Saturday, August 6, 2016

Game Eight v Mexico - 6 August 2016

In our final game of the tournament, world ranking points still were up for grabs. As a higher ranked team than us, Mexico were there to be pipped and to help us end the tournament on a strong note and further the overall position of Australian baseball. An eighth placing beckoned out of twelve competing teams. This would be more satisfying and uplifting for our campaign which to be fair had not been as impressive as expected. In particular, the earlier loss to the Czech Republic hurt.

The tournament has been a tremendous experience for our boys. They have seen where they are at against the world. Humbling. Yet equally they can be inspired to improve and train harder. We can improve so much.

The game of baseball has again been highlighted as a truly world game. It so remarkably diverse and so international, making its attraction immense. To reflect that we have just played a snapshot of teams around the world - Japan, Czech Republic, Columbia, Cuba, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, New Zealand and Mexico - is amazing.

However, the telling stats for the Australian team across the tournament were:

(i) the number of walks we gave up: 47 walks across 8 games.
(ii) the number of errors in the field: 17 errors across 8 games (although this seems a bit skinny from what was seen - a generous people the Japanese).
(iii) the number of hits: 64 hits across 8 games.
(iv) the number of strike outs by pitchers: 26 across 8 games.

Significantly, 64 hits and 64 gifts. Hard to dominate with that right there. A tough stage however.

The game against Mexico got underway in extreme heat of about 34 degrees again. At Nambu's synthetic field for a 3.00pm start, families came from near and far through taxis, hired cars and on foot. A dedicated beast the baseball parent. Greeting us at the ground again too were the local Iwaki high school, smaller in number, but loud in voice. Drums, whistles, green loud hailers and a song for each player and their 'player card'. Extreme, stifling heat early.

Our line up today was: Fierenzi (SS) #7, Cavill (3B) #6; Caleb Shepherd (RF) #26, Liam Evans (1B) #8, Matthew Martin (LF) #15, Chris Burke (catcher) #3, Liam McCallum (CF) #4 and Daniel Bannon (2B) #2.

Blake Townsend #28 was our starting pitcher. A massive stamp of a young man whose power and strength is scary. His hitting ability too, while it had been limited through opportunities at this tournament, was also strong and true. 

In the Australian first innings the Mexican pitcher showed us a tournament pitching lesson or two by being accurate, forcing batters to make decisions and allowing his field to support him. He threw within himself, to good effect. Strike out, ground out, ground out. 0-0. 

At this level there is no quarter given to anyone. Amazingly, the Mexican lead off batter knocked the first pitch he saw for a massive triple to make this point stick. A subsequent hit to left field scored him for 1-0, before an error at third, and a pass ball miss sent the score to 2-0 down. Don't blink. Townsend was under seige and looked like he was not throwing as lively as he had proven earlier in the tournament. His confidence waned..walk, hit by pitch. His afternoon ended too abruptly for his talent when he was relieved by Tyson McKee #16, who was back after the unluckiest injury of all time yesterday. 

A resilient lad of strength set on an injury free afternoon to demonstrate his grit and iron will. He did not disappoint.

Our second innings saw Liam Evans secure a hit down the middle, Tyson McKee then hit to centre field, Liam McCallum was hit by pitch and so too was Daniel Bannan. We clawed one back for 1-4. Shepherd scored on a Martin shot and fumble by short stop and at 2-4 we were competitive. Real competitive. The self belief we witnessed at key moments across the tournament surfaced was at times like Jaws - and sadly at other times like Flipper.

Tyson McKee meanwhile was doing a tremendous job. He was composed and accurate. He peppered the plate and was mixing them up nicely. Strike outs, run down and most significantly, NO walks. He relentlessly tested batter judgement.

