The Sunraysia Baseball Little League team returned to Mildura after a very successful showing in the Little League World Series Australian championships, finishing as the 13th best Little League team in Australia. The Academy’s youngest baseballÂ athletes; Hayden Carroll, Will Kortekaas and Mason Clavell played an integral role in the teams success.
Held in the Gold Coast, the six-day tournament saw the twenty best Little League teams from around the country do battle with a trip to America the ultimate prize on the line. Much maligned and unsupported in some Sunraysia and Baseball Victoria circles, this team played some great baseball and is a credit to Sunraysia and Victoria.
The 14-player Sunraysia Giants team was drawn in one of the toughest pools of five teams for the group stage. Only the top two teams would go through to the final eight and previous champions Adelaide South and the reigning premiers Perth North had their eyes firmly set on advancing.
Tough Perth team Western Waves were also highly rated and the two country teams, Sunraysia and Mount Gambier, knew they had their work cut out for them. Sunraysiaâ€™s task was made that much tougher when youngster Gus Collihole succumbed to a persistent shoulder injury and was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament after the second day.
To Colliholeâ€™s credit he remained upbeat and was outstanding in his support of his teammates as they showed the Sunraysia fighting spirit.
Sunraysia faced Mount Gambier in their first match. Mason Clavell took to the mound for Sunraysia and in a scintillating performance he dominated the opposition lineup not allowing them to score. Clavell allowed just one hitter to reach base, striking out nine along the way in the shutout.
He was well supported in the field and with the bat as his teammates piled on fifteen runs. Clavell and Hayden Carroll picked up two safe hits and Morgan Ruchel hit his first ever home run. Braydn Douglas, Harley Holmes, Thomas Morrison, Angus Ashcroft and Will Kortekaas all batted well in the big win.
Facing Perth North next, the reigning Australian champions showed their class and it was Sunraysiaâ€™s time to be blanked, failing to trouble the scorers. Tiger Bertalli, Braydn Douglas and Joel Trevaskis all tried hard on the mound and pitched well for Sunraysia, striking out four Perth hitters between them. Cooper Oâ€™Connor took a great catch on a ball that was smashed at him at second base and Sam Zaccone took a nice outfield catch.
Sunraysiaâ€™s third match was against Perthâ€™s Western Waves, who were expected to easily account for Sunraysia. However, the Sunraysia boys had a different idea. With Clavell back on the mound, he was again in good form this time allowing just two runs over two and a third innings.
Carroll replaced Clavell on the mound and he was also on song. He shut the Waves down over three and a third innings, keeping them stalled on two runs. Meanwhile, Sunraysia was struggling with the bat but came alive in the third dig. The side sent thirteen hitters to the plate, courtesy of nine walks with Morrisonâ€™s bases clearing hit the highlight in the seven-run dig.
Like Clavell before him, Carroll reached his pitch limit and Ruchel was called upon to finish the match. A crucial fielding error from Sunraysia kept the Waves alive and saw them score two runs to sneak closer. A triple off Ruchel scored another and a walk brought the winning run to the plate for the Waves. Ruchel maintained his cool though and duly struck out the next hitter to give Sunraysia a thrilling, upset 7-5 win over the favoured city side.
The second match of the double-header day saw Sunraysia take on eventual tournament runners-up Adelaide South. The SA side was much too strong as the Sunraysia kids ran out of puff. Pitchers Joel Trevaskis, Angus Ashcroft and Harley Holmes all tried hard for Sunraysia but they had trouble finding the strike zone, coughing up a whopping eighteen walks in four innings. When they did find the zone, their field let them down as Sunraysia committed ten errors and all this combined to a heavy 38-3 defeat.
To their credit, the kids didnâ€™t give up with Trevaskis, Ruchel, Morrison, Clavell, Cooper Oâ€™Connor and Lachlan Jaensch all collecting safe hits.
This left the side with a 2-2 win/loss record after the pool matches and in equal second in the pool. Unfortunately with a poor runs against record Sunraysia was left in fourth place and playing off for the minor placings.
Their fifth match was against Far North Coast and this was another thriller. The match was tight early as both sidesâ€™ defence put up zeroes through three innings. The Sunraysia hitters were struggling against the oppositionâ€™s big left-handed pitcher but Sunraysiaâ€™s Will Kortekaas was in great touch and matched him in a pitchersâ€™ duel.
Sunraysia broke the ice in the fourth dig as Carroll and Ruchel hit safely to post the gamesâ€™ first run. Ruchel replaced Kortekaas on the hill and continued on, keeping Far North Coast off the scoreboard in the fourth and fifth innings. Sunraysia added three more runs in the fifth. Morrison led off with a hit and Jaensch followed with a double ripped down the line. Kortekaas, Carroll, Clavell and Ruchel all reached base as the green and gold boys added three more runs.
It all came down to Far North Coastâ€™s last time at bat. With five consecutive safe hits, Sunraysiaâ€™s four run lead was whittled down to just one. With the tying run at second base a base hit from Far North Coast went out to centrefield and looked certain to have tied the match. However, Kortekaasâ€™ outfield throw went to Carroll on the full at the plate and as the runner came around third base too far, Carroll threw the ball to Morrison at third base who tagged the runner for the final out and Sunraysia had snuck home 4-3 in a sensational finish.
Sunraysiaâ€™s final match was at eight oâ€™clock on the last morning and was against strong Sydney side McArthur. This was another thriller and kept the large Sunraysia supporter contingent on the edge of their seats right to the end.
Clavell and Carroll returned to the mound and they again pitched brilliantly, combining to keep McArthur to just two runs, collecting eight strikeouts. The Sunraysia field was also playing well–a good catch by Zaccone and good outs from third base by Bertalli and second base by Ashcroft keeping Sunraysia in it. Unfortunately for Sunraysia, the McArthur pitching was just as good and with just one more time to bat (the last of the match), Sunraysia still hadnâ€™t scored.
Facing a two run deficit, Kortekaas led off the inning with a base hit (his third of the match) and Carroll scorched a double into the right-centre alley to score him. Clavell was walked and then Zaccone batted well to also work a walk and the bases were loaded, with still none out. Feeling the pressure, McArthur then brought all their fielders in to the infield. With eight infielders, Bertalli did well and hit a ball to the field but the resultant error from McArthur saw the tying run cross the plate.
Morrison then hit what would normally have been a game-winning hit but the eighth infielder picked it up and threw out Sunraysiaâ€™s runner at home. Next batter up was Braydn Douglas who then calmly stroked a hit down the first base line and all of Sunraysia erupted as the winning run crossed the plate for a memorable 3-2 win.
This saw Sunraysia finish with 4-2 record and finish in 13th place in the National tournament. Head Coach Troy Kortekaas was ecstatic, â€śIâ€™m thrilled for the kids who have all played well and to finish as the 13th best team in the land it is a credit to all their hard workâ€ť.
This was echoed by the ABF National tournament director Mark Priestley who acknowledged the country teamâ€™s performance, â€śThis is a fantastic performance by a small country area and to collect two big city scalps along the way speaks volumes of what a great tournament this team has hadâ€ť.