Redbirds? toughest test
By GEOFF HALLMANN
THE Rex Airlines Far North Coast Major League Baseball grand final series this afternoon will determine not only the major premiership, but which of Workers and Redbirds go on to meet the best Gold Coast team in the Interleague decider next weekend.
The best-of-three series at Albert Park, Lismore, started last night and will be completed this evening.
For Redbirds, this season represents a resurrection of a club that has endured many years of lean results and little, if any, reason to celebrate at the end of the season.
But their juniors have thrived for a number of years.
This year a wealth of youthful talent has joined the Major League line-up, including Nick Shailes, Reece Smith, Luke, Matt and Shane Davis and Peter, Matt and Steve Best.
This afternoon is the opportunity for these players to shine.
Redbirds' win over Brothers last weekend included some of the best baseball in the area for some time.
But this time it's a step up, with Workers having been challenged on only a handful of occasions this year and only one loss when the side was at its weakest.
If Redbirds are to press the minor premiers they will have to score runs early.
Against Brothers in the first and third games, Redbirds won when they scored well in the first and second innings.
Workers like to do the same ? few could forget their 14-run opening inning against Norths a month ago.
Workers' pitching has been dominated by the accuracy of seven-game winner Troy Pruess and the power of Josh Daley.
This combination has shut down their opposition for two years, stifling rivals' ability to convert base runners into runs.
The quality defence has also played its part, with the infield glove work of Michael McClelland and super veteran Wayne Devlin exceptional.
In the outfield the combination of Aaron and Nathan Olley and youngster Sam Keehn has robbed many teams of hits.
With the bat there have been few equals to Workers this season.
Martin Tucker gained valuable experience with the Australian Provincial team mid-year and has been exceptionally effective as lead-off.
Michael McClelland, Scott McClelland, Dallas Knapp, Wayne Devlin and Josh Daley have been the backbone of Workers' offence, often delivering hits when the team needs them.
The second game of the series on Baxter Field will start about 4pm, following the Division 1 grand final between SCU and Norths.
The third game, if required, will start about 7.30pm.
How the coaches see the grand final
Nick Shailes (Redbirds): Workers aren't going to lie down and give it to us. We will have to play our best baseball of the season. If we don't turn up to play they will roll us. This is the strongest side we have had in the past six or seven years. The way we fielded last weekend was a stand-out ? not many teams can do better than that. Our veteran Graham Snape was the bat boy in Easts' last win in 1984. He brings a level-headedness to the team.
Dave McClelland (Workers): Obviously I hope it will be over in two games, but you never know. There is no doubt Redbirds have a good young side. It will all come down to how we perform on the day. Redbirds have one strike pitcher in Nick Shailes. If he is on target, it is bound to be a close game.
Paul Simes (Norths): I can't see Workers being beaten. They have too much experience. However, if Redbirds don't get caught up in the hype of the grand final they will be a challenge. Workers have too much pitching power. As a unit, they are about ready to click. They have been very focused at training. I think they will take it in two.
Dave Youngberry (Brothers): I think the number of games in this series depends on the Friday night. It will be three games if Redbirds win first-up. If they lose they will be in trouble on Saturday. Redbirds are a good bunch of young kids. Nick Shailes is a stand-out. If Redbirds are to win, they will need to keep the Workers bats quiet. It will be on Nick Shailes' shoulder. Workers have to be favourites.