Preliminary Final Preview 2019
3 September 2019
While the weather gods may decide to not replicate the pleasant conditions under which Semi-Final games were played out, we can be assured of an enthralling Saturday of baseball action as ten clubs across five senior grades slug it out at Geelong Baseball Centre – with the reward being a berth in the season decider against already qualified teams which will all be looking on with great interest.
First cab off the rank, the A Reserve Preliminary Final is scheduled to start on GBC 1 at 11.30 AM, followed by the B Reserve game (Pioneer Park 1) and C Grade clash (Pioneer Park 2), which are both slated for a 12.00 noon start. B Grade (Pioneer Park 1) and A Grade (GBC 1) are both scheduled to start at 2.30 PM.
All Preliminary Finals are to be of nine innings duration. No time limit will apply for A Grade, while A Reserve is limited to two and a half hours (with the five-minute rule). B Grade, B Reserve and C Grade have a time limit of two hours (again with the five-minute rule).
Managers are asked to familiarise themselves with finals rules and regulations, which are posted HERE.
A GRADE PRELIMINARY FINAL: SAINTS versus GUILD
Saturday 7 September, Geelong Baseball Centre, 2.30 PM start
Weather: showers easing, 7-14C, cool south to south-westerly winds
With Bellarine already qualified for the Grand Final, these two powerhouse neighbouring clubs will be seeking to build upon ultra-impressive A Grade records that they have compiled in Geelong Baseball Association over many years dating back to the nineteen-sixties.
Although it is fair to say that current playing groups will be focused on the here and now – as they should be – both clubs boast strong traditions among a support base appreciative of the effort and the achievement of baseball generations that have gone before.
While Guild has dominated the more recent playing landscape – especially since 2011 – Saints have enjoyed golden eras of their own and they will have pleasant abiding memories of their last A Grade premiership back in 2008, one that they have since been desperately striving to replicate.
Meeting four times this season, these clubs shared the honours, with Saints winning 7-2 on both occasions earlier in the season before Guild edged home 12-11 in Round Eleven and later posted an 11-3 result in Round Sixteen. In both of its wins, Saints got away mid-game – with Emerson Rickard spinning a great game in the first encounter and Cody Anderson whiffing eleven in a dominant display in the latter clash.
The one-run result was probably a fair reflection of where the clubs were situated mid-season, with Saints in strong form and Guild at that point struggling to stay with the leading group. Fighting off a fast-finishing haloes in that contest may have been a turning point in the season for Guild, which was later able to manufacture one big, decisive innings in the final regular season game – enabling teenager Hayden Peoples to collected a well-deserved win for the Lions.
Expected to take the start on Saturday, Peoples will again be tasked with the responsibility of holding the Saints offence in reasonable check before handing the ball to Jarryd Wood or Jarrod Durston – the latter of whom was superb against Lara in the Elimination Semi-Final.
For its part, Saints is out of contention in all other grades and can focus its attention solely on this vital fixture, one in which left-armers Josh Lee, Cody Anderson and Emerson Rickard will have a pivotal role to play. Given his stellar performance against the Lions in the Round Seven clash, Anderson – if he is fully fit - may be entrusted with the start, although Lee is a seasoned gamer and Rickard can be a tough proposition, with rightie Connor Hughes an option in the nine-innings contest.
Guild conceded, for them, an uncharacteristically high number of unearned runs this season while Saints constructed their regular season successes largely around pitching and solid defence, a formula that they will need to effectively apply against a Lions lineup capable of creating carnage against any opponent – demonstrated by an irrepressible display against Lara in the Semi-Final.
While Guild hits right through the order – and boasts extra-bases capacity through the likes of the Durstons, Ryan Stewart, Troy Snarey and Ben Jensz – Saints will be looking to Trevor Elliott, Luke Sherwell, young Keenan Spence, Dion Kirchner, Lee, Stephen Fox and Anderson to supply the offensive wherewithal to challenge in this game.
It is difficult to go past winning form, however, and Guild clearly gathered momentum in the second half of the season, when the Lions won six of their last eight games. One of the losses was a one-run result against Bellarine and the other was in the final round dead rubber against Lara.
Over those eight games the club scored a mammoth eighty-three runs – an average over ten per game – and of course it followed that up by blasting seventeen against Lara in the Semi-Final.
By contrast, Saints won just four, lost three and drew one of their last eight regular season games – along the way averaging an impressive eight runs per game before being whitewashed by Bellarine in the Semi-Final. Of its ten wins in the regular season, Saints scored amassed ten or more on four occasions, demonstrating a capacity to score heavily when the offence puts it all together.
TIP. On shown form, this game should be a ripping clash between the dominant offensive lineup in the league and a Saints club that is well-endowed with pitching class and was a real improver through the regular season. If Saints can collar Hayden Peoples early in this contest – or at least stay within a run or two – then their pitching depth may prove decisive as the game progresses. On the other hand, Guild is ever-capable of constructing the big innings that can fundamentally decide a game. While Guild will be favoured by many – largely through the sheer weight of offence – the Saints pitching triumvirate of Anderson, Lee and Rickard just may stand up in what might yet be a low-scoring thriller. Saints could win this one - by a run or two - but they will need to be at their very best on the hill and in defence against an opponent that is in imperious offensive form. Guild to qualify for another Grand Final.
With Guild already through to the Big Dance in A RESERVE, Royals will apply their second chance against Bellarine – the reigning premier at this level, which has steadily built its season from an ordinary start. The Royals offence has found it tough going against Bears high-quality pitching, which has guided the club to 5-4 and 6-4 wins over the Royals this season. While their offence has the capability of punishing any pitching combination in this grade, the Royals will be looking to Xavier Woolley to rebound from a Semi-Final meltdown if it is to win through to the final Saturday. Bellarine to earn a shot at back-to-back A Reserve titles.
Taking a spectating role for the B GRADE Preliminary Final, Colac will be hoping that Sunshine and Corio figuratively knock each other around in what should be a fierce and high-standard clash between two clubs that helped set a benchmark this season. There is very little between two seasoned outfits, who met three times this winter for mixed results. The Eagles downed the Tigers 14-8 early in the season, although Corio responded with a 10-7 win in the return game before sneaking home 6-5 in Round Seventeen. Expect a similarly enthralling arm wrestle this time. Corio to prevail, by a couple.
Challenging for league leadership for most of the B RESERVE season, Corio lowered its colours to North West Titans in the Qualifying Final and it faces another tough assignment against Deakin this time around. Although Deakin finished in fourth, it showed real character in its narrow Semi-Final win over Bellarine and it will take great confidence from home and away clashes against the Tigers this season. Displaying a capacity for free-scoring, Deakin beat Corio in an earlier encounter, before the result was reversed 7-6 in favour of the Tigers later in the season – suggesting that we are in for a blockbuster Preliminary Final. Corio to earn another crack at the Titans.
Ballarat Royals have qualified for the C GRADE Grand Final, where they will meet the winner of the Corio versus Deakin clash – one that appeared unlikely a few weeks ago, with Corio highballing at the top of the table and Deakin needing to win its last four regular season games to make the playoffs. In their two meetings this season, Corio beat the Blues 8-6 before Deakin squared the ledger with a gutsy 6-5 result in Round Sixteen. Both of these clubs historically tend to fire up at finals time - in the lower grades especially – so this should be a clash well worth checking out on the synthetic field starting at 12.00 noon on Saturday. This one is a toss-up, with Deakin to come out marginally ahead.