Congratulations to the Malvern Braves - 2019/20 VSBL Division 2 Premiers!
The Braves secured their first premiership in nearly two decades with a two-game series win over Williamstown. Malvern won the first game 12-4 on Thursday night at Melbourne Ballpark, thanks to a solid start from Sean Cruz and offensive contributions up-and-down the lineup.
The story of the game was much the same on Saturday afternoon, as what Coach Phil Dale predicted would be a tighter defensive matchup quickly blossomed into a massive double-digit margin Malvern's way.
With Melbourne Aces standout Jon Kennedy on the mound for his club, the Wolves were left wondering at the plate, unable to make much happen after a quick run scored in the first. Kennedy struck out Aaron Green and Robbie Higginson for the first two outs in Williamstown's opening frame but two quick connections by Jayde Thorne and Jason McDonald saw the Wolves jumping on the board.
That would be Williamstown's only score of the game as Kennedy settled in nicely and the Braves started piecing runs together against Wolves' starter Kevin Desmedt. U18 player Jack Hangar made a fantastic slide at first base in the top of the second, with Geoff Holland following up to get on as well. A strikeout and a double play ended the inning with the Wolves unable to put anything together in their bottom turn as well.
The top of the third is where the Braves bats really came alive for the first time in the game, with U18 standout Henry Hayman being hit by pitch before Justin Burke and Ryan Dale got on, coming around to score and give Malvern a lead.
Williamstown Head Coach Aaron Green wasn't going down without a fight, getting on first in the bottom of the third but he was stranded by the end of the inning.
Following up on a decent third inning, the Braves battled away in the top of the fourth, with a beautiful bases loaded situation before Ryan Dale exhibited patience at the plate, taking a walk that brought another runner home. With the bases still loaded Mitch Kennedy came up to bat, and he smashed a bases-clearing double for three RBIs. Malvern came away from that inning with a 7-1 lead and plenty of momentum.
It was much the same in the top of the fifth, singles to Hangar and Holland putting Tyler Dale in prime position for a 2-RBI base hit. Chris Godfrey singled as Hayman got on base too, prompting Demsedt to come out of the game with Thorne taking the mound in relief. A HBP and sacrifice fly saw Malvern improve to a 10-1 lead as Ryan Dale followed up with a bases-loaded walk. By the middle of the fifth Malvern was up 12-1.
Green and Higginson got on base in the bottom of the fifth but Kennedy wasn't fazed, quickly recording three outs to bring Malvern back up. Despite so much activity the Braves weren't tired yet, with Holland walking to lead things off and Tyler Dale doubling. Godfrey and Hayman struck out but Burke was HBP and Kennedy took a walk as the score grew once again, Malvern now leading 14-1.
Williamstown tried to put some more on the board but came up empty as the bottom of the sixth gave way to the top of the seventh, when Hanger flew out and Holland grounded out to start the inning. It wasn't over yet though with Dale called safe at first and Godfrey doubling to right for a 15-1 margin.
Three quick outs were recorded in the bottom of the seventh as the Braves threw their hats up and celebrated, the mercy rule giving them the victory in a shortened game.
Despite dropping two of the three last regular season games to Williamstown and finishing fourth at 16-9 behind the 20-7 second place Wolves, the Braves proved they weren't going to rest until they got that highly-anticipated flag promotion to Division 1.
Phil Dale was thrilled to see the Braves succeed in his first season with the club. "Jon Kennedy on the mound brings us a lot of experience and presence and he threw a great game," Dale said. "Just having him on the mound is a big boost with his aura, and he’s had a good year with the Aces and he’s carried on with us."
The Braves scored 28 runs in two games against a Williamstown side that had given up just 87 runs in the regular season. "We put pressure on the defense, we hit the ball hard and played the game very aggressively," Dale said. "We used over 25 guys in the season which shows the depth of our club and it's a positive sign. We've got a lot of juniors coming through so we just have to develop those guys."
Dale feels the future is bright at Malvern. "The club's heading in the right direction and that's the main thing for the sport," Dale added. "We’ve got a great club with good people and we're enjoying our win and looking forward to Division 1 next season."