The ACT men's softball team start its national title defence at Hawker International Softball Centre on Tuesday, with the tournament doubling as the last chance to impress Australian selectors ahead of the world championships in March.
The ACT has won the national title, known as the John Reid Shield, 11 times in its 25-year history, including six of the past seven years, but has never won it at home - falling to Western Australia when last hosting in 2010. In a bid to change that statistic, the team - which boasts the two best pitchers in the world in Adam Folkard and Andrew Kirkpatrick, as well as handful of other previous Australian representatives - is re-creating an ''away'' tournament.
''In the past, whenever we've played at home, all the players have stayed at home, so we've had discussions … and all the players have decided we'll go into camp this time and see if we can change the outcome for us,'' coach Darrin Hebditch said. ''On paper we're the team to beat, it's just a question of whether we can put everything together during the week and on the day.''
Having matched Western Australia's 11 titles last year, the team is now looking to take the lead as the most successful state by winning a 12th title this year. The territory has dominated men's softball for much of the past decade, reaping the benefits of a junior development program implemented in 1998.
''Within two years, we won the Australian under-16 nationals … the following year, we won the under-19s with a group of 16-year-old kids … then we won the next three [under-19s] as well,'' Hebditch said.
Hebditch thinks the ACT may also be able to match the feat of 2009 when seven ACT players were selected in the Australian team.
JOHN REID SHIELD
Hawker International Softball Centre, Tuesday-Saturday. On day one, the ACT plays South Australia (11am), Western Australia (2.30pm) and Queensland (8pm).