As expected, Australia has won the first World Baseball Classic Qualifier of 2016. In the final they outscored and outhit South Africa 12-5 and 17-7.
But the score didn’t reflect the course of the game as the Australians only dealt the decisive blow in the eighth inning. The lack of depth in the South African bullpen cost them the game eventually.
For four innings the game was tied at one after South Africa took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Lead off hitter Gift Ngoepe slammed a 3-1 offering of Travis Blackley over the left field fence for a solo homerun.
After two quick outs in the bottom of the first inning, it looked like South Africa would end the inning with a one run lead. But starting pitcher Kyle Gaddin could not get out of the inning as he hit Mitch Dening with a pitch and gave up a single to Stefan Welch and a double to Trent Oeltjen that drove in the game tying run.
In the bottom of the fifth, reliever Carl Michaels gave up back-to-back solo homeruns to Brad Harman and Allan de San Miguel. The latter just signed a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royal.
In the top of the sixth the South Africans showed that they are flexible. After a single by Anthony Phillips and a double by Jonathan Phillips, Kyle Botha hit a three run shot to give South Africa a one run lead again. With a runner on third and two outs, South Africa even had the chance to extend their lead but pinch hitter Shannon Ekermans was called out on strikes for the final out of the inning. But once again Australia answered by tying the game in the very same inning after a two doubles hit by Trent Oeltjen and Trent D’Antonio.
After Australia had taken a two run lead in the seventh inning, South Africa kept pace as they cut the lead in half in the top of the eighth. With runners in scoring position, Brett Willemburg hit a 6-4 ground out that plated Anthony Phillips for the fifth run of South Africa.
In the Netherlands there is a baseball saying “We did not have our bad inning yet.” Unfortunately that was the case with South Africa as well as their defense collapsed in the bottom of the eighth. With runners on first and second, Allan de San Miguel hit a sac bunt but thanks to a throwing error by Jonathan Phillips, he reached first base safely and could advance to second as Trent D’Antonio and Brad Harman scored for Australia.
Another sac bunt by James Beresford moved de San Miguel to third base, who scored on the sacrifice fly hit by Logan Wade, to make it 9-5. But with two outs, reliever Russell Oliver could not get out of the inning as he allowed runners on first and second. But his replacement Kieran Cree did not start much better as he gave up back-to-back walks that drove in the tenth run for Australia. Trent D’Antonio’s line drive single to right field drove in two more runs to reach the final score of 12-5. This blow was too much to overcome for South Africa as Ryan Searle retired the side in the ninth.
Peter Moylan earned the win after 1.1 innings in relief. He gave up a walk and struck out a batter. Ryan Searle pitched two innings for the save. He gave up a run on a hit, walked one and fanned two.
Best hitter for the Aussies was Trent Oeltjen, who collected three hits (two doubles) in four at bats as he drove in two and scored two runs himself. Every batter of the Australian lineup had at least one hit and seven Australians had multiple hit game.
Anthony Phillips was the best hitter for South Africa as he went 2 for 3 with two runs scored. Callan Pearce took the loss as he gave up the go ahead run to Australia in the seventh inning.
Based on their performance other than the eighth inning, the South Africans deserved more, but apparently it always has to be that the underdog eventually collapses to lose the game.
Anyhow, Australia heads to the main tournament after a 3-0 record during this qualifier tourney. A 3-0 record looks rather convincing but except for the game vs the Philippines the two other games were not as convincing as one might expect. But on the other hand, today the team showed that it can produce runs by playing small ball. This tactics surprised the opponent which led to some errors that eventually led to this blow out score in the eighth inning.
The South Africans can go home with their heads up high as they did everything possible to make it a game. Vs an Australian team with only professionals on its roster, the team with mainly amateurs did a great job.