Host Australia Moves Into WBC Qualifying Finale

SEE ALSO: WBC Qualifying rosters

SYDNEY, Australia—With two quick wins to open the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Sydney, host Australia will head to the final game on Sunday, solidifying their spot with a 4-1 win over South Africa on Friday night at Blue Sox Stadium.

The Aussie arms led the way, backed by an early offensive charge with three runs in the first inning, and adding an insurance run in the sixth.

Twins farmhands Logan Wade and James Beresford each drove in a run for the Southern Thunder, with former big leaguer Trent Oeltjen adding an RBI of his own.

“We had some really good at-bats, we had four (hits) in a row, and I thought we swung the bats well,” Australian manager Jon Deeble said. “They contained us but we had some real hard hits too that they made some plays on.

“They made some great plays tonight too and they’re a good club. And again, this is not going to be easy to win this, it’s going to be tough. Hopefully it comes down to pitching and we’ve got all our guys ready.”

Added South African manager Alan Phillips: “We feel we can play defense, we feel we’ve got pitchers who can manage the job on the hill with the defence behind them. As the tournament progresses, I’ve got no doubt the hitting will start coming through, the quality at-bats will start appearing more and more.”

Tigers prospect Warwick Saupold got the start for Team Australia and allowed one run—after a fly ball to the outfield was lost in the lights—on three hits with a walk and a strikeout over three innings of work. South African catcher Kyle Botha drove in his team’s only run.

Saupold was followed on the mound by five-year major leaguer Ryan Rowland-Smith, Twins farmhand Todd Van Steensel and Australian Baseball League saves record-holder Ryan Searle.

Rowland-Smith faced one batter over the minimum through three frames, Van Steensel threw two perfect innings, and Searle struck out the side to close out the game in the ninth.

“We build our team on pitching and defense,” Deeble said. “Our programs in Australia are about pitching and defence and that came to the floor tonight. Warwick was on a pitch count so we had to get him out of there but Ryan Rowland-Smith threw the ball as good as I’ve ever seen him throw it and Van Steensel was outstanding too, and then Searle, who’s had a good ABL (season), he continued his good work.”

The veterans have made significant contributions off the field as well, helping the Australians from all angles in the short tournament.

“We’ve got a group of guys who played in the big leagues but they act as a group, they work together,” the host team’s skipper said. “(Peter) Moylan’s been fantastic in the clubhouse and keeping guys loose. Oeltjen’s got a smile on his face every day, he’s a good leader. Even (Brad) Harman’s not a loud guy, he shows a lot of leadership, and (Luke) Hughes has been a leader for a long time too. They bring this club together and help these young kids.”

Seeing the success of the program firsthand and its development since they got their starts with the national team, returning to the squad has Rowland-Smith and Oeltjen both excited for the future and looking forward to more of the young players they’re seeing for the first time.

“Absolutely, it’s a good mix now of the older and the younger guys coming through and we really now don’t have any weak spots in our lineup,” Oeltjen said. “It’s really 1 to 9 and everyone’s contributing. So we’re a force to (reckon with) now that our lineup’s finally come together and it’s fun to be a part of it.”

Added Rowland-Smith: “This is the first chance I’ve had to meet some of these guys, especially from a pitching standpoint. Obviously Trent’s probably a little bit different with the hitters but we’re just trying to keep the same culture we’ve had since we won the silver medal in the Olympics. So we’re trying to keep that culture and we’ve got such a good group of guys here. I keep saying it because it’s so true. Everyone’s on the same page and we’re having a really good time and it shows on the field.”

Carl Michaels took the hill for South Africa and allowed the three runs in the first inning on five hits, walking two and striking out none. The visitors used four relievers to keep the Aussies at bay through the rest of the matchup.

With the victory, Australia advances to final game of the Qualifier, facing the winner of Saturday’s matchup between South Africa and New Zealand.

“We’re as ready as we’re going to be for tomorrow,” Phillips said. “It’s just a case of keeping the guys injury-free and keeping the arms fresh. We’ve got staff circled down for tomorrow already. Jared Elario is going to start for us tomorrow so we’re in a good spot at the moment. We feel good.”

New Zealand 17, Philippines 7

Three games into the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Sydney and just three teams remain contenders for a spot in next year’s event, after the Philippines took its second consecutive loss, eliminated by New Zealand’s 17-7, eight-inning victory in a back-and-forth affair on Friday at Blue Sox Stadium.

First baseman Boss Moanaroa led the offensive charge for the Diamondblacks, giving his team an advantage in the opening inning, later tying the game for the third time with his second double in the fifth, then hitting a three-run, go-ahead homer in a six-run sixth inning, and adding a two-run single in the seventh.

“The presence of him in the lineup is everything to us,” New Zealand manager Chris Woodward said. “He’s our best hitter, he’s our most powerful hitter, and he’s just got a presence about him that makes our whole lineup work.”

The former Red Sox farmhand and Australian Baseball League all-star had four hits, seven RBI and nine total bases in the game, the 25-year-old infielder leading his New Zealand squad on and off the field as a core member of the national team.

“I definitely try to be a leader, especially for the young kids,” Moanaroa said. “I’m just trying to progress them through the system. It was one of those things where today was my day, and I was fortunate enough that I led the (traditional pregame New Zealand ritual) Haka as well. I’ll have to do it all the time now.”

Third baseman Brady Conlan hit the first home run of the tournament in the fourth for the Philippines, a two-run shot to tie the game.

“They were pretty resilient,” Woodward said. “Both teams showed some resiliency today, just bouncing back. They got the lead, we came back and took the lead, they came back and tied it up, we took the lead, they took the lead again, so obviously the back and forth.

“I liked what I saw out of them. We weren’t sure what to expect and I don’t think anybody knew what to expect with the guys they had on their team but they had some guys who could swing the bat and they had some guys with some nice arms.”

New Zealand righthander Andrew Marck started and went 3 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits. Devon Ramirez took the hill for the Philippines and allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings.

The underdog Philippines took another lead in the fifth, with right fielder Angelo Songco—a former Dodgers farmhand—driving in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly after New Zealand brought Indians lefthander Nick Maronde on in relief in the Diamondblacks’ worst-case scenario, needing to win to stay alive in the event.

“When we set up the pitching for the game, we weren’t going to have those guys not pitch in a meaningful game,” Woodward said. “If I could have waited to use (Maronde), I would have, but at that point of the game, the game was on the line.”

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