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Aussie squad takes aim at first Asia Series title

Australian Baseball League represented in championship after years of struggles

Since the Australian Baseball League was permitted entrance to the Asia Series, an international competition that has pitted some of the best teams in Asia against each other since 2005, the lone team representing Australia hasn't fared well.

Two years, two tournaments and two quick exits had been the results for Perth Heat, the ABL team that earned Australia's lone tournament berth.

This year, it was the Canberra Calvary that won the ABL. And they may have finally earned the league some respect.

After the Heat went 0-5 in 2011 and '12, the Calvary went 2-0 in the first two games of the 2013 tournament to earn a spot in the semifinals.

The semifinals were Monday, and the Calvary was leading the Samsung Lions, 5-2, in the fifth inning. Then the Lions scored three in the bottom of the fifth and tied the game.

Five innings later, in the top of the 10th, the Calvary had a runner on first base when catcher Jack Murphy stepped up to the plate. Murphy had been in a slump, with just one hit in the tournament. He had grounded into seven double plays.

And Murphy hit a whopping home run to right field. The Calvary stunned the Lions, champions of the Korean Baseball Organization, with a 9-5 win after a double drove in two more in the 10th.

Murphy's big hit, combined with a 5-for-5 performance by third baseman Jeremy Barnes, led the Calvary into Wednesday's championship game against the Chinese Professional Baseball League (Taiwan) champions Uni-President Lions at 9 p.m. Sydney time.

"We have always played the underdog," Barnes said in an email from Taichung, Taiwan, "and the history of the team has been that we are underdogs. And to come to this tournament with no one giving us a shot -- this is special coming here after how we won [the ABL] last year. It is rare to be a part of something like this."

Barnes, like many players in the ABL, was told he wasn't good enough for a Major League team. Barnes was an 11th-round Draft pick by the Phillies in 2009 out of Notre Dame. He spent four years in the Minors, getting just 54 at-bats above the Class A level, before the Phillies released him in 2011.

Steve Schrenk, a coach in the Phillies' Minor League organization before taking over as the Calvary's coach during the team's first two seasons, recruited Barnes to the ABL.

"I fell in love with the city, the fans and the organization," Barnes said. "Tubby [Michael Collins, the manager] has a great system and I love playing in it. We wanted to come back, and when it was offered to us, we jumped on it."

While the Calvary succeeded greatly in Australia, the expectations when the team entered the Asia Series weren't so high.

"A lot of our guys had never played in a stadium that holds 20,000 people," said Calvary general manager Thom Carter. "And we were concerned they would be a little overwhelmed, say, 'Oh man, this is big.' But they were relaxed like they had been there before. That was the moment I thought these guys could do something special. It was the way they handled themselves. They acted like they belonged there."

What maybe is most impressive is that this club has beaten a couple of teams with payrolls that are much greater than the Cavalry's, said team chief executive officer Peter Wermuth.

"We came to this Asia Series to win a game," he said in an email. "To keep being invited, and to get the respect of the professional Asian leagues, this was critical after having been swept the previous two times. Everything since then, reaching the semifinal, and then winning it, has been a bonus."

Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato.