New Zealand Black Sox win thriller over Australia Steelers

Written by Bob on March 8th, 2013

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New Zealand Black Sox Brad Rona belted two home runs and scored the game-winning run over Australia in the bottom of the 10th inning.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – It took 10 innings, a bench-clearing skirmish, and the tiebreaker rule to help decide things. But closely contested fastball games between Australia and New Zealand are the norm when the two powerhouses meet in the ISF World Championship.

This time around, New Zealand came out on top in a wild affair, by scoring the winning run in the bottom of the 10th to pull out a 5-4 victory in the first round of playoffs on Friday before a packed Kiwi crowd at Rosedale Park. Both teams combined for 19 hits – 10 by Australia, nine for New Zealand, and three home runs.

DOUBLE LIFE
The win means the Black Sox (6-1 pool play, 1-0 playoffs) retain their two playoff lives and now face a showdown with Venezuela on Saturday, with the winner progressing directly to Sunday’s final.

Venezuela defeated Canada 3-1 for the right to meet New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Australia (7-0, 0-1) must defeat Japan in a sudden-death match for any hopes of defending their 2009 World Championship. The Japanese beat Samoa 4-2 earlier on Friday.

The Australians struck early with home runs by Jeff Goolagong (2 for 5, 2 RBI, 2 runs) in the second and fourth innings.

RONA’S BLAST
But New Zealand fought back in the bottom of the fourth, with a Brad Rona two-run homer off Aussie right-hander Adam Folkard, with Tyson Byrne aboard to level the score at 4-4.

The Black Sox took the lead in the bottom of the fifth, when left-side hitting Nathan Nukunuku (2-5, RBI) slapped a first-pitch drop ball off Folkard up the middle, scoring Rhys Casley (1-1), from second base. Casley reached safely by pulling an inside drop ball into right field, and sliding safely into second for a double.

MANLEY SOLID IN RELIEF
The Black Sox held the lead going into the seventh on the strong relief pitching of Jeremy Manley (3 innings, 1 run, 4 hits and 5 strikeouts), who took over from starter, Heinie Shannon, in the fourth.

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The benches emptied in the seventh inning as the game got a little heated on both sides. But nothing bad happened as the umpires immediately took control and sent both sides back to their dugouts.

But Manley found trouble at the start of the seventh. He gave up back-to-back singles to Mark Harris and Michael Tanner. And that brought Black Sox pitching coach Chubb Tangora out of the dugout and marching to the circle, where he summoned right-hander Nik Hayes to replace Manley.

Aussie Joel Southam welcomed Hayes by ripping a single up the middle, scoring Harris to tie the game at 3-3. But then came a crucial blunder by the Steelers.

POTENTIAL RUN LOST
James Todhunter squared to lay down a suicide squeeze, but missed Hayes’ hard inside drop ball. And that left Tanner caught between third and home, and he was easily tagged out. Hayes reached back and struck out Todhunter and got Zenon Winters on a fly ball to end the Aussie threat.

But from then on Hayes pitched well, picking up the win with four innings of solid relief pitching by relying on a hard drop ball and good rise ball.

FOLKARD AND HAYES, NONE BETTER
Over the eighth and ninth innings, both Folkard and Hayes were at their best. In the eighth, Hayes stranded runners at second and third with three strikeouts. And Folkard showed his toughness in the bottom half of the eighth after New Zealand loaded the bases on an error and intentional walk.

Up stepped Donny Hale. And Folkard sets him down with a blistering rise ball that jumped a foot over Hale’s letters. Next: Ben Enoka. And Folkard gets him with the drop ball. Third and last Black Sox chance is Wayne Laulu. Again Folkard’s rise ball does the job by getting Laulu to pop up to second baseman Nick Shailes.

And in the ninth, both pitchers wiggled out of disaster yet again. Hayes by stranding a runner at third with one out, and Folkard struck out Patrick Shannon and Tyron Bartorillo to leave the potential winning run stranded at third.

BINT DELIVERS, BUT NOT ENOUGH
That sent the game into the deciding 10th. The Steelers took 4-3 lead on Cameron Bint’s fly ball to centerfielder Ben Enoka that was deep enough for Southam to score. But that would be all as Hayes got Jeff Goolagong on an infield pop up to end the inning.

The run looked like it might be enough for the Aussies. But the Black Sox got a clutch two-out double from Brad Rona that sent Tyron Bartorillo (tie-breaker runner) racing home with the tying run.

The Aussies chose to intentionally walk Donny Hale, and Ben Enoka made them pay by slapping single to centerfield, scoring Rona from third.

HARD CHARGING RONA
Rona came charging into the plate, colliding with catcher Andrew Havercroft, who fielded a strong and accurate throw from centerfielder James Todhunter, but the ball bounced out of Havercroft’s glove, allowing Rona the slide home to victory.

AUSTRALIA PITCHING:

Adam Folkard, 9 2/3 innings, 9 hits, 3 earned runs, 16 strikeouts, 1 home run, 2.17 ERA.

NEW ZEALAND PITCHING:

Heinie Shannon, 3 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned runs, 4 strikeouts. Jeremy Manley, 3 innings, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 5 strikeouts. Nik Hayes, 4 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 5 srikeouts.

AUSTRALIA HITTING: Tanner 3-5, Southam 3-5, RBI, run; Todhunter 1-4, Goolagong 2-5, 2 RBI, 2 runs, 2 home runs; Harris 1-4, run.
NEW ZEALAND HITTING: Nukunuku 2-5, RBI, Byrne 1-5, run; Rona 2-4, 3RBI, 2 runs, 2 home runs; Hale 1-4, Enoka 1-5, Barorillo 1-3, run.

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