Heat no match for Bandits
Perth Heat's batters found their best form of the ABL season with 18 runs in the first 10 innings against the Brisbane Bandits at Perth Harley-Davidson Ballpark, but they went cold from there as last year's top two teams played out a 2-2 series tie.
The Heat and Bandits played it out for the ABL championship in 2019 with Brisbane winning in two games for a fourth consecutive title. This weekend at Perth Harley-Davidson Ballpark was their first meeting since and the Heat started in perfect fashion.
With South African star starting pitcher Dylan Unsworth continuing his dominant ABL season, the Heat won Game 1 on Friday night 9-3 in an impressive performance in the field and at bat.
The Bandits did score their three runs in the third inning, but it was all the Heat from there starting with a Kaleo Johnson home run in the third and then four runs in the fourth. Perth added two more runs each in the sixth and seventh inning to take the win 9-3 with 13 hits.
They took that momentum into the first game on Saturday with the most remarkable of first innings. The Heat scored an incredible nine runs in the first time at bat which included homers from Jordan Qsar, Nico Hulsizer and Tim Kennelly to go with two doubles, three singles and a walk.
It was the best inning of the season for the Heat and it meant they had started the series against the Bandits on fire with 18 runs over the first 10 innings. It wouldn’t stay that way and they went on to win that first game of Saturday 9-1 to take the 2-0 series lead.
Brisbane hit back in the second game on Saturday night in a low-scoring affair. The Bandits led 4-1 after five and held on to win 4-3 even with another Heat home run from 300-game captain Kennelly.
That set the stage for the Heat to still wrap up the series on Sunday afternoon but it wasn’t to be. After five innings, the Bandits were up 5-1, that went to 6-1 after six and then they put the game out of reach of the Heat with four runs and three hits in a dominant eighth.
The Heat gave a brief flutter at a comeback when Kennelly got Alex Hall home in the ninth but that only flattered the scoreline as the Bandits won 10-4 to leave Perth winning the last two games to level the series.
Heat manager Brooke Knight couldn’t have been happier with the opening two games, but liked less and less of what he saw as the weekend progressed at a well-attended Perth Harley-Davidson Ballpark with a tremendous 5542 turning out across the weekend.
"Obviously we had a lot more fun in the first two games than we did in the last two games. But in that first inning of Game 2 the bats just caught fire and that was fun to be part of, and fun to watch," Knight said.
"We went a little hush hush after that which isn’t totally uncommon when you've virtually got the game wrapped up and you just have to pitch a little bit. But the last couple of games, we just didn’t play great.
"They pitched well in that third game and Taylor was tough on us, and then obviously Blackley is a true veteran and knows what he's doing out there. We just needed to hit a little bit more obviously.
"They put up some runs, but we had three hits going into the ninth inning and that's not going to be enough in this league."
The Bandits might remain third in the northeast conference after the two wins in Perth, but any team who has won four straight championships will always be tough to put away as Knight and the Heat found out the hard way.
"They are obviously plenty used to winning after the last few years so when you have that kind of culture they will always come and stick with it even after you took it to them in the first couple of games," he said.
"The guy they brought in that kind of changed the landscape a little was Darvill, their baseman. He had a pretty amazing series and put the wood to us a little bit so we'll have to work out how to pitch him a little bit tougher next time around if we see those guys again."
Pitching has been the great strength of the Heat so far this season and with Unsworth and Trevor Frank starting the first two games, that remained the case.
But John Anderson, Travis Blackley and company over the last two games couldn’t keep the momentum going, but that's not an area of particular concern for Knight.
"I would imagine half their runs were free passes, we walked seven or eight games in that game and if you do that, don't plan on winning. You've got to be in the zone more than that and not giving up two walks and a double," Knight said.
"We gave them some free opportunities but we have been better, and a couple of the guys haven’t been collared until falling into that trap in this game. We've still got plenty of confidence in our pitching staff and we've been pretty darn consistent all season.
"Maybe we were due for one of those stinky outings on the mound because they have carried us, but I know everybody will be excited to get over to Adelaide. They know how big that series is and they'll be ready to go."
The batting has been up and down for the Heat over the first six rounds of the season and then never more evident than this weekend against the Bandits with the 18 runs in the first 10 innings, and then just the seven over the next 24.
For Knight, he feels that has as much to do with the pitching you're up against as he and the Heat turn their attention to a top-of-the-table clash on the road to the Adelaide Giants next weekend.
"It can be really fickle and it's so dependent on who you're facing at the time. You can go from an elite experience arm to a young power arm who is raw and doesn’t necessarily have that type of command and feel for their pitchers," Knight said.
"The starting pitching in this league has really improved, but if you have a guy on the mound like Taylor or Blackley, or even their first two guys, Atherton is plenty good.
"That starting rotation is tough and you can't expect them all not to fire in a series, you have to know two or three will pitch really well, and they did.
"We can't look past any team and now Adelaide is very good, and hopefully it will self-motivate knowing we have to go in there and win at least two, if not three or four to get back in the driver's seat."
Written by Chris Pike.