The UBC Thunderbirds came into their final game of round-robin play hoping to finish on a high note Unfortunately for them, they failed to do so- finishing last after the round-robin portion of the tournament. After opening the Collegiate Baseball Classic tournament with a dominant win over the University of Tokyo, the T-Birds then fell haplessly to the Hornets of Sacramento State and completed their preliminary play with another loss.
The University of Tokyo is the lowest-ranked team in the Tokyo Big6 baseball league, so UBC’s win- while impressive was unsurprising. Keio University, on the other hand, is the top-ranked team and have long been considered a superpower in the Japanese collegiate baseball scene.
For Keio, their tournament has gone almost perfectly. They opened with a tie against Sacramento and followed up with a victory over their local rivals. With a win against the Thunderbirds Keio would secure first place after group play, giving themselves a strong position heading into the knockout rounds.
Unlike their terrible start against Sacramento, UBC inaugurated a quick first-inning lead, scoring a run in their first set of at-bats. Jaxon Valcke led off with a single, then stealing second before scoring on Austin Butler’s RBI. against such a powerhouse, the start was as much as the T-Birds could have wished for. Making things even better, the home side also fielded a three up-three down inning to cap off their astounding start.
In each international game, it is interesting to see the style differences between the nations. For example, I noticed that Takahashi; Keio’s starting pitcher had a distinct pitching style, unlike any North American pitcher. His windup included a leg kick, something that is normal- but in this case, it appeared to be a two-part sequence. First was a high knee, then pause, then kick and finally a throw. To me, it is the pause which is most intriguing. There could easily be a balk call made on any of the pitches, as his routine fits in with the MLB’s ruling of what a balk is.
The ruling reads “A balk will be called when a pitcher who is on the rubber makes any motion naturally associated with his pitching delivery and does not actually deliver the ball.” This would indicate that the pause between the first and second kick, two things not part of the distinct pitching motion would be considered a balk. However, Takahashi was never called against.
Back to the game. Keio finally showed some signs of offence in the fourth inning- loading the bases and walking and batting in two runs all with zero outs. It was the first blip on the scoresheet for UBC starting pitcher Colin Spearing. The starter redeemed himself after his fielders got hima double play, finishing the inning with a quick strikeout to keep the ‘Birds within a single run.
The home-sides rebound was closest in the top of the sixth, with Vulcano reaching second base and Valcke on first with only one out on the board. Valcke reached base after getting hit by a pitch, forcing Y.Takahashi out of the game after 5.2 innings, in favour of R.Takahashi. While the two share a name, there is no relation between them. Y. Takashai finished with nine strikeouts, a good haul against a formidable set of UBC bats. Keio was able to strand both runners, getting out of the inning cleanly.
Following their close call of defence, Keio added a third run to their total, giving themselves a buffer heading into the later innings against UBC. The third run spelled the end for Colin Spearing, who made way for Barry Cainn in the sixth. Spearing had a very strong showing in his first appearance of the tournament. Although he surrendered a trifecta of runs, he finished his day with five strikeouts, a total which is to be respected.
UBC was unable to solve the Keio relieving arms, finishing the round robin portion with a 1-2 record. While the game against Tokyo got the T-birds started off on the right foot, it was clear that their morale was effected in the hapless loss to Sacramento. Keio, being the powerhouse that they are proved another strong test for UBC, and yet another test who were one step too good for the Thunderbirds to handle.
Looking ahead to the knockout rounds, UBC now prepares to take on North American players from Sacramento once again as the lowest seed in the tournament. Meanwhile the two Japanese schools will face off in an all Tokyo semi-final.
Friday is an off-day for all involved, as the visiting sides will get to experience the attractions which Vancouver has to offer. The baseball action returns to UBC on Saturday, with the Finals and consolation game taking place Sunday afternoon.