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ACT aims at NZ

Date

David Polkinghorne

ACT players celebrate after winning the John Reid Shield. Click for more photos

Nothing soft about the ACT

The ACT won a record 12th John Reid Shield softball national title with a 7-2 trouncing of NSW at Hawker International Softball Centre on Saturday, December 8. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

THEY'VE conquered Australia, now ACT softball coach Darrin Hebditch wants to test his national champions against the second-best team in the world - New Zealand.

The ACT won a record 12th John Reid Shield with a 7-2 trouncing of NSW in front of a big, vocal crowd at Hawker International Softball Centre on Saturday.

It makes the territory the most successful team at state level, surpassing the 11 titles Western Australia has won.

The ACT has won the last three national championships and seven of the last eight - and has gone undefeated in its last two campaigns. Hebditch has been involved in Canberra softball for years and rates this team as the best of them all.

He was expecting seven ACT players to be in the Australian squad when it is named later in December.

Australia beat the Kiwis in the world championship final in 2009 and Hebditch was keen to see how his ACT side would fair against one of the benchmarks of world softball.

''This group of players, they're special,'' Hebditch said.

''The culture that they've built and they believe in, and they instil in the young guys … it's very easy to coach these guys … a special team, and I would love the opportunity to play our ACT side against the No.2 ranked team in the world, New Zealand, because I think we'd go quite well.''

There was, however, a melancholy note to the ACT's win.

Not long after the champagne had been popped third-base Jeff Goolagong told his teammates it was his last game.

The 31-year-old will play for Australia at next year's world championships, if picked, and then hang up his glove. Goolagong played in Australia's 2009 triumph and has been part of ''six or seven'' of the 12 John Reid victories. He tried to retire after the world champs, but was drawn back to the game by his ACT mates.

But he's confident his time on the diamond was done.

''I've got other things to focus on, I've got a new family now, a nine-week-old baby, so I'm just looking forward to growing older with her,'' Goolagong said.

He was one of eight names Hebditch said were in contention to make the Australian squad for next year's world in New Zealand.

Hebditch rated Adam Folkard, Andrew Kirkpatrick, Goolagong, Zenon Winters and Michael Tanner as five of the best players on the planet.

Tim Crome, Nick Norton and Evan Byrne were also in the mix to get the call-up.

The ACT came into the final undefeated and it did not take it long to exert its dominance.

A sacrifice fly by Tanner brought pinch runner David McCaskie home to make it 3-0 in the bottom of the second.

After NSW responded with a solo home run to James Todhunter, it looked like the mercy rule might be invoked.

ACT blew the lead out to 7-1 in the bottom of the fourth courtesy of some NSW fielding errors.

It was always going to be ACT's day when they scored two runs off a Tanner miscue.

The first base tried to leave a pitch, only for it to spoon off the end of his bat and land a couple of metres in front of the NSW catcher.

A wild throw allowed Tanner to get to third with Folkard and Crome scoring.

''Good players make luck and we were the team that was able to make more contact than anyone else,'' Hebditch said.

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