Sunshine Eagles players were inconsolable after their late comeback attempt fell short in a 5-4 loss to Blackburn Orioles in the third and deciding game of the Baseball Victoria summer league division 1 grand final series at Melbourne Ballpark on Sunday.
The Eagles went into the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by two runs, but almost pulled off an unlikely comeback at the death.
Pinch hitter Daniel Wilkie was first up for Sunshine and struck out, while Josh Bryne saw his ground ball swooped on at third base to become the second out of the inning.
With one out left, Jordan Young stepped up at the plate and breathed life into Sunshine with a hit that cleared the infield for a single.
Nikau Pouaka-Grego, the Eagles young star, thrived in a pressure situation.
After Young advanced to second on an uncontested stolen base, Pouaka-Grego chopped a double to left field, sending Young home to cut the deficit to one run.
Pouaka-Grego then advanced to third on a wild pitch, giving Sunshine import Bryce Aldridge the chance to send home the game-tying run.
It was not to be for Aldridge.
With two strikes, Aldridge made solid contact, skying a ball to left field, but unfortunately he was out on a juggled catch, handing Blackburn the premiership.
“Their outfielder sort of came in, it was in his glove and it bobbled right up to the end,” Eagles coach Stuart Clayton lamented.
“He just held on to it and that was it.”
Clayton is proud of Sunshine’s players for their fight in the grand final series and their stellar season on the whole.
In the fullness of time, the Eagles players will reflect on their minor premiership winning campaign with pride, but now it just hurts too much.
“The boys were just heartbroken,” Clayton said.
“They gave all that they could and we just come up one run short.”
Clayton looks back on the eighth inning as the point where the game got away from Sunshine.
Trailing by two runs with two outs and Adam Irons on first base, Jason Tutt stepped up for the Eagles and blasted a shot to left field.
Irons got the signal to run for home, but got caught short by a beautiful throw from the outfield.
It was the key moment in the match and Blackburn owned it.
“You take that gamble and we just couldn’t get it our way on the day,” Clayton said.
Clayton believes the horrible experience of losing a grand final will spur the Sunshine players next summer.
“The boys will be burning for next season, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“They understand now that we’re good enough now.”