Australian Baseball League champions Canberra Cavalry completed their historic run on Wednesday, notching the country's first Asia Series title with a resounding 14-4 victory in the championship game against the Uni-President Lions, champions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
The two previous ABL teams to earn tournament berths failed to win a single game in the Asia Series, an international competition that has featured some of Asia's best teams since 2005. Yet two days after dismissing the Korean Baseball Organization champion Samsung Lions in the semifinals, the Cavalry used a late rally to knock off the Uni-President Lions.
Catcher Jack Murphy, the hero from Monday's extra-innings semifinal victory, came through again in Wednesday's title game, driving in seven runs. He started the scoring with a two-run single in the first inning before later connecting on a grand slam during a six-run eighth inning to put the game out of reach.
Though Murphy staked the Cavalry to an early two-run lead, the Lions rallied to take a 4-2 advantage in the third. The Cavalry cut the lead to 4-3 in the fourth, and that's the way it would stay until the Cavalry's offense erupted in the seventh inning.
The ABL champs tagged the Lions for five runs in the seventh to take an 8-4 lead before tacking on six insurance runs one inning later, turning the game into a rout. It was a fitting ending for a team that far exceeded expectations coming into the tournament in which previous ABL champs had experienced zero success.
The Perth Heat, the only other Australian team to earn an Asia Series berth, went a combined 0-5 in 2011 and '12. The Cavalry's 3-1 run in this year's Asia Series, however, may have finally earned the ABL some respect on the Asia circuit.
"We have always played the underdog," Cavalry third baseman Jeremy Barnes said in an email earlier this week from Taichung, Taiwan, "and the history of the team has been that we are underdogs. And to come to this tournament with no one giving us a shot -- this is special coming here after how we won [the ABL] last year. It is rare to be a part of something like this."
For the Cavalry, it was also rare to even play in such a high-stakes game. Despite winning the ABL championship, most of the Cavalry's players had never played on a stage even resembling that of the Asia Series.
"A lot of our guys had never played in a stadium that holds 20,000 people," Cavalry general manager Thom Carter said earlier this week. "And we were concerned they would be a little overwhelmed, say, 'Oh man, this is big.' But they were relaxed like they had been there before. That was the moment I thought these guys could do something special. It was the way they handled themselves. They acted like they belonged there."