by Sam Finn
THE Australian Senior League championship in Lismore starting on Sunday offers the ultimate prize for young baseballers - an all- expenses-paid trip to the United States to compete in the Senior League World Series.
The tournament for 13- to 17-year-olds at the Albert Park baseball fields will involve nine represenatative teams from across Australia.
It will run until next Friday.
This is the first year the Australian Senior League has gained automatic entry to the World Series, with 2016 champions Southern Mariners (Victoria) needing to win an Asia-Pacific play-off to seal their place.
The Mariners had taken out the inaugural Australian tournament last year with a win over Hills (New South Wales) in the final.
They then went on to win the Asia-Pacific title before claiming the silver medal at the Senior League World Series.
Despite losing some quality players, the Mariners will challenge again this year.
Ben Fierenzi was the Under-16 national carnival most valuable player last year and is the hub of the Mariners' infield.
Teammate Dante Caruso won the hitting award at the national carnival, finishing with an astonishing .684 batting average as well as 12 RBIs from his 19 at-bats.
Five teams will make their debut this year, including Ryde, the NSW Senior League state champions.
Anchored by a complete-game shut-out from Luke Livian, Ryde defeated Hills in a high quality NSW state championship game.
Ryde's coaching staff is bolstered by Brad Thomas, a former Major League Baseball representative with Olympic and World Baseball Classic experience.
One of the few Australians to have played professionally in US Major Leagues, Korea, Japan and China, Thomas adds significant knowledge and experience to the Ryde roster.
The action at Albert Park will begin on Sunday morning, with the gold medal game to be played next Friday starting at 3pm.
Thirteen games including the bronze medal and gold medal games will be screened through Baseball Live, the new Baseball Australia app.
Live scoring for all 34 games will also be available through Baseball Live.