The Bellingen Diggers played their best baseball of the season, but fell one run short against the Coffs Harbour Allstars in both the A and B grade elimination semi-finals on Saturday.
In the B grade opener, the Diggers played with just eight men to the Allstars' nine, with Jon Lowe otherwise occupied with the birth of his first child (Cohen Duffy Lowe, 5.33 kg!)
Bellingen got off to a shaky start. They failed to score in the top of the first inning, then the Allstars quickly plated one run and loaded the bases with none out. But Scott Hansen pitched his way out of the jam, striking out three with just one more run crossing the plate.
The Diggers pulled within one run in the next inning, with Charles Wolfson driving in Matt Bryant. Then they held the Allstars scoreless, thanks to two great plays by center fielder Braiden Spalding, who threw out one Allstar trying to stretch a wind-blown single into a double, then another trying to score from second on a single.
Bellingen followed with a three-run rally to grab a 4-2 lead, with Bryant driving in Toshi Kuwahara, David Jeremy scoring Hansen and Kris McGrane knocking in Bryant.
The Allstars got one run back in the bottom of the third inning. But the Diggers answered with two more runs to lead 6-3, with Nate Dailey's sacrifice fly scoring Spalding and Bryant's third hit of the game scoring Kuwahara.
The Allstars countered with two runs on a two-out "seeing eye" hit and Bellingen took a narrow 6-5 lead into the final inning. The Diggers missed a golden chance to add to their lead, leaving two runners stranded without scoring, and Coffs took advantage, pushing two runs across for a "walk off" 7-6 win.
It was a determined Bellingen side that looked to turn the tables in the A grade semi-final that followed.
Coffs scored first, with one run in the bottom of the first inning, but the Diggers came right back in their next turn at bat. Spalding was thrown out at home trying to score from second on a single by Terry Booth, but Kuwahara followed with a walk and Hunter Bake-Smith drove home Booth to tie the score.
The Allstars regained the lead in the bottom of the third, 3-1, on a two-out, two-run bloop hit, but the Diggers responded again in their next turn at bat. Spalding and Booth led off with walks and scored on Bake-Smith's infield grounder and Nik Doves' second hit of the game.
The Allstars regained the lead, 4-3, with another two-out run-scoring hit. Spalding's sensational running catch in center field prevented Coffs from adding to their lead and gave Bellingen one more shot at the Allstars.
Things looked bleak after the first two Diggers batters were retired, but Booth and pinch-hitter David Edgecock each coaxed walks after long eight-pitch battles to put two runners aboard. Unfortunately there was no run-scoring hit as the Diggers fell short again by a single run, bringing their season to an end.
Despite the losses, it was a positive end to a season that saw the fledgling Bellingen club make great strides in roster depth and competitiveness. The hunt for players for the 2018 season now begins in earnest, with front-line pitching the number one target.