It was the battle of the conference’s top and bottom sides, but the conclusion to draw from the two-game series between last-placed Newport Rams and front-running Sunshine Eagles is that it might be an even tighter division than we first thought.
The sides went hammer and tong for 18 innings over two games in the past week for an aggregate score of 6-6.
Newport fumbled a two-run lead in the mid-week game to lose 4-3, but it was probably lucky to come away with a 3-2 win at KC White Reserve on Saturday.
After the series split, the evidence suggests Newport is well and truly in the finals picture and the gulf between first and last is closing fast.
The Rams are actually just two and a half games out of first place after 15 rounds and could have been ranked a lot higher if not for a string of close losses.
That’s what makes Saturday’s gutsy one run win so important for the Rams as it showed they can win a close one.
“We’ve lost four or five games by one run, some of them we’ve been leading for most of the game, but we’re just struggling to close them out, which was the case on Tuesday when we were 3-1 up and ended up losing 4-3,” Rams player-coach David Asp said. “It was a tough loss against them on Tuesday, so it was good to come back and pinch one off them.
“It was good to play nine innings of baseball.
“If you string a couple of wins together you can sort of go from bottom to being in the mix pretty quickly.”
Newport’s victory was sealed with a hit from 14-year-old Keenan Spence. An infielder, Spence is one of the most exciting young prospects at the Rams.
“He stepped up and drove in the winning run, which was impressive,” Asp said. “You’ve got to keep reminding yourself that he’s 14 years old because you wouldn’t think it with the look of him, he’s taller than me.
“He’s getting one or two hits a game, so he’s keeping his spot and he’s not there just to fill up the numbers.”
Import Riley Barr threw a gem of a game on the mound. Barr has been loosely restricted to a 60-70 pitch count as he recovers from his European season, but still managed to negotiate seven innings for the Rams.
“Riley’s been fantastic for us,” Asp said. “He does the job week in week out.”
Newport has a crucial final home game against Sandringham on Sunday before the mid-season break.
In women’s division 2, Footscray stunned ladder leader Springvale in an 8-3 victory at Benbow Street on Saturday. The third-placed Bulldogs became the first team to inflict defeat on the Vales this season. The Bulldogs host winless Melbourne on Sunday.
In men’s division 2, Williamstown kept hold of first place with a 4-3 win over Ballarat City at Greenwich Reserve on Sunday. The Wolves will meet Port Melbourne in a mid-week game tonight at Murphy Reserve before a trip to Werribee on Sunday.