Australia, seventh at the last world championship, bagged two runs in sudden death extra inning to earn a place against four-time winners Canada to decide the men’s softball world champions tag for 2022.
The two teams won through to Sunday’s final of the Tradestaff WBSC Softball World Cup at Rosedale Park in Auckland after hard-fought victories on the penultimate day.
Canada outlasted Cuba 2-0 while Australia produced a stunning victory in the 10th inning in a colossal battle against Argentina.
The 2019 champions Argentina will face USA for the third place playoff, after the Americans withstood the challenge from Venezuela 5-1.
Canada just missed out on the grand final in the last two World Cups, but secured their spot with a nervous 2-0 win over the troublesome Cuba.
Shane Boland worked his magic to score first for Canada in the first, and his fly-ball scored Jason Hill in the fourth. From that point the world no. 3 ranked team struggled put the game to bed. Pitcher Sean Cleary was in line for a no-hitter before giving up two hits in the seventh inning, but with the tying run on base, he was able to shut out the Cuban comeback.
“My heart was pounding at the end. Anything can happen,” said coach John Stuart. “That was definitely not our best game. But good teams find a way to win, and that is what we did.
“We came here with three goals in mind. We wanted to quality for the Super Round; we want to medal and the final goal is to win the Gold Medal. We are almost there and we just have to finish it off hopefully.”
Australia had a challenging task in their clash against Argentina, needing to win by two runs to qualify ahead of the defending champions on runs against, after finishing on the same points.
For the seven regulation innings that looked to be a task too far, although Argentina did have to defend twice with Australian runners on base.
In the 10thinning, with one runner starting on second, they managed to load the based, and with a hit through the infield they bagged the two runs needed, with veteran superstar Nick Shailes leading the way.
A key was the late use of burly young pitcher Jack Besgrove, who was a massive factor in shutting down Argentina in their last at-bat.
“That was one of the great all-time ball games. It was nil-all, both teams slugging it out and going at it,” said Australian coach Laing Harrow.
“It was a battle for our hitters after we came off a big win yesterday with lots of hits. We knew it was not going to be the same.
“We needed two runs – there was stuff we could have done but we had to be patient – we got that key hit and then battled to get on base. And young Jack Besgrove was just fantastic coming in.
“They are the world champs and well coached and we had to be great to get by them to win it – and now we prepare for Canada.”
USA have the chance to win their first medal in two decades when they meet Argentina for the bronze playoff.
The Americans, who last won a medal with a bronze in South Africa in 2000, fought through with a 5-1 victory over Venezuela.
Nic Mullins scored for USA in the top of the first and a Cameron Schiller double scored Jonathan Lynch to be 2-0 after two innings. They extended their lead to 4-0 when Jordan Sherman and Blaine Milheim scored, and added a fifth but did not help themselves by leaving 13 runners on-base.
“We have a chance to win the bronze medal,” said coach Ron Hackett. “We are going to treat it as if it was a gold or silver match. It will be a tough game but we are ready for it.
“This was not our best performance today. We are not going to be allowed to do that tomorrow and expect to get away that we are going to walk out of here with a bronze medal.”
New Zealand wrapped up a difficult campaign as hosts with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Denmark.
They scored the first run in the bottom of the first, with a sacrifice fly by Cole Evans but Denmark tied the game with an RBI single by Valdemar Terkelsen, and the game remained deadlock until the last inning.
Bradley Bennett drew a leadoff walk, and then went from first to third on a Rhys Evans single before a bad throw from the outfield allowed Bennett to score on the same play, to finish the match.
“Sometimes you just have to win ugly and today was one of those,” said New Zealand coach Mark Sorenson.
“Last night was a tough game against Japan – one of our better offensive games but still came up short. We have been so used to getting momentum and carrying it through. So not getting success has been unchartered waters for us to pick ourselves up each day.
“The standard of men’s softball is fantastic … we have allowed other countries to catch up and overtake.”
In other games Philippines beat South Africa 4-0, and Japan outlasted Czech Republic 5-4 in the 10th inning.