BREAKING a club’s 69-year premiership drought is pretty hard to top.
But following it up the next year with a perfect season might just go close.
That’s what Toronto will be aiming to do when they take on Belmont in the Newcastle first-grade baseball grand final at Plattsburg Park on Saturday.
The Tigers crushed the Seagulls 25-11 in last year’s decider and have been unconquered in 15 regular-season games and one play-off in 2018.
“We made a bit of a point last year [after] winning our first title, the guys wanted to prove it wasn’t just a fluke or a one-off,” Toronto centre fielder Michael Campbell said.
“We’ve kind of proved that a bit with our undefeated streak this year so it’s just one more game to make sure it finishes as another fairytale.”
Toronto’s maiden success ended Belmont’s run of nine straight titles and Campbell said the motivation now was to create their own Newcastle baseball dynasty.
“That first title is always going to be special but the key for the group now is to keep building on that,” the 32-year-old said.
“There’s no point winning one title and just going back into the wilderness. We’re setting out to really make a statement.
“They’ve made 28 grand finals in a row in first grade. That’s nothing to be sneezed at that’s a pretty good record.
“They’re definitely the team that everyone wants to hunt down and beat. I guarantee in a few years time if we stay successful people will want to do that to us.”
Campbell has been one of the driving forces behind the Tigers charge with a league-leading batting average of .582.
The 32-year-old is gearing up for his third season with the Sydney Blue Sox in the Australian Baseball League, starting in November.
But for now his focus is on Belmont and the fighting qualities they possess.
“The thing about Belmont is they’re kind of like Queensland in the State of Origin they can beat you in the last pitch of the game,” he said.
“They’ve always had that in them … that never give up attitude.”
Those traits have been on show again this season with Belmont battling with White Sox for the number two mantle all season after losing a number of experienced players.
“It’s been an up and down kind of season,” Seagulls first baseman Greg Allen said.
“But a lot of that was to be expected with a lot of new faces in first grade.
“They really gave it to us last year and we’re definitely the underdogs. All the pressure’s on them and we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Among the newcomers has been Allen’s 16-year-old son Brett, who has pitched in two matches, including last week’s 14-11 preliminary final win over White Sox.
The youngster will play short stop in Saturday’s second grade decider against Toronto and could be called onto the mound in the big game later in the afternoon.
The chance to play alongside his son is what is driving 44-year-old Allen to continue to play.
“That really was the goal when I came back. I just wanted to play one season with my son,” he said.
“He’s got a taste of it this year and I think he’s ready to step up next year. Then I can retire and just play golf because I’m getting too old for this.”
Allen is preparing for his fourth decider with the blue and golds since returning to the game after a 17-year absence.
Allen represented Australia at the under-19 world championships in 1991 and played college ball at La Mar University and East Texas Baptist University.
He met his wife Stacey at East Texas Baptist and after college settled into life in the United States.
“We loved it there and I thought we were going to be there forever,” Allen said.
“But we decided to move to Australia in 2012 to start a church.”
The Allens chose Newcastle to establish the LIFT Church, which has just recently taken over the old Belmont Sporties Club as the place of worship.
Allen started coaching his son in the Belmont juniors and pretty soon he was coaxed into pulling on the boots again.
“He keeps telling me he doesn’t want to play first grade this year but we keep picking him,” Belmont coach Duane Harrison said.
“He’s one of those blokes that you know that is going to go hard for you all the time.”
Belmont left fielder Mitch Ellison will miss the decider as he is touring the US with the Australian Schoolboys team.
His obvious replacement Ilan Laws has a broken hand so Harrison will decide on the final member of his line-up after the second grade decider.
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