Our fourth innings then saw two remarkable moments. Liam McCallum had a 12 pitch at bat. He fouled off each successive one at will, before eventually securing a really hard earned but pivotal walk. When Daniel Bannon brilliantly scored one runner from an infield hit, a scorching two RBI hit to right field by Blake Cavill put us 5-4 up. We were bouncing and spirited. On track and spirited. The Corona and lime was on ice (not much ice in these parts at this time of year I must confess, but let's imagine that for a second!).

However, again in the twinkle of an eye, Mexico had one back on us for 5-5. McKee was on fire with ball - and bat. He had three hits for the afternoon as well. A tremendous and deserved comeback from some wretched earlier luck. 

Unfortunately, an impressive, searing Burke double to left field was not enough to steer us ahead. The greater accuracy and patience by Tyson McKee lasted 4.1 innings - all with a recovering troubled hand - and had kept us in the fight.
The lengthening shadows of the afternoon were diminishing the sting of the day's heat. Whispy wind gusts provided relief. Shade appeared like an old friend. The anticipation and excitement around the game was echoing loudly around the field which is literally cut into the side of a mountain. No neighbours complaining about lights here.

The Mexican sixth innings brought a change of pitcher for us in Declan Croker. At two out, he had pitched really well with great variation, but this baseball is an unpredictable animal of venom and menace when it turns. And turn it did...suddenly. Emphatically. A massive ground rule double scored one. A chinker to centrefield scored another. 5-7 down. Unlucky really. Runs were required from us - and fast. 

All the while with our backs to the wall, the chanting and support from the local high school got louder for our boys. And try they did, but there is something to be said about power in baseball. Strength and power to knock the ball to all parts of the ground. At the age of fourteen or fifteen, a lot of our smaller framed boys struggle in this area. Finesse and skill is ever present. Power is not...yet.

In the Mexican 7th innings, Blake Cavill came on to pitch. A fly out to left field was followed by one back to pitcher for the out, before a wild pitch gave up a run to make it 5-8. The effort was there, the desire was two outs and 5-8 down we clung on and really could not afford another run or it was curtains for our hopes and dreams.

With loaded bases and our chances on the line, a massive centrefield hit by a burly Mexican saw Liam McCallum race backwards at good speed and dive over his shoulder - absolutely airborne - to take an absolute stunning centrefield catch. The picture below tells the outrageous story! Brilliant. And it was met with rapturous applause from the crowd and both dugouts. The high school cheer squad went berserk chanting his name (to which he gave a thankful modest half wave on the way back to the dugout). The team met him outside the dugout to acknowledge it. 5-8 and still in it... 

This then sparked an exceptional double play from the Mexicans. They turned up the heat. 

Fly outs and ground outs kept us hopeful. 5-8 still after eight innings.

Our ninth innings was it. Get three or more runs to tie it up or edge ahead - or we were done. Caleb Shepherd made a timely single to right field. Liam Evans reached on an error from short stop. Burke scrambled...

Liam McCallum was up to bat with loaded bases, two outs. He had the killer in his eye...ready to hit. A stage made for any young baseballer of talent and ambition...and then disaster. 

Our second base runner was thrown out by their alert pitcher, getting too far away from the bag. An incredible anti-climax which just about summed up our tournament of missed opportunities and losing pressure moments when we needed to be smarter or stronger of mind. Parents looked glumly into the shadowed field, cameras were retired, loud hailers were laid to rest..heads shook...shoulders slumped. A 5-8 loss.

And so it was that the tournament was suddenly over. A wonderful tribute to the local high school saw the Australian team management donate six baseball bats and all of our baseballs to them for their efforts. Photographs were taken, memories were absorbed and friendships forged around the hotplate of each Japanese baseball field were temporarily set aside as thoughts and arrangements for return travel plans rapidly took over. Hopefully these connections will be rekindled at the National Championships in January 2017.

The stretch of this great game of baseball - worldwide - was reaffirmed and is best captured in the following graphics showing Australia's (Sydney) distance from that of our opponents at this tournament..from Europe to Asia, to Oceania and to Central America. 


