Dramatic thriller as Argentina fight for unlikely victory over hosts

Audio with New Zealand coach Mark Sorenson.

In a day of high drama, New Zealand had victory snatched from their grasp by defending champions Argentina in an extraordinary late game at the Tradestaff WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup in Auckland.

Earlier the Czech Republic scored their first win of the championship, and their first ever over five-time champion USA, after wins scored by Australia, Canada, Cuba and Japan a at Rosebank Park in Albany.

Argentina started with a home run off the first pitch by Alan Peker in the late game against the hosts, who fought back superbly with three home runs, led by a homer off the first swing from captain Cole Evan. This was followed by a home run from Thomas Enoka which also enabled his brother Ben to score.

A remarkable catch above the home run fence by Reilly Makea kept the Argentinians at bay while the New Zealand team scored two more for a 5-1 advantage going into the seventh inning.

In a near-repeat of their 2019 encounter, Argentina never counted themselves out, scoring four runs in a frenetic seventh inning to tie up the game, and send into sudden death, starting with a runner on second.

Argentina was bold, walking the New Zealand hitters to fill the bases, and picking off the New Zealanders in forced play, including a pivotal call to exit Ben Enoka as he scurried back to second.

The world champions then showed their class to move runners around the bases, converting six further runs in the ninth inning to claim the victory that seemed so unlikely.

“Those three outs in the last inning are hard to get. We had chances with loaded bases and they made a nice call to load the bases and the double play knocked the life out of us. We will need to look at the pick-off at second, because we got a hit after that which would have won us the game,” said New Zealand coach Mark Sorenson.

“Success is built on a lot of little moments and the game was won and lost on little moments. We showed a lot of fight but we will need to regroup and push on tomorrow.”

Argentina coach Julio Gamarci was excited at his side’s victory from the jaws of defeat.

“This is the magic of this game. There are no time limits. This why I am in love this game since I was a kid. You have the chance to turn it around. It was for any team and both teams played really well.

“They fought. They are fighter and you know what, it was a great game to watch. This type of game shows you the level of show that we can put on worldwide.”

With three teams to qualify for the Super Round, after three rounds in Group A Argentina has tree wins from USA and Cuba with two while New Zealand and the Czech Republic have one win.

In Group B, Canada and Australia are unbeaten from Japan with two wins.

Earlier the five-time champions USA were well beaten 6-3 by hitherto winless Czech Republic, who better the Americans for the first time

Leading 1-0, booming homers over centre field put the Czechs 2-0 ahead before some sloppy fielding from the Americans saw Czech Republic extend the lead.

The Czech Republic remained in the game with some stunning fielding and even a third pitching change by the Americans failed to stunt their momentum.

They pushed the advantage to an unthinkable six runs until the Americans grabbed three late runs before they ran out of real estate.,

“We have had back-to-back days of firsts – a first win in 20 years over New Zealand and now our opponents beat us for the first time,” said US coach Ron Hackett. “That tells you a lot about what this tournament is – there is a lot of parity within the teams and a lot of great teams who have earned their way here.

“If you don’t come to the ballpark every day and do the things that you need to do, you are going to get caught. I do not think we had a poor performance – all credit to the Czechs.”

The Czech head coach Jaroslav Korcak had preached a different gospel after their 7-0 loss to Cuba.

“We stressed to them that this is a tournament where there is no time to feel sorry for ourselves and we needed to gather ourselves and put our hearts into today’s game. That is what we did. I am very proud of our team and how they managed to bounce back.”

In other games today Canada beat off South Africa 11-0, Cuba had to fight hard to edge the Philippines 3-1; Australia marched on impressively 6-0 over Venezuela; Japan had to work hard to overcome a much-improved Denmark 3-0.

Tuesday’s fourth round in Group A pits Cuba against USA, the Czech Republic against Argentina and a must-win encounter for New Zealand against Philippines.

In Group B, Canada face Australia in a high profile contest; South Africa face Denmark and Japan meet Venezuela.

The final round is on Wednesday before the top six team move to the Super Round, with the Grand Final set for this Sunday.

Caption: A key moment when Ben Enoka was picked off at second for New Zealand against Argentina. (Credit: WBSC)

Audio: Attached audio with New Zealand coach Mark Sorenson.