IN-FORM Dapto Chiefs and Kiama Braves will be looking to win their first Illawarra Baseball premiership in more than a decade heading into this afternoon’s opening game of the best-of-three series at Fred Finch Park.
The title-decider will be the first time since Dapto’s 2001 title that either Wests Cardinals or Berkeley Eagles have not won the first grade crown.
Kiama claimed their sole premiership in 1999 in their only grand final appearance. Their signing of Jamie Simon from the Cardinals this season was the most influential move in 2012.
Six-time premiership winner Simon has been the competition’s best pitcher for well over a decade and how Chiefs handle him in game one this afternoon will be crucial.
‘‘I think if we can get past Jamie – and we’ve had our troubles with him ... but if can win game one, then I think we can take the grand final in two games,’’ Dapto coach Dom D’Antonio said.
‘‘Jamie’s such a huge part of their success, if we can knock him out in game one, it’ll be very tough for them in game two.
‘‘ I expect Jamie to come on in relief sometime in game two, but we think with the way our defence played last week and Tyson [Graham] and Mitch Thompson as a two-pronged pitching attack we are in good shape.’’
Chiefs ace Tyson Graham gave up just five hits and one walk in last Saturday’s preliminary final against Cardinals, as well as retiring the lead-off batter in eight of the nine innings.
Meanwhile, Simon is hoping to win his seventh first grade title, after winning four in the past six years with the Cardinals, plus back-to-back titles with Pirates in 1996-97.
In a remarkable career, the now-40-year-old started in first grade with Wollongong Wolves, then had a stint with Cardinals and Pirates, before a decade with Dapto Panthers and several years back with Cards, before joining the Braves.
‘‘The club hasn’t been in contention for years and this year we’ve really bonded together and are a chance to win it all,’’ the player-coach said.
Simon will pitch game one and the Chiefs expect to see him in tomorrow’s game two, although the Braves coach doesn’t want to make his tactics public.
‘‘It will depend on game one,’’ he said.
‘‘I know what I’ll do but let’s keep Chiefs guessing.’’
In today’s lower grade grand finals, Berkeley Eagles take on Chiefs for the second grade premiership.
In third grade, Pirates face Eagles for the title.
Tomorrow’s Minor League grand finals will be the curtain-raisers to game two of the first grade (1.30pm).