It had been some sort of journey. An unmissable journey. A journey laced with the generosity and joy of local Japanese people who were so polite, so obliging, so structured, so timely, so giving and who taught us all life lessons around the beauty of humanity in all its simplicity and splendour.

Mateships have also been born and developed for life. Irreplaceable experiences and learning will travel with each boy as they continue to become young men of substance and purpose. The game has given them a lot already. Time and energy of their many hours on the training paddock is now the gift each one will give back to the game. After this experience, they will each demand it of themselves.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Game Seven v New Zealand - 5 August 2016

Under burning, searing skies today, the world seemed to be on fire today in Iwaki - and so was the astroturf field at Nambu. While the weather was piping hot at about 33 degrees and greeted both teams and supporters with a sharp ferocity, the ground temperature off the astroturf would have even been a few degrees higher. Plastic soles on the shoes felt like the carpet at Kick's niteclub. A soaking chow mein of heat suffocated. Grass typically provides relief on such a extensive mesh of endless synthetic finds you instead.

Yet our boys were unperturbed and intent on a victory over a rival of familiar character and belief. New Zealand were not to be trifled with - and never are. They compete well above their stocks in all sports they play. Our customs re-admission into our country seemingly depended on a strong showing. A strong haka kicked off proceedings and the real battle soon began.

Our team was as follows; Daniel Bannon (2B) #2, Ben Fierenzi (SS) #7, Caleb Shepherd (right field) #26, Liam Evans (1B) #8, Matthew Martin (left field) #15, Dylan Walsh (3B) #30, JD Windlaw (catcher) #21 and Liam McCallum (centre field) #4  Our starting pitcher was Will Kortekaas #9.

The early exchanges were tight. New Zealand exhibited amazing strength and finesse, encouraging and hollering for each other with energy and enthusiasm. Hollering, to be frank at this tournament, has blurred boundaries in many games as the pitcher is roared at in the point of delivery from opposing dugouts in an effort to sway or influence their performance. Gamesmanship more than a few. This is not unexpected at an international tournament, but has challenged the mindsets of a number of our pitchers. They know it is high stakes and that there is no come back.

The other key lesson learned by some of our boys here has been 'the reachable run' which is built on an immediate sprint as soon as you hit it. 101 baseball, but sometimes forgotten in disappointment. The reach, the stretch and the extra step will be rewarded with lazer precision by first base umpires here. Not like the often lazy presumption often witnessed back home. Never regret that last step!

Early errors by us in the infield have been compounded by more errors soon after across the whole tournament. Lapses in concentration have cost us dearly. Walks then add to the misery. Every walk is one out you did not get.

Soon enough New Zealand bumped away to a 2-0 lead. Then with two runners on base and a well drawn walk to Liam McCallum, bases were loaded. Daniel Bannon's infield hit got us to 2-1. Our lingering frustration to convert runners on two and three to runs continued. Two sharp double plays punctuated the first and second New Zealand innings and our self belief strengthened.

In our third innings Caleb Shepherd soared a triple over right field and scored on the sac fly from Liam Evans. Windlaw made a hit to centre right...left on base... In response, they hit over centre right for a triple, for us to remain 2-3 down.

By the fourth innings, Kortekaas then reached on a sprawling infield hit. Liam McCallum's sac bunt pushed him over to two. Bannon was hit by pitch before Caleb Shepherd again hit powerfully down the first base line for 2 RBI's...4-3 up. A couple of Kortekaas strike outs got us away at 4-4 after four completed innings and a lot of New Zealand fight and determination. It was tight.

The arm wrestle was on and we were struggling more than it looked. New Zealand were looking the stronger. Then the most remarkable thing...

