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IBL FINALS: London Majors one win away from another Championship

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The London Majors haven’t won back-to-back playoff titles in 74 years. Now they are just one win away from back-to-back happiness.

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Point guard Jakob Newton and former statesman Cleveland Brownlee each led a pair in a seven-run outburst in the sixth inning to beat Toronto 8-3 in Game 5 of the Intercounty Baseball League Championship Series on Tuesday evening in Labatt Park.

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The Majors lead the final 3-2 and have a chance to wrap up another champagne celebration on Thursday at Christie Pits.

“We made a little ball,” said manager Roop Chanderdat. “We just need to put balls in play. I think we averaged five strikeouts (per game) in the regular season and we’re up about 12 here. It’s a big difference. It’s a series so you have to work on their staff. They will be taxed when they return on Thursday.

“They did it to us, so we have to start doing it to them. We had a lot better batting.

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London Majors' Fernando Fernandez throws in the first inning of Game 5 of the Intercounty Baseball League Final at Labatt Park.Picture taken Tuesday September 20, 2022. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press
London Majors’ Fernando Fernandez throws in the first inning of Game 5 of the Intercounty Baseball League Final at Labatt Park.Picture taken Tuesday September 20, 2022. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press

After a game and a half of offensive frustration at the plate, London was offered its first two points on wild pitches. The second – by unusually ineffective Toronto stopper Franklin Hernandez – cost the Maple Leafs the lead and was the tinder for London’s six-hit, 12-hitter marathon.

The first three Majors were achieved in singles, including Austin Wilkie’s perfect bunt on the third base line to load the bases. After Joseph tied it on the wild field and a walk from Keith Kandel, Newton’s bouncing ball to right field took two to give him 19 RBIs so far in the playoffs.

Brownlee, who did not play in Game 4 due to injury, doubled to the right field fence for the exclamation mark. The 38-year-old designated hitter limped for pinch runner Phil Whelan as Hernandez was fired after just six batters faced.

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“It’s tough,” he said. “It puts a weight on the body. The season has been long. These boys have been with me from the start, you have to deal with them.

Looking for a boost, Chanderdat mixed up his batting order and fed the ball to southpaw Fernando Fernandez against Game 2 loser Pedro De Los Santos. The 27-year-old from Mercier, Que., had just two starts this summer but held Toronto to just one run and three hits in more than five innings. He walked four goals but struck out five – the most significant being a hard hitting puff from Marcus Knecht with the bases loaded in the fifth.

He squealed in satisfaction and looked directly at the Maple Leafs dugout, then soaked in the cheers of the crowd.

“They tweet, and it’s baseball, it’s part of the game,” he said. “Bases loaded, it’s a pitcher’s dream. I was lucky to pull through and emotions raced at 100 miles an hour.

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It will be a memorable outing if the Majors win the series.

“It’s a hell of a outing,” Chanderdat said. “I texted him (Monday night) and I knew he would give us between three and six (innings). With each round, it just kept building.

Toronto starter Sam Greene went three innings and allowed no hits. But he walked four times and relievers Dylan Jacober and Hernandez also struggled to find the strike zone consistently.

Toronto is on the verge of elimination, but there are still reasons for optimism. The home team won each of the first five games of the series.

They forced a decisive Game 5 in a COVID-shortened final last year and will try to bring it back to a Game 7 in London on Friday.

In any event, this is a far more dramatic march into history for the Majors than their previous consecutive title bid. They swept the Waterloo Tigers in four games in 1948.

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Majors 8, Maple Leafs 3

(London leads the best-of-seven final 3-2)

Match 6: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. at Christie Pits

Game 7 (if necessary): Friday, 7:35 p.m. at Labatt Park

  1. Cleveland Brownlee of the London Majors kicks a two-run brace off the center field wall to cap a six-run second inning in Game 1 of their IBL Championship Series with the Toronto Maple Leafs at Labatt Park in London on Tuesday, September 13 2022. Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

    All linked: London majors need bats, injured star is back for key game 5

  2. London Majors left fielder Byron Reichstein crashes into the wall as he tries to catch a fly ball hit by Toronto Male Leafs' Jordan Castaldo in the first inning at Labatt Park in London on Friday, September 16, 2022. London won 6-3 to win Game 3 of the best-of-seven Intercounty Baseball League Finals.  Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

    IBL final: Burning rookie propels London Majors to Game 3 victory

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