Tuatara clinch playoff spot, eliminate defending champions

By Te Ao - Māori News

Auckland Tuatara celebrate their historic moment last night in Auckland. Photo/SMP Images

In only their second season, Aotearoa's first professional baseball team are into finals of the Australian Baseball League.

The Auckland-based franchise did it the hard way, holding off four-time defending champions Brisbane Bandits 1-0 at North Harbour Stadium last night.

Former Major League pitcher Josh Collmenter performed under pressure, shutting down the Bandits batters who were red-hot in games 1 and 2 earlier in the week.

Tuatara manager Steve Mintz said the feeling of reaching the playoffs so early in their existence was "way up there" in his 30-year association with the sport. "This is so special for our team, for this country, for this city of Auckland and for the ABL. For what we've been able to do, I think it just builds our league."

They needed just one win against Brisbane to create history but the Tuatara, who had sat atop the Northeast Division table for weeks, were themselves staring down the barrel of elimination after the opening two games of the series, suffering 10-0 and 12-6 defeats on Thursday and Friday respectively.

Kent Blackstone scored the run that proved the difference on the opening pitch of the fourth innings with his fourth home run of the season, before Collmenter continued his domination of the Bandits hitters, allowing only two hits the entire game. 

Tuatara outfielder Kris Richards had arguably the play of the game though, climbing the fence to catch an otherwise certain game-tying home run by David Sutherland in the 5th innings.

Regan Wood, Chief Executive of the Tuatara, said after the game, "it's a fairytale. You want to win a game to make the playoffs 1-0. Josh Collmenter dealing it. I think we're all going to sleep tonight, I haven't slept for three days. This has been amazing."

While the victory secured the Tuatara a playoff spot, it ended Brisbane's recent domination of the league, knocking them out of contention for a 5th consecutive title. 

It is still not over for the Tuatara, however, with the series concluding this afternoon and the team needing a further victory, or Canberra to lose against Sydney later tonight, to avoid the wild-card game next weekend.