At the start of their fifth innngs, Tyson McKee #16 came on to pitch. Nothing remarkable about that only this: Tyson had tripped over the dugout steps in coming onto the field on the first night against Japan, injuring his ankle. Here was his moment. Then within two pitches, his pitching hand was dripping blood. He had cut his finger on the ball when gripping it in a freak injury. An injury time delay. A return, but his tape was judged by the umpires not to be permissible (extra purchase on the ball possibly). He was out of the game after two pitches. Ironically, in his only at bat just before this, he was hit by pitch. Not in the bum thankfully because that would have just about got his dad walking to the airport. Extremely unlucky! 

With Kortekaas replaced by Thomas Horne as pitcher, a hit, walk...HBP...error at third base, a.left field hit, a dropped catch in left field and we were up against it. 8-5 down after five innings. Panic.

Another phenomenal moment. In the sixth innings we scored 14 runs. Yes, 14. The innings stretched on like a T-Ball game, but hits to Evans over third base. Martin, JD Windlaw, Dylan Walshe, Fierenzi, Shepherd, Martin a second hit, Walshe another single to left field, Horne a three run triple over centrefield...Liam a sac fly. 19-8 up. Breathe.

Not to be outdone, New Zealand rallied again. A pass ball took it to 19-10. Nerves. It soon became 19-11. When yet another hit by Walshe to left field scored Shepherd for 20-11, we had reached an NRL score. There was more than a try in it at this stage. Or more than a goal for the AFL fans.

Maxim Martin then came onto the mound and pitched with good pace and accuracy in the New Zealand seventh and eighth innings. He did some hard yards here to strengthen our position and did not disappoint. Nor did he disappoint the young Japanese fans post game either. He is a popular, tall and imposing figure. Two ground outs and a fly ball to left field allowed 20-11 to stay. Two donuts! 37 pitches.

Liam McCallum then pitched the final innings, striking out one and securing two neat ground outs for the eventual victory at 25-11. He was sharp, composed and gave them nothing. An international tournament like this will make strong players strengthen their resolve. Our bats had hit well for the back end of the game and New Zealand had crumbled remarkably from 8-5 up to a 25-11 loss. An earthquake crumbling impact for the boys from the shaky isles.

By now the game had stretched into four hours in length. It was extremely hot, sweat dripped, shoes stuck, shirt sleeves became mightily discoloured, but our boys were strong and purposeful. We triumphed when it mattered, held our nerve, remained aggressive and deserved to be proud of our efforts. 

For Liam, he was one of not many who did not hit today. Hard to believe. However here he is learning to be more versatile, to help the team in clutch situations, to be challenged in different ways. The coaches have been extremely reassuring and empowering for him. He registered a sac bunt, a sac fly, two walks and was caught at centrefield twice in well held good diving catches. Baseball can be like that some days. It equalises and rewards; frustrates and inspires.

Not far away, but today was about team play and he did that remarkably well and without fanfare or adulation at critical moments. The local fans still loved him post match regardless. The boys were much happier than the New Zealand coach (pictured below)! Liam has learned a lot in a couple of weeks which will make him more determined and more hungry for success. A formidable thought - and challenge.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Game Six v Chinese Taipei - 4 August 2016

Following yesterday's rest day, the finalists were determined and drawn from the two groups.

From twelve teams participating, the teams qualifying for the 'Super Six' round were (from our Group A): Japan, Cuba and Columbia (and from Group B): USA, Venezuela, Panama. The might of the central Americans is obvious.

It rankles to write some of these team names, as we know we could have been in this 'Super Six' round with more drive and consistency. Korea beat Cuba which also burns bright, having lost by one run to the Cubans too. We were not far away. Interesting to see Cuba crush the USA 11-2!

In the plate/ aluminium crockery set, you have Australia, the Czech Republic (that one burns hard) and Korea from Group A while New Zealand, Mexico and Chinese Taipei enter from Group B.

We drew Chinese Taipei for the first of our final three games, a tough and wiry opponent who have won international tournaments before. They are quite experienced, big, powerful and skillful.T here are no easy games at this level. On the line were critical world ranking points.

We were scheduled at the suburban Taira Stadium near to Iwaki to do battle at 1.30pm - the peak of the sun's powers in these parts. A real test.


