CANBERRA Cavalry have been forced to return immediately back to the ACT after having their opportunity to reach the Australian Baseball League championship game in Melbourne dramatically stripped.
The sudden outbreak of the UK strain of coronavirus has caused the Victorian government to call on a five-day state lockdown starting from midnight on Saturday (February 13).
It forced the ABL to cancel Saturday’s preliminary final involving the Cavalry in favour of re-branding Friday night’s qualifying final between both top-ranked teams, Melbourne Aces and Perth Heat, as the new official championship game.
Canberra were just one victory away from the season decider after their 3-2 victory against Adelaide Giants at Melbourne Ballpark, just hours earlier before the ABL announcement.
The club’s Facebook page told fans on Friday afternoon to wait, straight after an elimination final triumph, before delivering the disappointing news in a post less than an hour later.
“While this means our season has come to an end, we are grateful to have our players and staff out of Melbourne this evening to avoid lockdown,” the Cavalry said in a statement.
“We’ll be spending the next several hours working to get the squad back home to the ACT, New South Wales and Queensland, as quickly and safely as we possibly can.”
Advice from the Victorian government did permit the scheduled two games on Saturday and Sunday taking place without fans in attendance.
But Baseball Australia chief executive Cam Vale said the final decision was based around an “obligation to limit the impact of the lockdown and subsequent introduction of restrictions around the country on players and officials”.
Vale added concluding the final playoff on Friday night instead of Sunday allowed fans, who many had already booked tickets in advance, to at least attend the Claxton Shield final.
Under the ABL’s playoff protocols, distributed to the teams prior to the postseason, the winner of the qualifying final that has now turned into the championship game would be named the 2020-21 champions should COVID-19 cut the season short.
Canberra initially started the first of its scheduled cutthroat finals with two runs in the first innings and another in the third for a 3-0 lead before Adelaide tightened the contest after scoring singles in both the sixth and seventh.
But the Cavalry, whose players started hearing of the proposed state lockdown, switched on and defended the narrowest of margins for the win.
The Cavs had already been forced on Thursday night into sudden-death against Adelaide the next day to keep their title aspirations alive.
They suffered a 19-4 capitulation to the Aces, while their rivals on Friday embarrassingly lost 26-6 to the Heat.
The semi-final at Melbourne Ballpark could not have started more perfectly for the visitors, swinging back-to-back home runs before sneaking over a third run in the opening innings.
However, the remainder of their plans could not have gone more awry.
Canberra scored just one more time amid the next 20 runs of the semi-final that included conceding four in the Aces’ first innings alone.
Melbourne had led by four runs entering the top of the fifth until its rivals crossed home plate again to narrow the scoreline to 7-4.
That was too close for comfort for the club aiming for back-to-back ABL titles, belting 12 runs in its next four innings to seal the victory.