Brave Heat go down fighting in early championship game
History will show it is one of the most courageous performances ever from the Perth Heat to reach a championship game but ultimately on their home field, the Melbourne Aces were too strong on Friday night.
The Australian Baseball League championship game was brought forward to Friday night thanks to the upcoming lockdown over the next five days in Victoria.
Both the Aces and Heat then decided against calling off the rest of the playoffs altogether or playing in front of no fans potentially on Sunday to allow a crowd to attend Melbourne Ballpark, and put on a championship spectacle on Friday night.
It is to the great credit of both teams and the ABL to still get the Claxton Shield played for not only on Friday night but this season overall, and the Heat had every reason to be feeling confident of claiming the title coming into the contest.
That was despite plenty working against them, but midway through the game after reigning ABL Pitching Champion Dylan Unsworth kept them in touch, the Heat scored their first run in the top of the sixth inning.
That cut the deficit down to one and the game was set up for a thrilling finish, but the Aces put the hammer down with seven of their own runs in the bottom of the sixth. That set up the 9-1 lead and they would go on to win 9-2 with the Heat finishing the game with an impressive solo home run from Alex Hall.
Hall had also hit two homers in the Heat's record setting 26-6 semi-final victory against the Adelaide Giants on Thursday night to open the playoffs in Melbourne.
That was a performance for the ages and ended up being enough for the Heat to qualify for the championship game when the weekend's schedule was decided to not go ahead.
But the Aces also won their semi-final strongly, 19-4 against the Canberra Cavalry, and after finishing the season on top of the table, they turned it into a back-to-back championship triumph to win the Claxton Shield for a second straight year.
However, reaching the championship game is something this Heat team led by manager Andy Kyle and captain Tim Kennelly should be enormously proud of.
Nothing came easy this season. The home series opener pre-Christmas never eventuated, they then had series' cut short and had to keep outrunning COVID-19 in both Melbourne and Perth, and even their homecoming was delayed and hardly ideal.
Then last week was the WA lockdown and the team couldn’t train or play, and then on the back of that they headed for the playoffs in Melbourne without key trio Ford Proctor, Robbie Glendinning and Nathan Wiles.
Despite all that, they smashed ABL playoff records with the 26 runs on 23 hits and seven homers in the semi-final against the Giants.
Remarkably that was a 15th time they had played Adelaide this season, but then it was a new opponent in the Aces on Friday night with the championship up for grabs.
Dylan Unsworth started on the mound for the Heat and he started well despite the firepower in the Aces batting line-up. Melbourne did manage a run each in the second and third inning, but after four innings, Unsworth had thrown four strikeouts and done well to hold the Aces to two runs.
The Heat then had to find some runs against the impressive Melbourne pitching of Tyler Beardsley.
The first sign of that for the Heat came in the top of the sixth with a hit from Tampa Bay Rays prospect Grant Witherspoon. Jake Bowey then hit a strong ball up the middle before Alex Hall connected and got the ball into play too to allow Witherspoon to score.
That gave the Heat a sniff but the Aces wiped that out with a commanding bottom sixth inning performance. They piled on seven runs with the Heat unable to stop the bleeding.
That would ultimately decide the game and the championship but the Heat did finish on a high with another Alex Hall home run in the ninth inning. He had also hit two over the fence in Thursday's semi-final.
By Chris Pike.
ABL PLAYOFFS, CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
PERTH HEAT 2 (Witherspoon, Hall)
MELBOURNE ACES 9 (Dale 2, Romanski, Burke, Tomscha, Young, Gailen, George, Willis)
W – Tyler Beardsley; L – Dylan Unsworth
Friday February 12, Melbourne Ballpark
IMAGE: SMP Images