This weekend will feature a baseball championship as the Canberra Cavalry and Perth Heat face off in a repeat of the Championship Series of the Australian Baseball League. With both teams gunning for the Claxton Shield, the league’s championship trophy, they arrived at the Championship Series in two different ways.
The Perth Heat was the best team in the ABL regular season with a 32-14 record, led by 28-year-old outfielder Brandon Tripp on the offense. Tripp was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2006 and played affiliated baseball until 2012 when he was with the Phillies. Playing for the independent American Association team in St. Paul, Tripp hit 19 home runs before coming to Australia and slamming another 10 in 46 ABL games with a .333 batting average and 1.001 OPS. George Barber was another hard hitting import while the local-born Kennelly brothers, Tim and Matt, both had very good seasons for the Heat.
On the pitching side, the Heat had a dominant trio of Jack Frawley, Anthony Claggett and Mike Ekstrom, all three are imports. Ekstrom, a 30-year-old veteran of 61 major league innings over five seasons, was particularly dominant, throwing 50 1/3 innings with a 0.72 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP.
On the other side of the diamond will be the defending ABL Champions and Asia Series Champions, Canberra Cavalry. The Cavalry had a somewhat disappointing regular seasons, finishing 22-24 and sneaking into the playoffs with a win in the final game of the season thanks to a head-to-head tie breaker that they held over the Melbourne Aces.
Despite how they reached the playoffs, the Cavalry knocked off the second-place Sydney Blue Sox by winning games two and three of the three-game series. Led by catcher Jack Murphy, the ABL Fan Choice Award winner, and second baseman Jon Berti, the team’s MVP, the club has a knack for pulling out wins when they need them.
Murphy and Berti are two of the the three Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguers remaining with the team (Shane Opitz returned to North America after a shoulder injury ended his season) and have been fan favorites all season long. For Murphy, the relationship with the fans goes back to the 2012/13 season in which he played in Australia for the first time. Rocking long hair and a moustache, Murphy plays hard every game and led the Cavalry to the ABL Championships last season. He also was the tournament MVP for the 2013 Asia Series, hitting home runs in the semi-final and final games to help the Aussies win their first Asia Series ever.
Berti led the league in stolen bases (after leading the Florida State League in the same category in 2013) with 31 and also placed second on the team in batting average (.309) while the third Blue Jays farmhand, Mike Crouse, led the club with eight home runs. 2009 Philadelphia Phillies draftee Jeremy Barnes, who hit 16 home runs in independent baseball in 2013, led the club with a .326 batting average and 26-year-old shortstop Casey Frawley led the team with a .953 OPS (that included 27 extra-base hits).
While the pitching wasn’t as dominant for the Cavalry as for the heat, starters Brian Grening, Ethan Cole and Jeff Lyman got the job done with former ML first round draft pick Clint Everts adding some veteran presence in the bullpen.
The games begin Friday night Australian time which translates to late Thursday night/early Friday morning for those of you in North America. You can follow along online on the ABL website.