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Near no-hitter highlights Week 7 of Australian League

Sydney's Harris fires eight hitless innings; Perth's Ekstrom continues to dazzle
Special to MLB.com

Week 7 in the 2013-14 Australian Baseball League season featured two series splits, a near no-hitter and a four-game series sweep for Perth over defending champion Canberra.

Perth's Mike Ekstrom set the tone for the sweep with yet another dazzling performance. This time out, the right-hander shut out the Cavalry over 7 1/3 innings, with nine strikeouts. After six starts, Ekstrom is sporting a 5-0 record with a 0.20 ERA, having allowed just one run on 19 hits over 44 1/3 innings. He has struck out 50 while walking only nine.

Week 7 in the 2013-14 Australian Baseball League season featured two series splits, a near no-hitter and a four-game series sweep for Perth over defending champion Canberra.

Perth's Mike Ekstrom set the tone for the sweep with yet another dazzling performance. This time out, the right-hander shut out the Cavalry over 7 1/3 innings, with nine strikeouts. After six starts, Ekstrom is sporting a 5-0 record with a 0.20 ERA, having allowed just one run on 19 hits over 44 1/3 innings. He has struck out 50 while walking only nine.

Jack Frawley followed Ekstrom's lead with a commanding performance of his own in Game 2, holding Canberra to one run on four hits with six strikeouts in seven innings. The Cleveland native has fanned 31 while walking eight in 35 innings, and he ranks second in the league with a 1.80 ERA.

Perth outscored Canberra, 24-7, in the series, and the offensive contributions came from up and down the roster.

Braves farmhand Matt Kennelly continued his solid play since joining his hometown team, going 6-for-12 with three RBIs in the series. In 19 ABL games this season, the 24-year-old is hitting .302 with four home runs, 12 RBIs and a stolen base.

Tucker Nathans of the Orioles turned in another strong series that included five runs scored and an RBI. The infielder ranks fifth in the ABL with a .322 batting average, and he has racked up seven doubles, seven stolen bases and 11 RBIs through his first 20 games.

Fellow Orioles prospect George Barber had another solid weekend and has made an immediate impact since joining the Heat at the end of November. The outfielder collected four hits in the series and is batting .333 with a home run, four RBIs, two stolen bases and six extra-base hits over his first 12 games played.

Meanwhile, as Canberra's typically prolific offense was held in check, Jack Murphy of the Blue Jays collected five hits to raise his average to .318 on the season. The catcher ranks sixth in the league in average and has added a pair of home runs and 14 RBIs.

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A four-game series between the Sydney Blue Sox and Adelaide Bite featured heaps of great pitching, highlighted by a near no-hitter in the series finale from the Sydney's Vaughn Harris. Harris, an Aussie making his first start of the season, held the Bite hitless through eight before surrendering a double to Jeremy Cakebread leading off the ninth.

Angels prospect Aaron Sookee delivered another solid start for Sydney in a losing effort, as the 22-year-old left-hander surrendered just one earned run on three hits over six innings. After six starts this season, Sookee ranks third in the league with a 2.76 ERA and has struck out 26 in 32 2/3 innings.

White Sox No. 13 prospect Jacob May collected four hits for Sydney over the weekend while notching his 10th stolen base, and 18-year-old shortstop Zach Shepherd contributed with five hits for the Blue Sox. Shepherd, who has yet to appear in a game in the U.S., was signed by the Detroit Tigers in the summer of 2012.

For Adelaide, Blake Holovach earned his second win of the season behind five innings of three-hit ball. The Mariners prospect struck out three and allowed just one run in the Bite's 3-1 win on Sunday.

Dodgers prospect and former second-round pick Blake Smith continued to show improvement over the course of the ABL season, as the big righty worked three hitless innings of relief while earning a hold. The Modesto, Calif., native has not been scored upon in any of his last five outings, and in that span has allowed just three hits in 9 1/3 innings.

James Baldwin, also Dodgers property, shook off a slow series the previous weekend with a pair of two-hit performances to open the series in Sydney.

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In Brisbane, a four-game series saw the Melbourne Aces take the first two contests before the Bandits came back to split the series.

Lefty Lewis Thorpe, 18, got things going for Melbourne with his third straight spectacular start, holding Brisbane to one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings. The Twins prospect did not walk a batter while striking out five. Through four starts this season, Thorpe is 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA, having held opponents to four earned runs and a .209 batting average in 22 1/3 innings of work.

Fellow Aussie and former World Series champion Brad Harman backed Thorpe's strong start with the first of two home runs he would hit over the weekend. Harman, a onetime Philadelphia Phillies infielder, finished the series with at least one hit in all four games while driving in two runs. Ryan Casteel of the Rockies and Jared Schlehuber of the Royals continued to supply the power for the Aces, as Casteel launched his fifth home run of the season, while Schlehuber hit his fourth home run and added four RBIs. Through 22 games, Schlehuber ranks second in the ABL with 16 RBIs while hitting .284.

The series turned in the Bandits' favor thanks to a stellar start from Brisbane native Ryan Searle. The Cubs farmhand went eight strong in the series' third game, allowing six hits while striking out nine. Searle has won both starts he has made since joining the Bandits. Young Indians catching prospect Ryan Battaglia banged a pair of doubles over the weekend and now has collected six two-baggers to go along with five home runs in 18 games this season. As has been the case for much of the season, Rays prospect Joey Rickard paced the offense for Brisbane with five hits, a home run and three RBIs. Rickard ranks fourth in the ABL in both batting average (.325) and OPS (.930), and he has launched three homers to go along with 12 RBIs and five stolen bases. Patrick Leonard, another Rays prospect, had a breakthrough weekend, going 6-for-11 with a home run and three RBIs.

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The best of the ABL will gather in Melbourne on Wednesday for the third annual ABL All-Star Game, and the league will then resume play next weekend without interruption.

Craig Durham is a contributor to MLB.com.