By Gabriel Fidler, http://www.extrainnings.co.uk/
CAPE TOWN, South Africa – With its offense still clicking in high gear, South Africa emphatically claimed its series with France this afternoon, defeating the visitors 13-1 for its fourth win in the seven-game set. Jared Elario hurled six shutout frames and South Africa homered for the sixth-straight contest.
The hallmark of this series has been the immediate onslaught by South Africa’s offence. The home side had its best start yet in today’s game, blasting seven hits and taking advantage of two errors and two wild pitches to score nine runs in the first frame.
French starter and Cubs’ minor leaguer Donato Auguste saw four runs cross the plate before retiring a batter, but the first and fourth batters reached via defensive mistakes. The first run scored after Kyron Bibis reached on an error, Kyle Botha doubled down the left field line, and Rowan Ebersohn singled home Bibis. An error plated Botha before Hein Robb singled home Ebersohn, with the fourth run coming on a wild pitch.
Auguste got back-to-back outs, including a K, but Josh Halvorsen and Nicholas Eagles laced one-base hits to keep the runners moving. Halvorsen would swipe home on a double steal before Bibis plated Eagles. France’s misery then continued as Botha blasted a round-tripper to left field before the nightmare inning was over.
After such a long opening frame, Elario only gave his fielders a quick break, sending three up and three down in the bottom of the first.
France’s starter, only 20, snapped out of his funk by the second inning and Auguste and Elario matched zeroes for the next four frames. While Auguste issued free passes in the second, third, and fifth, the French lineup only solved Elario in the bottom of the fifth.
Having allowed his only baserunner via error, Elario finally lost his no-hitter when Ariel Soriano bounced a ball through the right side to start the fifth. Elario’s D picked him up, however, turning a 6-4-3 double play. Back-to-back base on balls gave France some hope, but South Africa’s moundsman got the third out on a strikeout looking.
Auguste ran out of steam in the sixth, plunking Botha with a pitch. The South African catcher shook off the blow and promptly took second by theft. A grounder moved him to third and a walk knocked Auguste out of the game. Hein Robb greeted reliever Antoine Rault with a run-scoring single and Brandon Bouillon followed with a base-knock of his own and France found itself in mercy rule territory at 11-0.
Although Rault buckled down for two outs to end the frame, South Africa had taken a commanding lead after the scoreless middle innings. Elario did face a threat in the bottom of the sixth, as Felix Brown singled and Andy Paz laced a two-base hit, but a popup retained the lead.
With the game entering mercy rule territory, South Africa struck a final blow in the top of the seventh. Nicholas Eagles, playing in place of injured captain Jonathan Phillips, roped a two-bagger down the left field line on the inning’s first pitch. Bibis dropped a safety into left to put runners on the corners.
Eagles was picked off, taking an RBI away from Botha, who stepped up a notch as vice-captain with Phillips injured. The South African backstop boomed a double off the left-centre field wall to score Bibis and came home as Ebersohn beat the shift and bounced a ball through the infield.
Needing a 13-run miracle, France came up to the dish in the bottom of the seventh having yet to score in the contest. Jayde Thorne entered on the mound and got two outs with ease, the second erasing Frédéric Hanvi, who had singled, with F. Kovals on a fielder’s choice. David Gauthier finally put the French side in the scoring column, ripping a double to left-centre on the first pitch. A final groundball sealed France’s fate and South Africa ensured the series win.
Elario (1-1) made it back-to-back gems on the bump for the victors, scattering only three hits and two free passes in six innings, sending down three on strikes. Auguste (0-2) lasted a lot longer than the two outs of his last start, giving up 11 runs, only four earned, in 5 1/3 frames. The right-hander struck out seven hits and four walks, whiffing three.
Only Hanvi reached base twice for France, with five hits claimed by different players. Meanwhile, Botha went 3-for-3 and reached base five times with eight total bases (two doubles and the dinger). Botha is now slashing .440/.517/.840 in the series.
Bibis, Ebersohn, and Robb each had a brace of hits as South Africa put 19 men on base. Robb is hitting .462, while Ebersohn is at an even .400 as the team counts four players over the .400 mark (with Phillips also in the group). The team is at .344 collectively, while France sits 99 points behind.
The 4-2 series lead is for more than just national pride and high-level competition, however, as South Africa has now secured the majority of the WBSC rankings points for the event. If our understanding is correct, the seven games are worth a total of 10 points, meaning the hosts will take home somewhere between six and nine world ranking points.
The series concludes tomorrow in Durbanville, Cape Town with first pitch at 10 a.m. GMT/5 a.m. EST. The game will be available to watch via live stream [link].
A big ‘thank you’ to South Africa’s scorekeeper, Augusta ‘Gussie’ Phillips, for the box scores and statistics.