The penultimate round of Australian Baseball League regular-season play saw the Perth Heat take three of four from the Canberra Cavalry to secure a first-place finish and an automatic bid to the championship series. Meanwhile, the Melbourne Aces and Brisbane Bandits split a four-game series while the Sydney Blue Sox and Adelaide Bite split four games as well.
Perth's pitching handled the Canberra hitters all weekend long, holding the Cavalry to six runs on 18 hits over the course of four games. Five of the six runs, and seven of the 18 hits, came in Canberra's lone victory on Saturday night.
Brian Baker, making just his first start of the season for the Heat, made the finest start of the series, tossing six innings of one-hit shutout ball. Daniel Schmidt turned in another gem, holding the Cavalry scoreless over seven innings while allowing just three hits and striking out four.
Canberra's top offensive performer was leadoff man Jon Berti, who tallied four hits and two steals in the series. The Blue Jays prospect extended his ABL season-best hit streak to 17 games before an 0-for-4 on Saturday night. The second baseman is hitting .298 after 42 games and maintains the league lead in stolen bases with 27 and runs scored with 43.
For Perth, Brandon Tripp and Allan de San Miguel each finished the series with five hits, a home run and two RBIs apiece. Heading into the final week of the regular season, Tripp has emerged as a legitimate Triple Crown candidate, ranking third in the league with a .327 batting average, second in the league with nine home runs and leading the ABL with 34 RBIs. De San Miguel, signed by the Rockies earlier this month, is hitting .333 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 12 games since joining the Heat.
Rockies prospect Joey Wong also turned in a solid series, going 5-for-14 with two RBIs to raise his average to .276.
In Melbourne, the Aces kept their playoff hopes alive with a pair of dramatic victories, both powered by 2008 World Series champion Brad Harman. The shortstop won Friday's contest with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 13th and hit an eighth-inning three-run home run the following night to turn a one-run deficit into a 5-3 victory. Harman is hitting .270 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs on the year.
Harman's second home run made a winner of Brewers prospect Eric Marzec, who tossed three scoreless, hitless innings with six strikeouts to improve to 1-0 with Melbourne. A 30th-round pick in 2010, Marzec is coming off a 2013 season that saw him go 6-0 with a 1.95 ERA in 46 Minor League appearances, 43 of which came with the Double-A Huntsville Stars.
Brett Zawacki, a former Cardinals and Marlins farmhand, also earned his first victory of the season for Melbourne after tossing five shutout innings and tallying nine strikeouts in the 13-inning victory. The Aces primary closer this season, Zawacki has made 17 appearances, earning six saves. He carries a 1.72 ERA into the final weekend, having fanned 33 in 23 2/3 innings of work.
Tampa Bay Rays prospect Joey Rickard led the offense for Brisbane, finishing the series with six hits, an RBI and a stolen base. The outfielder has put together a strong ABL campaign, hitting .286 with three home runs, 16 RBIs and 13 steals heading into the final weekend.
Minnesota Twins prospect Logan Wade also showed well for the Bandits, gathering three hits, four RBIs and a stolen base in the series. The 22-year-old shortstop belted RBI doubles in each of the first two ballgames and is hitting .253 with four games to play.
Australian Rhys Niit and Alaskan Tristan Crawford were both solid out of the Bandits' bullpen, combining to throw seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. Crawford, Brisbane's closer, did not allow a hit in three appearances and has now gone 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in 15 outings in the season.
In Adelaide, the Bite and Sydney Blue Sox split a four-game series and remain tied in the standings, currently in possession of the final two playoff spots.
Sydney was buoyed by the addition of 22-year-old Red Sox prospect Boss Moanaroa. The Newcastle, Australia, native went 8-for-14 with two home runs and four RBIs and reached base safely in 11 of 17 plate appearances.
Moanaroa wasn't the only young Aussie to perform well in the series for Sydney. Eighteen-year-old Zach Shepherd, a Tigers prospect, collected three hits and three RBIs, and 20-year-old Rangers prospect Guy Edmonds was 4-for-11 with a pair of RBIs.
Keon Broxton of the D-backs added four hits and three stolen bases for the Blue Sox and is hitting .324 with five RBIs and five stolen bases in his last 10 games.
Adelaide was able to split the series thanks to a strong start in the finale from Matthew Williams, who has spent most of the season as the team's closer. Williams scattered three hits over seven strong innings, striking out six for his third victory of the season.
Dodgers prospect Chris Jacobs hit his fifth home run of the season, a three-run blast for the Bite, and Red Sox prospect Stefan Welch collected three extra-base hits, two RBIs and a stolen base.
Newcomer Byron Wiley also had a solid weekend for Adelaide. The outfielder, who spent three years in the Reds' system, hit two home runs and now has 11 RBIs in 12 games played.
The final weekend of the regular season begins Thursday with four teams within one game of each other for the final two playoff spots. Perth will host Adelaide, Brisbane will host Canberra and Melbourne will travel to Sydney for a four-game series with the Blue Sox.
Craig Durham is a contributor to MLB.com.