NSW Country has won baseball’s under-18 national championship for the first time in the 29-year history of the tournament.
The team, the only country-based squad in the national titles, rallied from 1-0 down in the sixth to beat Victoria Blue 4-1 in the final last month.
NSW Country had won nine of their 10 games and beaten the Victorians twice before the championship game but trailed 1-0 after the first inning.
Victoria Blue starting pitcher Matthew Beattie dominated on the mound and Country did not record a hit for five innings.
But Boomerangs shortstop Jake Bramble’s left-field double sparked his teammates.
Toronto’s Nick Anderson-Vine followed suit with a single, and Jacob Amos finished the rally with a two-run hit to centre field to give Country the lead.
The bats stayed hot in the seventh inning to increase the lead to 4-1.
“This same group won the under 16s two years ago, but as far as the 18s go, this the first time we’ve won the national title,” coach Todd Nichols, a former Hunter Eagles player, said. “Our pitching and defence were our strengths. We had the best earned run average [1.69] of any team in the tournament and the best defence.”
“It’s not like we had dominating pitching, per se. Our pitchers were very good – I don’t want to take anything away from our pitchers – but our defence was tremendous. We pretty much made most of the routine plays. I think in the 11 games we might have had only 20 RBIs.”
Nichols credited Bramble, who had the second most runs scored in the tournament with 11, with leading the side’s defence.
“I think he started 10 of the 11 games at short and was our lead-off batter and got it started for us in the gold medal game, hitting a double. Jake was a very integral part of the squad.”
Newcastle club players in the squad were Bramble, Brock Ridgewell (Boomerangs), Dylan Smider, Dylan Wright, Thomas Holland, Anthony Moanaroa-Taylor, Nick Hickson, Nick Anderson-Vine (Toronto) and Jake Amos (Belmont).
Belmont’s John Hall-Walsh was selected but had to withdraw before the tournament.
Bramble, 17, from Lambton High School, plays for Ryde Hawks in Sydney and will be part of Boomerangs’ top-grade squad this year.
He was selected after the national titles for the seven-week Australian Major League Academy over the winter, where US college and club scouts run an eye over the country’s best young players.
“There’s heaps of scouts. That's pretty much what it is,” Bramble said.
“I’d love to sign a professional contract. I’ve got a letter to say I’m on the Major League database from the Atlanta Braves.”