Royal's hurler Moun Chantorn (right) throws a pitch to a Braves batter during Cambodian National League Game 16 Friday at Baribo ballpark. JICA
AFTER a miserable week that saw them trailing their opponents by six games in the Cambodian National Baseball Teams series, the Braves finally found their feet last Thursday and began to stage a comeback. Game 15 saw the Braves seize the initiative after some impressive play from both sides, to run out 8-5 winners and make it 10-5 in the series.
With the teams dressed in their SEA Games uniforms (the Braves in home-colour white, the Royals in away grey), Friday's Game 16 was opened by a ceremonial first pitch from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) volunteer official Mada Hideki. JICA has shown keen interest in helping develop the sport in the Kingdom and has sent a request to its headquarters in Tokyo to send a Japanese volunteer coach in the future.
In the game, the Braves took to the field first. Braves pitcher Chea Thera gave up a run to the Royals in the first innings, but his team answered back in the bottom of the first to tie the game. The Braves then edged ahead with a run in the bottom of the third, and both teams displayed good defensive work through the next few innings.
In the sixth, the Royals blasted off two runs to reclaim the lead, but once again the Braves leveled with a run in the bottom of the inning.
Both Braves' Chea Theara and Royals' Moun Chanthorn threw solidly to prevent runs in the next three innings, to set up an exciting bottom of the ninth. With one out, Braves Eng Rith stepped up to bat, and hit a left-field fly ball that was mishandled at second base to allow him to reach third.
Choiy Sovann stepped to the plate for the Braves and hit a hard ball at the Royals' shortstop. The throw to first-baseman Sokoeurn was off-target, and the tag was missed, allowing Choiy Sovann to make base and Eng Rith to score the winning run. Final score, Royals 3 Braves 4.
Saturday's Game 17 welcomed another JICA representative, Toshinori Hamaguchi, who witnessed a quick two-and-a-half hour match that the Braves won 5-1.
The Royals still commanded the series 10-7, but the Braves had improved dramatically since a woeful previous week.
Sunday's Game 18 was hampered by rain, with CBAF President Joe Cook remarking that "this time of year, we need a dome to play". By 2pm, the rain had slowed enough to begin action, and the Braves took a two run lead into the fourth. The Royals snapped back with a few doubles, and scored four runs in a flash. With Royals hurler Teng Sakan closing out the game, the Braves went down 4-2 to push the Royals advantage in the series back to four games. "Whenever JICA is not there, the Royals win," commented Cook.
The teams took a practice day Monday, with the Federation hoping to hold a further 12 or 13 games before their September 23 deadline to attend the South & West Asia Baseball Cup in Dubai. However, Cook has revealed that the regional tournament is still up in arms, with original hosts Pakistan hoping to push back the dates to October 26-31 and move the event back to Lahore. With security concerns, the CBAF President has yet to decide on participation, and awaits confirmation from the Pakistan Federation of safety arrangements for his team.
Cook is hoping that the competition goes ahead at the earlier date, to save on running costs of the national team. "Food and accommodation are what cost me so much," he said by email. "I also have to pay salary to players as well. Without that, how can [the players] support their family while they serve their country? We're ranking 51th in the world, and 12th in Asia. This is serving their country."