The Canberra Cavalry held on to take out game one of the Australian Baseball League Championship Series, beating reigning champions Perth Heat 6-4 in a dramatic finish at Narrabundah Ballpark on Friday night.
Leading 6-2 in the eighth inning after 7.2 innings of sterling work from their ace Brian Grening, the Cavalry survived two late Perth rallies to go 1-0 ahead in the three-game series in front of 2013 fans.
Canberra closer Sean Toler prevented any further damage by closing down a bases-loaded two-out jam in the bottom of the eighth.
He gave up back-to-back homers to Tim Kennelly and Luke Hughes at the top of the ninth to reduce the home side's lead to two, but composed himself to claim the final three outs and put the Cavalry one win away from claiming its first Claxton Shield.
Despite the nervy finish, Grening had no doubt his closer would keep his win safe and praised the Canberra crowd for playing its part.
"When you get it on, the place erupts, it makes you feel like you’re on top of them,’’ he said.
"It’s way more detrimental to the other team when the whole place is right on top of you, so awesome crowd, the best I’ve ever seen in Australia, best fans in the ABL.’’
The Cavalry got off to the perfect start with Grening going three-up, three-down in the first inning before a single by Cavs catcher Jack Murphy sent ABL triple crown winner Adam Buschini in to open the scoring.
From there the Cavalry bats started to swing, leaving Perth starter Anthony Claggett almost helpless.
Canberra veteran Michael Wells and Aaron Sloan both got on base in the bottom of the second, allowing Cavalry manager Michael Wells to play ''small ball'' - Anthony Callaway producing a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third.
Then up stepped Kody Hightower.
The Fort favourite drove a ground ball straight out to Heat centre-field Corey Adamson, who completely missed the ball and Hightower produced an inside-the-park, three-run homer for the hosts to lead 4-0.
Two solo shots into the yard by home-town hero Sloan and then Ryan Stovall in the bottom of the fourth had the Cavs out to a 6-0 advantage.
As Grening tired in the eighth, a two-run triple from Perth's Brenden Webb ended his night and set the scene for a nerve-wracking finish.
Toler was forced to step up one inning early as Cavs reliever Dustin Loggins walked the ensuing two bats to load the bases and put the visitors within one swing of tying the ball game.
Game two is at 7pm on Saturday night at Narrabundah Ballpark.