Though the Bandits came up just short on Friday night, with Canberra taking the home opener 3-2, the team was backed by late solid pitching and great defence, keeping them in the game throughout. On Saturday, Kentucky native Chris Smith shone on an Australian Baseball League mound once again, striking out 12 batters in a seven-inning complete-game shutout, getting the 1-0 win.
James Albury started the second game of Saturday's doubleheader and pitched 3 1/3 innings of one-run ball before the game was postponed because of rain. Brisbane's pitchers have been impressive this season through Round Three of the ABL, brought to you by 'Be the Influence: Tackling Binge Drinking'.
"So far for us this year, our pitching has definitely been the reason we've had the success we've had," Bandits manager Kevin Jordan said. "We're not a big-bopper type team. We're more of a little-ball type team, offensively. We were fortunate that one run held up that whole game [on Saturday]."
Brisbane's offense has had a slightly slower start to the season than its pitching and defence. But Jordan believes the bats are starting to come around, with the team's usual slugging suspects all notching hits over the weekend and the imports starting to make adjustments to the league.
"We have guys like Carlos [Alonso] who just got here; Cody [Clark] just got here," the second-year-skipper said. "Most of our Australian players have been playing club ball but our import players hadn't, so it's going to take them a little bit longer. I really liked the at-bats that Cody had in the first game. I think Carlos is going to come around for us.
"[Hirotoshi] Onaka in centre field, his at-bats are getting better. I think slowly but surely they're going to start. Brad [Dutton] is going to start swinging the bat the way I know he can; I think [David Sutherland] is going to start swinging the bat the way I know he can. It was good for us that one run was able to hold up for us; that Smith threw so well."
Smith held down the Canberra offense on Saturday afternoon in the tight game, giving himself an opportunity to prove that he can perform in any situation. The right-hander is excited for when the hitters do get into the swing of things this season however, because the Bandits will only get tougher to beat.
"It's still early in the year," Smith said. "The hitters are still getting their hacks. They're still getting their reps. The more they get their reps, the better they will come along. When we have practice, they are just crushing balls, so I think our sticks are going to come around and that's going to make pitching easier.
"Sometimes it's fun to pitch in 1-0 games because it really kind of shows what kind of pitcher you're going to be when it's tough situations. Now hopefully KJ and [pitching coach Gary Nilsson] can kind of rely on me sticking in the game instead of folding under pressure. That was good to show for myself but it was also a team effort. And having good defence behind you is always nice."
Brisbane's bats did come to life in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader. The home team went through their entire batting order and scored six runs in the second inning.
Second baseman Brad Dutton had his first extra-base hit and multi-hit game of the year, with a bases-clearing double, and he looked like he was just warming up. Arkansas native Cody Clark hit the team's second home run of the season, his first ABL homer, a two-run shot over the left-field fence at Redlands to cap off the six-run inning.
Though Albury didn't earn a decision in the rain-shortened game on Saturday, he did have a chance to pitch at his home diamond, Redlands Baseball Club, where he has grown up playing his entire life.
"I definitely noticed a lot of fans here," Albury said. "It's good to see the ballpark filled, especially at my home club...all the younger kids that I coach were all looking forward to coming out. All the families were looking forward to it. It's a shame with the rain."
Through his 3 1/3 frames, Albury allowed just one run on three hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Nearly two full ABL seasons after his Tommy John surgery took him out of the game, the right-hander feels the way he once did and is looking forward to the rest of the year.
"I feel really good," he said. "I think I'm back at 100 per cent now. It's taken nearly two years but my body's feeling good, my arm's feeling good and everything is coming out really well."
Redlands also happens to be the home field for Jordan, being the closest club to him and also where his 14-year-old son plays baseball. He enjoyed having Bandits games at the new location and hopes that it is a place that the ABL might take into consideration for more games in the future.
"I'd love one day for this to be the home of the Bandits," Jordan said. "This is a good location because it's off the highways. It's a spacious area. I know it's a good place to watch a baseball game so hopefully this will be the field of the future for us.
"We need to have a field in Brisbane that is as nice as all of the other fields at the parks we play at. Hopefully it will be here in Redlands and if not here, somewhere in the Brisbane area. But we definitely need to have a venue that is first-rate, where all the fans in the Brisbane area can come out and support us...I think there's a lot of potential here at Redlands."