The Comeback Nation Slams Its Way To Gold In the Men’s Softball World Championship

Written by Bob on July 17th, 2017

JOEL EVANS, seen batting in an earlier game against Australia, smashed a grand slam home run as New Zealand beat Australia, 6-4, in the Gold Medal game of the 2017 Men’s Softball World Championship in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, Sunday, July 16, 2017. ANTHONY AU-YEUNG / PHOTOSPORT

WHITEHORSE, YUKON, Canada – Call the New Zealand fastpitch team what you will, the comeback nation or the never-say-die fastballers, as both monikers personify their amazing performance in the 2017 WBSC Men’s Softball World Championship.

Trailing 3-2 in the sixth inning of the Gold Medal game, Joel Evans blasted a grand slam home run to help New Zealand claim the world championship with a 6-4 victory over the Australia Steelers at the Pepsi Softball Centre, Sunday afternoon.

It was the second meeting of the ball clubs, as New Zealand took a 6-2 win in the opening round of championship playoffs among the top-eight teams.

BRIMMING WITH GOLD

For New Zealand, this becomes their seventh world championship. The Black Sox have won Gold in 2013, 2004, 2000, 1996, 1984 and 1976 (shared with USA and Canada after weather halted the tournament).

“I’m really proud of the way they performed and how hard they worked to get to this stage,” said New Zealand Head Coach Mark Sorenson in a post-game interview. “It’s about never giving up and building pressure. Once we started getting quality at bats, we started to build that pressure.”

Australia’s last and only world championship came in 2009 when the Steelers beat the Black Sox 5-0.

The Steelers took the early lead, going up 3-1 on James Todhunter’s RBI single, Andrew Kirkpatrick’s sacrifice fly and Ryan Sinclair’s run-scoring line drive to left field. But in the end, not nearly enough runs.

“We had the opportunity to score more runs, but we didn’t take advantage of them,” said Australia Head Coach Laing Harrow in a post game interview. “It’s pretty hard to hold the Kiwis down to a couple of runs. But I’m proud of the effort, proud of how we battled hard all week.”

To reach the championship, New Zealand had to stage perhaps the most incredible comeback in world championship history by overcoming a 9-2 deficit to Canada on Saturday night.

Trailing by seven runs in the fourth inning, Kallan Compain hit a grand slam that powered New Zealand to an 12-11 win that sent the Black Sox directly into the Gold Medal game.

FATEFUL SIXTH INNING

In the championship, Australia had Adam Folkard in the circle. He had already pitched five innings of relief in the Steelers 7-3 win over Canada in the Bronze Medal game.

To no one’s surprise, Australia came right back with him in the championship.

Folkard pitched well for five grueling innings, protecting a 3-2 lead. But in the sixth, New Zealand put the talented right-hander in a bases-loaded conundrum.

A PITCHER’S NIGHTMARE

With one out, Wayne Laulu and Josh Harbrow reached safely on base hits, sandwiched by Folkard hitting Compain to load the sacks.

But Folkard looked like he would pitch his way out of this stressful jam by striking out leadoff batter Campbell Enoka with an inside drop ball.

Just one more out to go.

Joel Evans stepped into the right-side batter’s box and he worked Folkard to a full count. And as he has done hundreds of times over his superb career, Folkard went right after Evans with his best pitch: an 80-plus, miles-per-hour rise ball.

This time, though, Folkard’s riser didn’t jump above a batter’s futile swing and send him walking dejectedly back to the dugout.

FENCE BUSTING SWING

Evans met the spinning, rising, yellow softball square on its nose, driving it deep over the left-field fence for a most dramatic slam and the come-from-behind victory.

“We knew Adam was struggling a bit, but he’s a wily character and we knew what we had to do,” said Black Sox Captain Nathan Nukunuku in a post game interview. “We put some pressure on and got some runners on. I was on deck and said to (Joel Evans), ‘just hit a single Joe, just hit it through the gate. Then boom!'”

Nick Shailes hit a solo homer to give Australia a glimmer of hope in the bottom of the seventh, but Nik Hayes got a ground out to end the game.

And fifteen minutes later, tournament dignitaries were hanging gold medals around the Black Sox necks as spirited New Zealand fans waved country and Black Sox flags, while cheering for their comeback heroes.

For Sorenson, who as a player helped New Zealand win four world championships, he credits his players for buying into the team concept.

“Everybody was in and the whole group contributed,” he said. “They all played their part and their roles. That type of selfless attitude is critical.”

2017 MEN’S SOFTBALL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL STANDINGS

1. New Zealand 9-1
2. Australia 8-4
3. Canada 8-2
4. Argentina 7-3
5. Japan 6-3
6. United States 6-3
7. Venezuela 6-2
8. Botswana 3-5
9. Czech Republic 7-5
10. Republic of South Africa 4-6
11. Dominican Republic 4-6
12. Denmark 4-6
13. Great Britain 2-7
14. Hong Kong 2-7
15. India 0-8
16. Turkey 0-8

Leave a Comment