In a game that seemed like a pitcher’s duel until things got out of hand, the Ancaster Cardinals eliminated the Burlington Bandits from the Golden Horseshoe Baseball League playoffs by a score of 8-4.
The Cardinals, who finished second in the regular season of the men’s league, sent their ace Shawn Balaga to the mound and he did not disappoint, pitching a complete game victory while only surrendering three earned runs at Ancaster’s Matthew Krol diamond on Tuesday night.
With the score 1-1 heading into the fourth, the Bandits loaded the bases on one out. At that point, the Cardinals right-hander made a key adjustment that may have changed the course of the game, and his team’s season.
“I got some words of advice from our second baseman and ever since they were always guessing,” Balaga said after the game. “It was about throwing a little more fastballs.
“I’m more of a junk pitcher and it’s always worked, but these guys were just reading me like crazy. They kind of knew what was coming and he was like instead of throwing what you normally would, throw a fastball in there … and it worked.”
The Bandits hit into a double play on an attempted sacrifice fly, and Balaga made quick work of the Bandits until the seventh and final inning. He struck out the side in the sixth, but Burlington capitalized on a pair of errors and hit batsmen to cut the lead by three in the seventh.
Balaga’s vanishing control of the game he had dominated left him frustrated, and he later admitted that the situation had slightly softened him.
“I think I loosened up a little too much, and with it being a little chilly out, I started to tighten up,” he said. “Guys are taking more time [in the cold] when they get hit, and you get frustrated, and get a little wild.”
The real change of pace came in the fourth inning, when the Cardinals had the bases loaded and only one out.
Game two starter Ryan Hands came up to bat and hit a high chopper to third base where Ross MacKenzie fielded the ball cleanly. MacKenzie’s throw, however, forced the first baseman to reach between the legs of Hands on his way to first, only to find the ball jarred from his glove and two runs having scored.
“I think that was what demoralized us a little bit,” said player-coach MacKenzie after the game. “Then they started tacking on a run here and there to gain the lead until the last inning.”
The Cardinals took advantage of a roller coaster performance by Bandits starter T.J. McKinlay, a complete game that featured fourteen strikeouts but eight walks.
Balaga also managed to support himself offensively, finishing the game with two walks, stolen bases, and runs scored.
“We came out a little slow, but once we got the lead we seemed to take control of it, I thought,” said Cardinals manager Jim Barta.
“Every time [Balaga] goes out he gives everything he’s got and he’s been our best pitcher all year. He was solid tonight…but a little high on pitches.
“I talked to him before that last inning and he still wanted to go out. He said he felt good so we let him go, but we really pushed him to the max there.”