Defending champions Argentina and four-time champions Canada emerged unbeaten after the first games in the Super Round at the Tradestaff WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup in Auckland.
Meanwhile the Golden Homes Black Sox lead the Placement Round along with Japan, after accounting for South Africa 7-0 at Rosedale Park.
Today was the first of three games in the Super Round for the top six teams, and the Placement Round for the remaining six teams, with each playing the three teams from the other side of the draw.
In the Super Round, Canada outlasted rivals USA 4-3, Australia shutout Cuba 3-0 and Argentina prevailed over their close rivals Venezuela 6-3.
In the Placement Round, the Black Sox found some batting form to outlast South Africa 7-0 in five innings in the late game, after Japan beat Philippines 8-3 and Czech Republic beat Denmark 7-2.
There was a fascinating match-up between the five-time champions USA and four-time winners Canada in the first Super Round game, with the Canadians unbeaten in Group B while USA took a 3-1 win-loss record from the Opening Round into the game.
American Cameron Schiller blew the form book open with a bomb over centre field in the second to score Matt Palazzo and Jonathan Lynch to give USA a 3-0 lead.
Canada fought their way back with Brad Ezekiel and Quinten Bruce scoring in the bottom of the fourth before Shane Boland hit his first home run of the tournament to tie the game.
Bryan Abrey then collected the key RBI to deep right centre to score Bruce and give Canada the lead in the bottom of the sixth, which they held.
The tight game was not without controversy with Canadian coach and a player ejected for a technical breach, and some differences of opinion between the two sides requiring intervention to part them.
Unbeaten Canada improved their record to 3-0 in the Super Round while USA is now 1-2.
“Perseverance was the key for us. We were not sharp at the beginning, we did not have good at-bats and we made a couple of errors in the field. The guys just persevered and stayed with the process and I am real happy with it,” said coach John Stuart.
It was a big win for us. I don’t think it was our best performance but it was our biggest win so far. I think our best performance is still to come. It was a huge win for sure.”
American coach Ron Hackett was disappointed his troops could not finish things off.
“It was everything that I thought it would be. It sucks that we were not able to finish it.
“Our intention was to come out early and establish ourselves which is what we managed to do. We did expect them to come back – although not that much. It made for a great game. The players did all we could ask of them to get on base and set up opportunities, but we could not get that hit. That’s softball. And that’s life.”
Meanwhile, Australia made a copybook start against the tricky Cubans with a run by Scott Patterson on an illegal pitch, and two innings later, the outstanding Nick Shailes smashing a homer to deep centre field.
Star pitcher Adam Folkhard kept a clean sheet for four innings before Jack Besgrove followed on to shut down any hope of a revival from Cuba. Hayden Mathews cemented the result for the Australians with a homer in the sixth for the 3-0 victory
“It was an excellent effort. We got that run early and we fed off that. Adam (Folkard) gave us a great start on the hill and gave us four solid innings, and then Jack (Besgrove) came in and finished if off. Great to see another combined no-hitter” said coach Laing Harrow.
“We know our position coming in to the Super Round. We know we cannot falter. All we can do is control ourselves – and put wins on the board. We can’t control what other teams do.”
In the Placement Round, the Black Sox struck some good batting form, with a steady flow with runs to Dante Muatet, Cole Evans, Ben Enoka, Jerome Raemaki, Pita Rona, Bradley Bennett and Bradley Bennett to finish after five innings.
Pitcher Josh Pettett gave up just one hit and had 10 strike outs.
“It was a tough 24 hours for us with lots of time to reflect. We just wanted to come out and put on a good performance,” said Watts, having just his second start for the Golden Homes Black Sox at pitcher.
“We are happy with that. The hitters turned up. We got some key hits. We took the balls and hit the strikes. That’s all you can do. And JP got out the job done on the mound.
“This was a good first step to regaining some confidence. Tomorrow will be a good test against Japan, the other team who missed on the top bracket. It will be as good test tomorrow night.”
Games in the Super Round on Friday include a top of the table clash between Argentina and Canada as well as USA vs Australia and Venezuela vs Cuba, while in the Placement Round New Zealand take on Japan at 7.30pm, South Africa vs Czech Republic and Philippines vs Denmark.
Results: Super Round: Canada 4 USA 3, Australia 3 Cuba 0, Argentina 6 Venezuela 3.
Points: Argentina 3 wins, 0 losses; Canada 3 wins 0 losses; Australia 2 wins, 1 loss; USA 1 win, 2 losses; Cuba 3 losses, Venezuela 3 losses.
Placement Round: Czech Republic 7 Denmark 2, Japan 8 Philippines 3, New Zealand 7 South Africa 0
Points: Japan 3 wins 0 losses; New Zealand 3 wins 0 losses; Czech Republic 2 wins 1 loss, South Africa 1 win 2 losses; Denmark 3 losses; Philippines 3 losses.