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Round Eight Preview: ABL ladder still tight
Perth hit midway point with half-game lead over Canberra
12/20/2012 2:03 PM ET
High-flying Canberra look to keep pressure on Perth in Round Eight.
High-flying Canberra look to keep pressure on Perth in Round Eight. (Ben Southall / SMP Images)

SYDNEY, 20 December - Round Eight of the Australian Baseball League brought to you by Be the Influence: Tackling Binge Drinking marks the halfway point of the 2012/13 ABL season. Games begin Thursday night with the Brisbane Bandits travelling to face the Canberra Cavalry driven by Rolfe Renault and the Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces hosting the Sydney Blue Sox. The Adelaide Bite Proudly Presented by SA Power Networks will take on the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat starting Friday night in South Australia.

Canberra Cavalry (13-8) vs. Brisbane Bandits (10-11)

Both the Cavalry and the Bandits have a lot to gain in round eight. Sitting only a half game back from first place, Canberra could reach the top of the league ladder and knock the Perth Heat off their pedestal. Brisbane is just a loss behind Sydney to claim a spot in the top half of the ABL standings. With the rivalry split at an even 1-1 record between Canberra and Brisbane, the series is for the taking. In the last matchup between the Cavalry and Bandits, the final game was suspended due to a rain delay, which will be added to the schedule in round eleven when the Cavalry return to Brisbane.

Canberra and Brisbane both boast the round seven Delta Air Lines Player of the Week Kody Hightower (Canberra) and Pitcher of the Week Chris Smith (Brisbane).

Canberra’s Hightower went 11-for-17 in round seven with six runs batted in, four doubles and two home runs and in the four game series. He now leads the league with a .406 batting average. The Player of the Week went 5-for-5 in the opening game of the series against the Aces, hitting two home runs, one of which was a grand slam, and drove in six of Canberra’s nine runs.

After round seven, Canberra’s offence leads the ABL in team batting average (.289), hits (209) and doubles (43).

Smith earned his second honours of the season, after being named Pitcher of the Week in round three. In round seven Smith pitched seven innings without allowing an earned run. He struck out 11 Adelaide batters and only gave up one hit and two walks. Smith leads the ABL with a total of 46 strikeouts on the season.

Melbourne Aces (7-15) vs. Sydney Blue Sox (11-11)

The Aces and Blue Sox will meet for the first time this season in round eight. Melbourne snapped a seven-game losing streak by picking up a win on the weekend, but still fell to Canberra after losing three of four games. The Aces remain at the bottom of the league ladder while Sydney sits at third with their wins mirroring their losses for the season.

Melbourne’s Brad Harman was named the 2012 ConocoPhillips ABL All-Star Game Most Valuable Player after going 2-for-4 with a home run, double and two RBIs for Team Australia. Harman, who led the league in home runs last season (15) has five home runs on the season after blasting two long balls in Friday night’s game three against the Cavalry. Ace Justin Huber also had a strong showing in the All-Star Game, finishing 3-for-3 with two runs scored.

Sydney’s Chris Oxspring and Tim Atherton both pitched scoreless innings for Team Australia in the ABL All-Star Game. Oxspring, who leads the league in ERA at 1.41, entered the game for Team Australia in the fourth inning and proceeded to strike out a batter without allowing a run in the frame. The next inning, Atherton entered and fired a perfect inning, retiring all three hitters he faced while registering a strikeout in the process.

Adelaide Bite (10-12) vs. Perth Heat (14-8)

The Perth Heat will face a stronger Adelaide team than the one they swept in three games in the ABL’s season opener series. In the last two series, the now hot Adelaide Bite have won six of their last eight games while the Perth Heat have claimed victories in just four of their last eight matches. Although the Heat are still at the top of the ABL ladder, their lead has been reduced to just a half game above the second place team, the Canberra Cavalry.

Adelaide leads the ABL in home runs (19) and is just two RBIs shy (94) of leading the league in runs batted in behind Perth (96).   

The Bite will lose round six’s Player of the Week Justin Howard because of an elbow surgery that was scheduled back in the United States. Fortunately, Quincy Latimore, fan favourite from season one, will return to Adelaide on December 30. Howard and Latimore are both affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bite will look to round five’s Player of the Week Angus RoegerNathan Melendres and Ji-Man Choi, who hit his first home run of the season in last weekend’s series, to fill in for Howard’s absence at the plate in the upcoming round.

Virgil Vasquez will get the game one start for Perth against Adelaide’s Zac Fuesser. Vasquez and Fuesser were World All-Star teammates in the ABL All-Star Game and each pitched scoreless innings.