With the Grand Final played and won, the long dark no football months of summer lie in wait for us. In an effort to bring some light to this miserable time, The Pinch Hitters intend to take a look back at the season that was and celebrate the great moments of season 2018. Today we shine a spotlight on St Kilda, who despite enduring a season to forget still produced moments to savour. Lets count down the Top Five.
5. Rising Stars.
Ben Long’s efforts in helping the Saints claim a draw against the Giants in Round Five, saw him earn a Rising Star nomination and end the club’s almost two year nomination drought. After struggling to make an impact in his first season in 2017, Long established himself early this season with his pressure and silky skills exciting fans whenever he was in vicinity of the ball. His three month absence, as a result of a fracture in his foot, was keenly felt by the team and his return was a most welcomed one in Round 21.
The wait for the next nomination was nowhere near as long with Hunter Clark rewarded for his strong performance in the Saints theft of four points from the Gold Coast in Round 13. In the nerve-wracking final term, Clark stood tall on a number of occasions across the half back line to help the team over the line in their thrilling two point victory. The Number Seven pick in the 2017 Draft had an impressive first season in red, black and white and Saints fans will be excited to see him add to his 15 AFL games.
In a season to forget, the sight of a couple of young guns showing a glimpse of what lies in store was at least something for the success starved Saints fans to savour in 2018.
4. Lewis Pierce announces himself
With Saints Ruck Coach Adam Skrobalak his coach at VFL level, Pierce has clearly blossomed under the special arrangement that saw him play for Frankston rather than Sandringham. Displaying the benefits garnered from spending all year as the Dolphins number one ruck, Pierce was a standout against the Bombers in Round 21. Having waited two years for his second chance at the top level, he earned himself the opportunity to finish the season as the number one ruckman.
It was a just reward for the 23-year-old who didn’t just idly wait for his opportunity but knocked down the proverbial door with an outstanding season for Frankston at VFL level in 2018. Averaging 41 hitouts a game and among the Dolphins best in all but four games he was a runaway winner of their best and fairest and, in the wake of the trade of Tom Hickey to West Coast, will have visions of retaining first ruck status for the Saints in 2019.
3. Freezer comes in from the cold.
Round 20 match against the Western Bulldogs ended disappointingly with the Saints conceding 9 of the last 11 goals of the game to lose by 35 points. It was a bitter pill to swallow after it opened with one of the feel good stories of the year.
Over 1700 days after he was drafted, Nathan Freeman was finally able to make his AFL debut. Although a fitting reward for his years of perseverance, his selection came only after seven weeks of good form in the VFL, this was anything but a token game for the 23-year-old. Playing on the wing, it wasn’t surprising that he took a little time to adjust to the pace of AFL footy but by games end he had collected 19-touches in a solid first game.
In his second game the following week against Essendon, he still struggled a little but showed a greater desire to run with the ball rather than exclusively get and give like he had on debut. His first goal in the second quarter, one of the highlights of the night, with 23 year old swamped by each of his team mates as they all attempted to savour the special moment.
Unfortunately this is where the fairytale would come to an end with Freeman finishing the year at Sandringham and delisted at season end. Despite the unsavoury end to the story, the back to back weeks in which we were able to see the 2013 Number 10 pick finally live out his dream will live long in the memory banks.
2. Gresham sinks the Suns.
Thrill rides and theme parks are a staple for visitors to the Gold Coast, but it was a roller coaster of a completely different variety that St Kilda and its fans experienced on Saturday night at Metricon Stadium. Put through the emotional wringer, they would have felt expectation, anger and despair as their team stuttered and spluttered their way to a 31-point three-quarter time defecit.
Yet, while many gleefully prepared Coach Alan Richardson’s obituary, a thrilling last quarter charge and a late wonder goal to Jade Gresham saw anger and despair replaced with anxiousness then elation as the final siren brought an end to the Saints 12 week wait for their second win.
That the last quarter fight back could take place must have seemed like pure fantasy at the last change when betting agencies were offering 15-1 on it taking place. It was a night for disbelief however, with the fact the Saints trailing by as much as 39-points despite dominating every single statistical measure equally difficult to comprehend.
With just over a minute on the clock play was again restarted in St Kilda’s attacking zone. As the mass of players hustled and jostled for position, Jade Gresham was able to find some space on his opponent, and after Billy Longer’s heavy hitout, he also had the ball at his feet. With three steps away from goal he was able to settle and send the Sherrin accurately through the increasingly shrinking target.
Then just like that, one of the club’s longest run of outs since the 1950’s was at an end. Given the long and painful wait for the second win of the season, the emotional scenes at the final siren were no surprise.
1. Beating Melbourne
With just four wins to show for their efforts in 2018, it wasn’t exactly a highlight packed season for the Saints. Which made their Round 15 victory over Preliminary Finalist Melbourne one of the biggest surprises of the season.
After their come from the clouds victory against the Suns a week earlier, the Saints backed up with a top shelf performance against a quality opponent. On the back of strong efforts from the likes of Jack Billings, Jake Carlisle, Jack Steele and four goals from Jade Gresham the Saints gave an all too brief glimpse of what was possible from this group in a long season for both the club and its supporters.
Playing on at all costs, they built a deserved 22-point lead by the last change before a late Melbourne flurry made the final moments a little too close for comfort. Standing tall in the face of the Demons surge, the Saints held on for a two-point victory to complete a deserved upset victory.