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London Majors crowned IBL champions for the first time in 46 years

The London Majors pose with the Jack and Lynne Dominico Cup after the team captured its first IBL title in 46 years. Andrew Graham / Global News

It’s a moment that was 46 years in the making.

In front of more than 3,000 fans on a Friday night in Labatt Park, the London Majors beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 8-4 in Game 5 of the Intercounty Baseball League finals to be crowned champions for the first time since 1975.

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The series was hard-fought, with the Majors and Maple Leafs trading narrow wins back and forth.

Game 4 saw London on the losing end of a 13-inning comeback win from Toronto and the Maple Leaf momentum appeared to carry over early into Game 5.

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By the bottom of the third, the Maple Leafs had a 3-0 lead until a single from Humberto Ruiz allowed fellow London outfielder Austin Wilkie to earn the Majors’ first run of the night.

Next up to bat was Byron Reichstein. On two strikes and two outs, the St. Thomas-born outfielder knocked it out of the park with a game-changing home run that gave London a 4-3 lead.

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The Majors seemed to have reached their stride as Owen Boon prevented the Maple Leafs from scoring again until relief pitcher Eduardo Perez took over on the mound in the seventh inning.

London picked up steam with scoring plays in the fourth and seventh, but Toronto finally answered back with an eighth inning run that tightened the Majors lead to 7-4.

It wasn’t long before infielder Keith Kandel scored the final run of the game, thanks to a single from Wilkie.

With a roaring stadium cheering him on, Perez sealed the deal as Toronto failed to capitalize on its final chance to turn things around.

Moments later, the game ended and London’s 46-year title drought came to an end.

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Reichstein was crowned playoff MVP following a night that he says brought “a lot of weight off the shoulders.”

“It felt amazing,” Reichstein said about his third inning home run that saw London put out the spark of Toronto’s early lead.

“We were behind, we were struggling, (Marek) Deska’s a great pitcher, and to find that one pitch that I could get a good barrel on and take it out the yard.”

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Reichstein credits his team’s refusal to quit for the successful season, something that manager Roop Chanderdat says gave him hope throughout the game despite Toronto’s early lead.

“That’s been our way the whole season. This team’s persevered through COVID, persevered through a lot of injuries and that just shows we stuck to the plan,” Chanderdat said.

“(I’m) happy as heck… this isn’t about me, this is about the whole city of London. We’ve worked hard to get here and win a championship, I’m so happy for everyone.”

St. Thomas-born outfielder Byron Reichstein poses with a new piece of hardware after he was crowned playoff MVP at the end of Friday’s final. Andrew Graham / Global News

The win brought a “feeling like no other” for fan favourite Cleveland Brownlee.

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Brownlee, who has spent more than a decade with the Majors and holds the team’s all-time home run record, wanted to play another season so that his son Cleveland Jr. could watch, but says winning a title in front of him is the cherry on top.

“It was spectacular to have him out here … he’ll be up all night, partying and celebrating with us,” Brownlee said.

“I wish my partner could’ve been here tonight, but she was gone, she had to work tonight, but you know what, I did it for her, I did it for (Cleveland Jr.), I did it for everybody in London and everybody who supported us.”

Cleveland Brownlee Jr. gets his hands on the Jack and Lynne Dominico Cup after his father helped the London Majors capture the IBL championships. Andrew Graham / Global News

It was also a great night for Barry Boughner, who was part of the last Majors team to win an IBL championship in 1975.

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Boughner said the crowd at Labatt Park was well-suited for the ending of a great series, adding that “I felt like I was in a major league park.”

“For the last two or three innings they were all standing up, and I don’t like to stand up, so I had to stand up so I could see the rest of the game, and it was fantastic,” Boughner said.

Boughner, who serves as the chairperson for the Majors’ alumni, added that he can hardly wait to hang up the latest champion team photo with the collection inside the Roy McKay Clubhouse at Labatt Park.

“On behalf of the London Majors alumni and all of the players that are still alive from the 1975 team, congratulations, it’s a great victory.”

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