MELBOURNE – On a crisp spring night where the temperature dropped to the low 50s after sunset, the Melbourne Aces started their 2018/19 campaign on a positive note with a thrilling win over the Canberra Cavalry.
Traffic chaos on the M1 saw the first pitch of the season pushed back 30 minutes, in what was an unexpected, yet great move by Aces’ management. Despite the delayed start however, from the look of the scarcely-filled stands, it appeared as though many fans instead chose to turn back and head home, with travel times nudging three hours from the south-eastern suburbs. It would prove to be a decision they would regret though, as the Aces won a nail-biter on the back of some brilliant pitching – some of the best you’re likely to see this season.
The Cavalry, or as the Aces’ public address announcer repeatedly referred to them incorrectly as the Cavaliers, opened up the scoring in the top of the third when Craig Massey singled with one out to bring in Justin Lopez who earlier lead-off the inning with a double to left. Both Massey, the 29-year-old indy-baller from Tennessee, and Lopez, the 18-year-old Padres prospect from Venezuela, would each go on to have multi-hit games on a night where safe hits were hard to come by.
The Aces responded shortly after when in the bottom of the fourth, former Twins and Athletics big-leaguer Luke Hughes sent a solo shot deep over left field to tie the game at one. Hughes, now a veteran of nine Australian campaigns, is nearing the 50 home run mark in the ABL, with tonight’s blast being his 47th.
The scores would remain tied at one all the way through until the bottom of the 9th when the Aces finally broke the deadlock courtesy of some speedy base running from Kansas City Royals infield prospect D.J. Burt. After drawing a one-out walk, Burt stole second and third, before coming home on a Jake Romanski single that sent the home crowd wild. It was the second hit of the night for the 27-year-old Boston Red Sox catching prospect who is well on the way to redeeming himself after a tough 2018 season where he was suspended following a postitive test for amphetamines.
In what was a stunning display of pitching from both teams, the stars of the night were starting pitchers Steven Kent and Luke Westphal, who tossed six and 4 2/3 innings respectively, allowing just one run apiece. Kent, the former Tampa Bay Rays big leaguer, was especially dominant, striking out 11 Aces hitters and allowing just three hits. The bullpens of each team continued on in the same vein, with strikeouts, pop flys, and weak ground balls being a common occurance throughout the night. In the end, it simply came down to who would crack first and it was the Cavalry who buckled under pressure.
Game 2 of the four-game Opening Series starts at 5:00pm local time tomorrow, with Game 3 following immediately after in what is set to be an action-packed Saturday evening at Melbourne Ballpark.