Our start coud not have been better. Lyberopolous led off with a well hit rifled club to centrefield. This was followed by a neat hit by Shepherd to right field. Liam Evans then executed really well under pressure for a hit of his own to score both runners for a quick and bright 2-0 lead. The boys were positive and upbeat. 

However, the Chinese Taipei team were unperturbed. Their infield and outfield chanted the whole game - a display of unity and resolve which was quite remarkable. It was a strange mix of shouting and barking of encouragement.  At times it sounded like a demented marsupial in distress. Regardless, it was relentless.

And so was their approach to the game. 

Our team had been changed from the winning side against Korea and read as follows: Chris Burke (catcher), Tom Horne (1B), Daniel Bannon (2B), Ben Fierenzi (SS), Ky Jackson (3B), Blake Cavill (LF), Hayden Lyberopolous #10 (CF) and Caleb Shepherd (RF),

Liam Evans #8 (Pitcher) led the way for us, charged with the opening pitching responsibilities. With a walk, fly out, walk and a hit to right field, Graham Lloyd our pitching coach sauntered out to have an early friendly chat. Tom Selleck style. 

It was an nervous early start. Pressure decision making in the field has been one of our greatest downfalls in this tournament while giving up walks has been the other. Hitting cuts and minimising damage from a secondary error or poor decision occurred again for 2-2. Then a composed sac fly from them got the jump on us for 2-3.

Having struggled to impose his strong ability in the way he would have wished in the games to date, Hayden Lyberopolous had a stunning hitting game today. His presence as a runner on first base became a very regular show as he demonstrated physical strength and resolve to lead the boys with three hits. Whispered tactics from our coaches were required with the chanting and volume of the Chinese Taipei team. Each base runner for us is a precious moment.

Twice in the opening three innings, a misdirected pick off or half chance surprise throw from us saw the ball run away for additional bases. This killed us. A gift from down under to these ruthless teams of precision. 2-4 down. 

With the strength of this competition, you put runners on base and invariably these runners score on the hit. And sure enough, 2-5 became 2-6 with a hit over left field. The coaching patience at times has been both admirable and astounding. 2-6 was a long way back, when an earlier intervention may have been required.

The new pitcher, Zac Mansfield #14 arrived to settle things down and did a great job. However no pitcher of ours has ripped it through these batters. They are high quality. Strike outs have been as rare as a new John Cougar Mellencamp song. You put it there enough and you get hit. And with that, a hit to right field secured a 2-7 lead for our opposition. A mighty hit over right field then saw them earn position through this triple...which then from a.dropped third strike and out at one enabled them to simultaneously steal home for 2-8. We were getting a baseball lesson.

Blake Cavill showed composure to yield three walks across the game, Caleb Shepherd copped a painful one on his knee and hobbled to first base...we were striving and working hard, but no support act was getting us across the line. Our inconsistency saw hope offered and then saw it snatched away brutally with no scoreboard inroads.

Zac Mansfield got out of their fifth innings with style as the heat scorched the grass outfield of the auditorium. The conditions have been a real test at times, but of course all teams have faced the same conditions. At times today we clearly looked like we had the slower reflexes. An optical illusion perhaps. 

On the Chinese Taipei chanting went, unabated. Mansfield had put the brakes on in impressive fashion but still the heat soaked the field and sapped our spirits.

At 2-8 it felt even hotter as the baked mud cake of an infield offered only a glassy shimmer and no relief.

Dylan Walsh's outing as our third pitcher was tremendous. He was aggressive and accurate, giving away no walks. It was punctuated by a superb double play at the end of the seventh...a double play at first to second and then back to an athletic Walsh scooting back from the mound across to one.

A late hit to a resourceful and crafty Fierenzi and a double to the powerful Townsend reminded us of what could have been. 

Blake Cavill's throw from left field to the plate to nail a homeward bound runner was also a late highlight. But all in vain. 

