London ball

Rarin’ to repeat: Can London majors win back-to-back titles?

A repeat would be a satisfying feat.

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A repeat would be a satisfying feat.

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The London Majors made big changes out of necessity after ending their 46-year drought for the Intercounty League Baseball title last year. Now they meet in the same place – in the final against the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the first game scheduled for Tuesday at 7:35 p.m. at Labatt Park.

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“They’re all skeptics,” said London co-owner and manager Roop Chanderdat. “We won last year and had a lot of roster (turnover). Normal teams go through it, people always say you rebuild or re-equip. We have found a way to be successful and as a CEO and manager it is rewarding.

“When you replace so many guys there is always a doubt from the outside.”

Wide receiver Hayden Jaco, the 2021 IBL Rookie of the Year, did not return for a recall. Enter Robert Mullen, who won the batting championship. Dominating third baseman Carlos Arteaga left the hot corner on a high and Taylor Wright has played at all-star level in his time here, hitting in 13 playoff points so far.

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“We lost Taylor (for a while) to the Frontier League, otherwise he would be arguably the best third baseman in the league,” Chanderdat said. “It was his first professional ball experience and he will return to it.”

The Majors didn’t start the season with 2021 playoff MVP Byron Reichstein, but he eventually brought back his dangerous bat and powerful outside arm. Chris McQueen gave up a job on the pitch for personal reasons, but the 28-year-old joined the roster in a supporting role.

“Chris comes off the bench and gives us the defense, whether it’s third or second, and runs,” Chanderdat said. “It’s a good addition. It gives us someone on the bench with veteran experience. He’s a basic guy.

Leading player Jakob Newton, 24, a Florida Tech graduate of Oakville, had 21 hits in seven playoff games for a scorching .600 playoff average.

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“He has a lot of elements,” Chanderdat said. “He brings a lot of speed, he’s smart and has pop in his bat. He picked up that second base job and ran with it. He was a huge spark and I don’t know where we would be without him.

The Maple Leafs still have a terrific batting lineup with plenty of household names. In a throwback to former London owner Arden Eddie, Toronto manager Damon Topolie, 46, has 10 hits and a .370 average as a playoff designated hitter.

His father, Peter – a longtime sports organizer from North Bay – died last week during the Welland Series. The Maple Leafs think of him, as well as their great and late owner Jack Dominico, who passed away in January.

“Peter is a sports icon and our condolences to their family,” Chanderdat said. “Everybody’s got someone they want to win for. They’re a really good team. They’ve got a dominant roster (Marcus Knecht is batting .588 with 15 RBIs in the playoffs) and their overall throwing is among the best in the league.

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Last year, the final series played the full five games in an abbreviated format due to pandemic restrictions. Now it’s a best-of-seven and London has the elite weapons to survive a longer set.

  1. Cleveland Brownlee of the London Majors makes contact during their game against the Brantford Red Sox at Labatt Park in London on Sunday August 28, 2022. Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

    London Majors secure ticket to second straight league final

  2. Slugger Cleveland Brownlee holds the Dominico Cup aloft as the London Majors celebrate their first Intercounty Baseball League title since 1975 after an 8-4 victory in Game 5 on Friday night against Toronto at Labatt Park.  (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

    ‘WE DID IT’: Amazin’ Majors Win Long-Awaited Baseball Championship

Jose Arias and Owen Boon are the top aces in the rotation, Braeden Ferrington and southpaw Fernando Fernandez are out of the bullpen, and ex-Leaf Pedro De Los Santos is back to last year’s form.

“He went to the bullpen and did very well,” Chanderdat said. “He found his locations there. Some of the stuff with Pedro this year wasn’t all about him – it was us. Every time he seemed to come in and have a little problem and get a double down ball, we would mess him up. For a moment I thought we were going to have to kill a chicken or something while it was pitching (to clear a curse). He was unlucky.

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London secured home-court advantage with a first-place finish in the regular season that kicked off with a key win at Toronto. This forced a playoff game with Guelph, which the Majors won and were able to avoid meeting the Leafs in the second round after Hamilton upset the Royals.

“People always downplay the regular season, but it has its perks,” Chanderdat said. “You can play an extra game at Labatt Park. Last year, I was overwhelmed. The London fans were great and packed the park (for game 5). We know that once you enter that time of year, real baseball people know it’s playoff time.

“We have worked all year and we are counting on their support again.”

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IBL FINALS

The best-of-seven rematch between London and Toronto

Game 1: Tuesday. 7:35 p.m. at Labatt Park.

Game 2: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. at Christie Pits

Game 3: Friday, 7:35 p.m. in London

Game 4: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. in Toronto

*Game 5: Tuesday, September 20, 7:35 p.m. in London

*Game 6: Thursday, September 22, 7:30 p.m. in Toronto

*Game 7: Friday, September 23, 7:35 p.m. in London.

* – if necessary

Check out our sports section for the latest news and analysis. Fancy a bet? Visit our sports betting section for news and odds.

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