The US team chalked up the biggest upset so far with a 7-0 win over hosts New Zealand on a wet and wild second day of the Tradestaff WBSC Softball World Cup in Auckland.
It was the first time that the US has beaten the Golden Homes Black Sox since the last of their five world championship titles in 1988 in Canada.
Today’s victory was set up by two two-run homers in the third inning at Rosedale Park in Albany, and cemented with rock-like defence as any Black Sox comeback was snuffed out.
Whether it was the challenging conditions, which forced a two-hour rain delay in the afternoon, the day two results were more one-sided.
After two days there are only four unbeaten teams - USA and Argentina in Group A - from New Zealand and Czech Republic with a win each, while Canada and Australia have two wins in Group B with Japan and Venezuela one each.
Cuba accounted for Czech Republic 7-0, Canada blitzed Denmark 10-0, Venezuela fired 12-1 over South Africa and Argentina 6-0 winners against Philippines.
Australia remain unbeaten only after a highly dramatic late-night clash, coming from 5-2 down before edging Japan 6-5 in the eighth inning, after two rain stops and on-field drama. The game finished at 11.30pm.
Most local interest focussed on the New Zealand clash against USA, which took a marked turn in the third inning when USA built on a one run lead, getting a runner on base via a walk and then converting with massive home runs to Blaine Milheim and Erick Ochoa.
While the Black Sox fought back – they finished with six hits to 10 by their opponents - the US were able to block all advances with some quality glovework.
Milheim was fired up with the team’s performance and its significance.
“That game was absolutely huge. We came in here to make a statement that we belong here and that was a big one, especially with them being at home and have all their fans here,” said Milheim.
“We have a good balance of veterans and new guys who came together. We are a good team – and chemistry-wise a very good team. The key was playing together, picking eachother up and bringing energy.
“The home-run hit felt great, really great. It was tough conditions to fly the ball but I caught it pretty good.”
New Zealand coach Mark Sorenson said his team could not get into the game, but again made a slow start.
“We are still giving up lead-off walks and I think three lead-off walks scored. That’s not helping putting pressure on our defence like that. It is hard to win a game if you can’t score runs. It is not often we get six hits and don’t score one run.
“The US played some pretty solid defence. It is about regrouping now. It’s a long week, a game a day.”
After pulling a come-from-behind win out of the bag against Cuba on Saturday, defending champions Argentina found the going early on equally tough against the Philippines - scoreless after three innings.
A superb hit over the centrefield by Alan Peker drew the applause as Argentina scored three in the bottom of the fourth to open a 3-0 lead, and went on to double that advantage.
South Africa opened the scoring against Venezuela who struck back immediately, going on to dominate with 12 runs, bouncing back after losing 3-2 to Canada on day one.
“We have a strong team allround, but one of the strongest things about our team is our batting. We have a new team and we hope that our batting will be a big part for us at this tournament,” said Head Coach Luis Russo.
A triple from Osvaldo Perez led to the 1-0 lead to Cuba and while they were expecting a tough and close encounter against the Czech Republic, they moved to a different gear to run away with the 7-0 victory after their narrow loss on day one.
Their team has encountered travel challenges with some players only arriving today.
“We are a team that is very experienced. We have had many years playing together. We all came from several years playing the game and we all know each other well,” said Head Coach Leonardo Cardenas.
“The win is very good. I do not dwell on yesterday’s close game. It would have been very useful if we had won but we fight on. Today was very good though.”
Canada led 4-0 against Denmark when rain forced a two-hour delay. However they did not hang around after the resumption. After closing the top of the fourth, a Quinten Bruce homer brought home Bradley Ezekiel and Derek Mayson before Bryan Abrey also put it over the fence. The runs kept coming with the game over early.
“With the two-hour delay we stayed focussed, we had some fun, it wasn’t all serious,” said Canada coach John Stuart.
“The key today was good at-bats and being patient. Their pitcher had a good curve ball so we had to be patient, and wait for our pitch to hit. And when we were on defence, the focus was on getting that leader – the first out in the inning.”
In tomorrow’s third round, USA meet the Czech Republic, Cuba play Philippines and New Zealand play the final 7.30pm game against Argentina in Group A. In B Canada play South Africa, Venezuela and Australia meet in an intriguing contest and Japan play Denmark.
Group play finishes on Wednesday with the top three teams from each group progressing.
Caption: New Zealand’s Cole Evans hits out, and American Blaine Milheim celebrates his home run. (Credit:WBSC).
Audio: Audio from New Zealand coach Mark Sorenson