout saw them go down in order to send the game to the 9th inning.

Looking to again put pressure on the Tigers, Whiting singled with one out and Tierney was again hit by a pitch, albeit one that brushed his uniform, however Berg and Leslie hit back-to-back fly balls to end the inning and send the game to the bottom of the 9th with Upwey again needing a team rally to find a way to either tie the game or walk-off on the Orioles.

Battling hard against a clearly tired Jones, Schroeders led off with a seven pitch walk before McConnon was plunked by a fastball to put runners at first and second.

A flyball to right field allowed Schroeders to advance to third and put runners at the corners before an RBI groundball by J Hendricks scored Schroeders to make the score 8-3, however a strike three call on a somewhat dubious call ended the inning, the game and Upwey’s season.

After winning back-to-back premierships the Tigers were clearly disappointed that they were unable to make it back to the Grand Final series, however they can take a lot of positives out of the season on both a team and individual player basis, highlighted by the incredible seasons of Turner, Elliott, Ratcliffe, Andy Kane and the Hendricks brothers.

Blackburn will now take on Waverley in the Grand Final best-of-three series starting at Melbourne Ballpark in Altona on Tuesday night.

Taking the field to host Essendon in the Premier League Fourths Grand Final at Kings Park on Sunday, the Tigers were dealt a blow before the first pitch was thrown with the news that Russell Ferguson would be permanently unavailable after succumbing to a crippling identity crisis that left him questioning who he was.

After surrendering two runs in the top of the first inning and scoring one of their own in the bottom half after a double to Steve Williams, a pass ball and an RBI groundball by Richard Ferguson to score one, however a double by Oscar Monagas could not be turned into more runs as Essendon found a way out of danger to escape the early jam.

With Ferguson settling into his work on the mound, Essendon were kept scoreless in the 2nd and 3rd innings before Upwey broke through for their second run in the bottom of the 3rd inning as Chris Chalmers was hit by a pitch, stole second base and scored on Williams’ second double of the game.

Essendon were held scoreless in the fourth inning, but Upwey produced another run after Monagas reached on an error, Sean O’Halloran reached on an error, both runners completed a double steal of second and third before Monagas scored on a wild pitch, however a ground ball, a strikeout and a fly ball ended the inning without further score.

Dom McGrath took the ball from Ferguson to start the fifth inning and was able to keep Essendon scoreless, working a quick 1-2-3 innings before the Tigers exploded for three runs in the bottom half of the inning after Riley Johnson singled, Chalmers walked, Williams singled to load the bases and Ferguson doubled to left field to score Johnson and Chalmers.

Monagas lifted a sacrifice fly ball to centerfield to score Williams, and Upwey now had a commanding 6-2 lead heading into the top of the 6th inning.

McGrath continued to apply the screws to Essendon, retiring them in order to keep the score at 6-2 in favor of the Tigers. Chris Dean, pinch hitting for Mathew Smith, singled with one-out, advanced on a wild pitch before coming in to score on a single by Riley Johnson to push the score to 7-2.

Essendon, looking for a miracle in the 7th and final innings, looked to make things interesting as a leadoff infield error and a one-out walk gave them runners at first and second.

Catcher Paul Sadler nabbed the lead runner attempting to advance to third to record the second out before an infield single and a walk loaded the bases.

It was too little, too late however as McGrath induced a fielder’s choice force out at third base to record the final out of the inning and the game, handing Upwey the premiership with a 7-2 win.

The result comes after a season in which the Tigers were never not in first place on the ladder, one that has cemented the team’s status as the one to beat in season 2024/25 after a 13 game undefeated run to start the season that saw a mix of veterans and juniors play terrific baseball.

In other terrific news for the Tigers, the Under 12 Metro League East, Under 18 State and Master 38+ East Black teams all secured Grand Final wins and premierships over the weekend.

The U12 team put a bow on an incredible undefeated season that saw them secure their status as the measuring stick of the league, winning the season’s final game 9-2 at home in front of a rapturous crowd.

The U18 State team were just as dominant in their game against the visiting Geelong side, taking advantage of costly Geelong errors to run out 8-2 winners after also being the ladder leader all season.

Not to be outshone, the Masters team travelled to Melbourne on Monday night and, using a team effort or timely hitting and fielding, ran away winners 7-2 to secure their second premiership in three seasons.

This brings an end to season 2023/24 for all Tigers teams, as both the board and coaching staff can look back and be incredibly happy to add four premiership wins and another club championship to the long list of achievements the club has recorded in recent years.