A final strike out shut us into a disappointing 8-2 loss.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Game Five v Korea - 2 August 2016

On we march
With a midnight song
We will light our way
With our lanterns on

On we march 
Till we meet the dawn
We will light our way
With our lanterns on 

Lanterns, Birds of Tokyo

Today was a fascinating study in how the human spirit can rekindle and excel against the mightiest of hurdles. With apologies to Seoul, Korea (and The Killers)..."I got soul, but I'm not a soldier". 

Arriving for a 9.00am game in Iwaki's Green Stadium brought the twin delight of guaranteed shade and individual plastic seats. Small mercies. For some of our parents who have walked many miles to get to the grounds in stinking heat and humidity, driven many miles with recalcitrant sat navs or travelled in trains for two and a half hours, these things matter.

The Iwaki Green Stadium is an excellent showpiece and we were treated to our second outing there - and on Livestream back home - against the much more fancied Korean team. Their pride and ability in baseball presented us with a strong and dominant adversary. As a South Korean you develop a strong mindset regarding danger and imminent threat.

Our boys arrived late for their preparation today at the ground and it seemed to help. They were fresh and crisp in manner, attitude and appearance. Glenn Williams, the High Performance Director of Baseball Australia and former NSW High Performance and MLB legend, arrived for today's game too. The stars were aligning and the boys knew it.

Regardless, in a game of high stakes (Korea would progress to the finals with a victory), we needed the same military precision known well in Korea.

Our line up had been tweaked and fine tuned for today's epic encounter. Jonathan (JD) Winlaw, (catcher), Kye Jackson (1B), Daniel Bannon (2B), Dylan Walsh (3B), Jo Stevens (SS), Liam McCallum (LF), Hayden Lyberopolous (CF) and Caleb Shepherd (RF).

Declan Croker #29 was assigned our starting pitching duties and got away to a bright start with it 0-0 after the first innings. Croker was in the spotlight but seemed at ease. For us, Hayden Lyberopolous #10 reached on an error at third, but was soon brilliantly picked off. At 0-0 it was tight.

It was not until our tremendous double play in their second innings that we sent a message of greater precision and a warning shot was fired over the parapet. We were here to play.

 After some nervous walks and a startingly bad piece of luck when a hard hit ball hit first base and rebounded away to score two runs, Maxim Watson strode to the hill in relief. A towering young man of humour and good cheer. He exhibited every piece of excellent body language a pitcher should possess and he got down to work. The game started to turn our way. A strike out from Maxim to tidy up the third innings after a 3-0 lead saw us steady and regroup. He provided breathing space for us to work from. The composure set a standard.

Then Liam McCallum strode to the plate as batter number eight and smashed our first hit of the day over into right field. Great contact.

With that, Hayden Lyberopolous was soon in action, powering a brilliant double to centre right and scoring Liam.

This was followed by a searing hit over right field to Jo Stevens who scored Lyberopolous and made it 3-2. Stevens has played brilliantly more often than not. He is composed and battle hardened. He can play - no risk. Then a hard hit by Shepherd forced a fumble and Stevens scored for 3-3 in the third innings. This was the moment in the game when we announced ourselves. Clearly and purposefully.

All the while Maxim Watson powered through the pitching work. He gave up one walk and one hit in three innings of pitching. He was tremendous under pressure and set the game up wonderfully for the team. 

At the same time the local Iwaki High School band played like the clappers throughout the whole game - including their version of Queen's "We Will Rock You". No flares or torches from beneath their chins. just sweat and perseverance. Their support of our team and our boys was awesome and really set the stage for our boys to perform. Chants, songs, drums, music...we were annoying the opposition no doubt through this raucous support from behind our dugout.

(As an intriguing sidelight, post game, the team visited the high school and were treated like heroes. Daniel Bannon we were told was their Australian Brad Pitt. It is a huge event for the local people here. They are rebuilding and have a strong love and desire to make this event work. The people are friendly and gracious. They save you repeatedly...showing you how to cut calamari at a restaurant, calling a taxi when you can't speak the language, directing you to the correct train station platform, providing you with free wifi at a moment of need...amazing. They are problem solvers one and all).

