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Week 11 of ABL ends with tight playoff race

The 11th week of Australian Baseball League play ended with four teams within one game of one another for the final two playoff berths. Adelaide proved that it is still in the race by taking three of four from Melbourne, and Sydney made a statement by winning three of four over Canberra. The Perth Heat, meanwhile, widened their lead by sweeping a four-game series from the Brisbane Bandits.

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In sweeping Brisbane, Perth outscored its opponent, 21-5, over the course of four games and received contributions from throughout the lineup. Outfielder Brandon Tripp led the way, going 7-for-17 with a home run, three RBIs, three doubles and a stolen base. Tripp, a former Phillies farmhand, is batting .329 with eight home runs and a league-high 32 RBIs through 38 games.

Braves catching prospect Matt Kennelly added seven hits for Perth and finished the series 7-for-16 with two RBIs and a pair of three-hit contests. Matt's brother, Tim, added five hits of his own and heads into the final two weeks of the regular season with a .346 batting average -- good for third in the league.

Joey Wong, the slick-fielding Rockies prospect, had a hit in each game for the Heat, and finished the weekend 5-for-15 with three doubles to raise his average to .268. Another member of the Rockies organization, recently signed catcher Allan de San Miguel, pitched in with four hits, four RBIs and a home run.

Brisbane's offense struggled to get anything going all weekend despite a solid effort from Twins infield prospect Logan Wade. Wade went 4-for-10 with an RBI and a stolen base, and also collected five walks in the series. In all, he reached base safely in nine of 15 plate appearances.

The Bandits also received another tremendous start from right-handed Cubs prospect Ryan Searle, who tossed his second complete game in six starts for his hometown team. Searle struck out 11 without walking a batter but took the loss after allowing two runs in a 2-1 defeat. Searle's record is now 3-3 and his ERA 2.63 after the six starts, and he has fanned 41 in 41 innings while issuing just five free passes.

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The Adelaide Bite surged up the standings by taking three of four from the Melbourne Aces in a series that began with a pair of strong starts on Thursday. Adelaide's Kyle Brueggemann earned the opening-night victory by shutting out the Aces over seven innings, allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out nine. Lefty Joe Burns took the tough-luck loss for Melbourne, allowing two unearned runs in his seven innings to fall to 5-2 on the season. After 10 starts, Burns has the best WHIP in the ABL (0.78), ranks fourth with a 2.25 ERA and is third in strikeouts, with 49.

Mariners prospect Brock Hebert turned in another big offensive weekend from the top of Adelaide's lineup, going 5-for-14 and extending his hitting streak to nine games in the process. Chris Jacobs, a Dodgers prospect, also showed well, collecting four hits, an RBI and a stolen base for the Bite.

Despite dropping three of four, the Aces received big offensive contributions from some key players, including Royals first-base prospect Jared Schlehuber. Schlehuber continues to be one of the most consistent hitters in the league, going 6-for-16 with three RBIs. After 38 games, he is hitting .324, with six home runs and 29 RBIs.

Rockies catching prospect Ryan Casteel collected a hit in each game to raise his average to .319, and fellow Rockies prospect Tyler Massey collected three hits -- including a three-run homer -- and two stolen bases for Melbourne.

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The Sydney Blue Sox were able to bolster their playoff hopes by taking three of four from the Canberra Cavalry, despite the fact that Canberra displayed more offensive firepower throughout the series. Jon Berti, a Blue Jays prospect and the leadoff man for the Cavalry, extended his hitting streak to 15 games in the series, going 5-for-16 with an RBI and two stolen bases. Berti continues to lead the league in steals, with 25, and runs scored, with 42, and he has compiled a .301 batting average and ranks second in the league with 11 doubles.

Catcher Jack Murphy, another Blue Jays prospect, went 9-for-17 in the series, with six RBIs. He went 5-for-5 on Friday and ranks fourth in the ABL in batting average, at .331. He has two home runs and 24 RBIs on the season.

Jeremy Barnes turned in the biggest weekend for Canberra, going 10-for-20 to bring his average to .347, which ties him for the league lead with teammate Casey Frawley. Barnes finished the weekend with two doubles and four RBIs and ranks second in the league with 30 RBIs, and first with 15 doubles. Ethan Cole delivered the best pitching performance of the weekend, shutting out the Blue Sox in Canberra's lone win, a 10-0 thrashing on Friday night. Cole held Sydney to two hits over six innings and is 4-4 on the season, with a 3.86 ERA.

Sydney's top offense performers included White Sox prospect Jacob May, who gathered five hits, an RBI and a stolen base in the series, and Zach Shepherd, the 18-year-old Tigers prospect who went 6-for-18 with three RBIs. D-backs prospect Keon Broxton had five hits and three RBIs in the series and collected the game-winning hit in the 12th inning on Sunday to secure the series victory for Sydney.

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The penultimate round of regular-season play will begin on Thursday and features three terrific matchups. The Melbourne Aces will try to keep their playoff hopes alive against the Brisbane Bandits, the Sydney Blue Sox will head to Adelaide tied with the Bite for the third and final playoff spot, and defending champion Canberra will host first-place Perth.

Craig Durham is a contributor to