By Lance Jenkinson
A final round loss did not take the gloss of what Sunshine Eagles have achieved to this point of the Baseball Victoria summer league division 1 season.
Getting beaten 8-5 away to Fitzroy Lions on Saturday was a minor blemish for the Eagles, who finished the regular season as the runaway minor premiers and will charge into the playoffs as the team to beat.
Eagles coach Stuart Clayton opted to experiment with his line-up against Fitzroy, resting some keys pitching arms, shaking up the batting order and making some changes to the defence.
The Eagles still finished with the best record in the league with 18 wins, seven losses and a draw. “
We were just concentrating on hitting and defence today,” Clayton said.
“We looked after our arms for Tuesday [opening night of the playoffs].
“We just tried a few things in the field.
“We moved guys into different positions.”
Twelve months ago, Sunshine was in an identical position.
The Eagles were cock-a-hoop after finishing on top and faced Geelong Baycats in the semi-finals, like they will this week when the best-of-three series begins tonight (Tuesday).
It was the Baycats who swept the series last year and the Eagles got exposed on the big stage.
The Eagles might not have been ready on that occasion, but they certainly are now.
“I think we’re a little bit better side than what we were last year,” Clayton said.
“Last year we lost our American catcher after the first final, he had family commitments.
“This year with having Riley [Barr], Jeremy [Young], Adam Irons and Griffin Weir on the hill, I think we’re very good on the pitching side of it and our defence is very good.
“Our hitting, although we have scored a lot of runs this year, that’s one thing where we’ve got to work together as a team to get the runs over the plate.”
The hitting was one department that was not lacking for Sunshine in the loss to Fitzroy on Saturday. Nikau Pouaka-Grego had four hits, Jordan Young had three and there were two each to import Bryce Aldridge and Alister Lovelock.
The big off season signing was Pouaka-Grego and he thrived with his new club this summer.
The teenager has the potential to be a match-winner for the Eagles with the bat and in the field.
“Last year he was playing in division 2 and was very good, but to step up to division 1 is a huge step up and he’s been fantastic,” Clayton said.
“He’s leading our hitting and the kid can play third base as good as anyone else that we’ve got.
“He’s got a mature head on his shoulders for a 15 year old.”
The first game of the series between Sunshine and Geelong will be on neutral territory at Melbourne Ballpark on Tuesday, followed by game two at Sunshine on Saturday and game three, if required, at Geelong on Sunday.