We headed into the fifth innings with two quick outs and then as fate would have it, a really unfortunate dropped sky ball at second base into the sun brought an end - somewhat unfairly - to the great work of Maxim Watson. A very nervous Blake Cavill came on and was spraying them around like a viking birthday party. He was as nervous as a window cleaner in Lakemba. Two walks, a wild pitch, but good pace...two strikes....then a thrilling moment...

At loaded bases and mounting pressure - extreme pressure - a stunning foul ball catch against the right field bull pen fence was executed with courage and skill by our right fielder, Caleb Shepherd. His team oriented focus and drive for victory saw him belligerently slide into the opposition bull pen triumphantly signalling that the impossible catch had been taken. This moment was pivotal in the course of the game and acknowledged as such by his energetic team mates. Caleb's leadership here was immense as the boys returned to their dugout with no damage. It could have been a terrible twist in the game. 3-3 it sat and stayed. Remarkable and telling in the scheme of a tight game.

With the school band shrilling and humming in our sixth innings, we sadly could not capitalise further. Cloud rolled in, like the menace from the north, making the Koreans nervous. Our parent voice also reached fever pitch levels as the excitement of a possible victory loomed.

A walk to Caleb Shepherd further underlined his sensible, mature way, guiding other boys in the art of astute baseball. A hit to right field by Ky Jackson and a pass ball put runners on two and three...we were poised. Reflexes of a cobra..sting of a marshmallow as it turned out. 3-3 it remained.

By the seventh innings Blake Cavill was more composed and a different person. Rhythm. He secured ground outs and strike outs with poise and patience. He is a gamer and knows victory like an old friend. He had suddenly transformed his approach and began to dissect the opposition. Remarkably, he then made a hit with the bat in hand to get on base in our eighth innings. The spotlight was on him.

Inexplicably, but a product of our pressure, a wild error throw by the Korean pitcher on a pick off attempt to first enabled Blake Cavill to get to third base and when the throw came back across to no one, he headed for home. The go ahead run,,,the out...the struggle...a roaring crowd...a stray trumpet...It appeared he was carrying a piano - or a billiard table - but that was the crowd's illusion and sense of anticipation. Safe! In a flurry of dust and mud, the run scored for us to take the lead - 4-3 up. Relief and steel.

Notwithstanding a Bannon infield single, complete with a desperate slide into first base and outstanding base running speed, we were still precariously positioned. Stevens hit again, Shepherd bunted..all the tricks in the book. 

It came down to one innings, three outs required as we stood at 4-3 ahead. The Korean supporters and dugout started zeroing in on Cavill trying to ruffle him and upset his poise and control. They clearly didn't know he has brothers and wonderful mental toughness. Excessive targeted and belligerent chanting...thankfully he never studied Korean in Year 7 Languages classes.

Blake Cavill was immense when it mattered in their ninth innings. He is young of years but huge of heart. But it was not over. A mighty early straight hit nearly took his head off, flicking his glove on its journey to centrefield and then a catch at left field by Liam McCallum brought us closer.

Not to be outdone, the Korean runner was crafty and was suddenly on third base as the tying run. A great play at home by our short stop Jo Stevens and the very solid JD Winlaw #21 as catcher, got rid of him (see picture above) and when Bannon made a safe play to Jackson at one, we had won our first game 4-3.

The excitement was unbelievable and Blake Cavill had not only scored the winning run but saved the game as pitcher. Rare gold. The winning moment and celebrations are included below:

Today was about redemption for some inconsistent and disappointing moments thus far. However the breadth of hitting, the teamwork and enthusiasm and the brilliant composure at key times reminded us all of why Australians are special people and why our spirit and resolve is enduring. Gotta love this sport.