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Black Sox name training squad for men's softball World Cup in Auckland

Black Sox coach Mark Sorenson insists the door is still open for players omitted from his 20-man squad to prepare for the men's softball World Cup in Auckland in November.

The training squad was announced on Tuesday, but does not include four Australia-based players, two-time world champion pitcher Nik Hayes, 2017 gold medallist catcher Zane van Lieshout, Ryschan Thompson and Dante Matakatea.
Sorenson said the Australian quartet could not be considered for the training squad because they would not be here for the winter strength and conditioning programmes, but they could still be in contention for the World Cup.

"We're going to have a build-up tour in October and a Black Sox trial a week before the National Fastpitch Championship, so if those four guys want to make a run at it they need to come over for those two events,'' Sorenson said

The Black Sox selectors have also omitted players who did not meet fitness test standards at recent regional trials. That cluster included 2019 Black Sox squad members Jerome Raemaki and Reilly Makea.

Sorenson said they would still be part of an extended group of players invited to train with the 20-man group.

"We've given them a pathway back, and it's up to them to take it. They both received it positively.’’
The winter training squad was named from those who participated in the regional trials. Auckland Tuatara baseball catcher Beau Te Wera Bishop was not named after withdrawing from the Wellington trial for personal reasons. However, he could still be in the selection mix if he meets key criteria.

Four specialist pitchers - 2019 tournament aces Daniel Chapman and Josh Pettett, Canterbury's Ben Watts and Auckland's Liam Twigden - have been named, but Sorenson said Pita Rona and Thomas Enoka "will be considered as pitching options, although we've picked them really as position players.''

With World Cup squads reduced from 17 to 16, the selectors are "mulling whether we take two pitchers or three,'' he said. "With 16 spots, the mix becomes quite critical. We will certainly consider utility options.''

The squad is light on catchers, with only the uncapped Jayden Stratford (Wellington) and Cam Watts (Canterbury) named. Van Lieshout - a catcher at the last three world championships - Bishop and Hutt Valley's Cory Timu could potentially make late runs.
North Harbour pitcher Eru Drage was forced out due to injuries and two upcoming operations.
Three-time gold medallist infielder Tyron Bartorillo hasn't been included as part of Sorenson's policy to maximise exposure for younger players. But Bartorillo, 37, can still put his hand up if he maintains form and peak fitness.

Sorenson said none of the New Zealand Major Sox under-23 squad had been named due to "logistical conflicts'' with their World Cup in Argentina in October. Players such as Seth Gibson, Max Earley and Taine Slaughter, who were in the original training squad, will play for the Under-23s, but Hutt Valley infielder Tane Mumu, who was eligible for the Major Sox, is remaining with the Black Sox squad.

Ten of the training squad are from Auckland, including brothers Ben, Thomas and Campbell Enoka - all gold medallists in 2017. Canterbury pitcher Ben Watts and his catcher brother Cam, who learned their softball in Otago, also feature.

The Black Sox had hoped to play in Australia in May but Softball Australia cancelled the Queensland tournament. Sorenson expects "over half'' of his training squad to play in the United States during the winter. "But they'll get in a solid block of three months' strength and conditioning before they go north.''
The senior men's World Cup will be held at Auckland's Rosedale Park from November 26 to December 4.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Sox have not played since the 2019 world championships in Prague, where the seven-time world champions finished fourth – outside the medals for the first time since 1980.

AT A GLANCE

BLACK SOX TRAINING SQUAD

Pita Rona (North Harbour), Alfons Oveinikovas, Ben Enoka, Bradley Bennett, Campbell Enoka, Cole Evans, Connor Peden, Daniel Chapman, Liam Twigden, Rhys Evans, Thomas Enoka (Auckland), Joel Evans, Tane Mumu (Hutt Valley), Jayden Stratford, Josh Pettett, Zac Boyd (Wellington), Ben Watts, Callum Bishop, Jackson Watt, Cam Watts (Canterbury).

NZ UNDER-23 MAJOR SOX
Coaches Steve Deans and Fergus McAlpine have named a 16-man squad for the WBSC Under-23 men's World Cup in Parana, Argentina (October 22-30),
Te Kirika Cooper-Nicola (North Harbour), Seth Gibson, Taine Slaughter, Max Earley, Brock Attewell, Oscar Clark, Huw Davies, Brock Evans, Kaleb Rona, Xavier Herrick, Floyd Nola (Auckland), Adam Woon (Hawke's Bay), Damon Creasy, Tobias Makisi (Wellington), Josh Lubiejewski, Caleb Stewart (Canterbury).