Southern Pride take fifth place at champs
Knocking on the door of a top-four spot, the Southern Pride men's softball team claimed a fifth place finish on Sunday, rated their best result at the National Fastpitch Championship by player-coach, Nelson's Derryn French.
In some close results at North Harbour's Rosedale Park, the Southern Pride were able to secure bonus points and contest the fifth and sixth playoff. However, the tight margins cut both ways, as it was the games that slipped away which prevented the team from breaking into the top four.
The South Island team, made up of the regions outside of Canterbury, with a strong top-of-the-south presence, met Hawkes Bay in the playoff for fifth. Although having previously lost to the Bay side, Southern put on a strong batting display to reverse the earlier result and take a 7-4 win.
The batting line-up took the game to the Bay, getting on base well. Ex-Nelson College softballer Jack Fletcher was excellent with the bat and was backed up well by other young talents. Nelson's Daniel Mallabar and Luke Bowers made a couple of crucial plays in the game that changed momentum in the Southern side's favour.
"This would be our best result in the current format of this tournament for a number of years, if not ever," French said.
On Thursday Southern began the competition with two losses, 8-0 against eventual champions Canterbury and a 10-2 against a strong Wellington team.
Friday began in better fashion with a slim 1-0 win over hosts North Harbour. Young Otago player Ben Watts was given the ball for Southern, and along with some top-quality fielding they were able to shut Harbour down, while squeezing out a run through the middle innings.
The Hutt Valley team, with several Black Sox players, proved far too strong, doling out another 8-0 loss to Southern.
However, the first meeting with Hawkes Bay could have gone either way. It was a tight game, but going into the sixth inning Southern were forced to error and the Bay got two runs when they should not have got on base.
Southern came back to score a run in the seventh, and with a runner on third, with two down, there was an opportunity for victory, but a good catch restricted Southern to a bonus point.
Saturday and day three produced one of Southern's most eye-catching games, as they led defending champions Auckland 2-0. Scoring twice and finishing within two points earned Southern a bonus point, but in many ways the 4-2 loss to the beaten finalists could have gone their way, if not for a couple of home runs and an error that let Auckland back in.
The Southern Pride kicked on in the afternoon game, recording their biggest winning margin, a 6-1 win over Counties Manukau/Waikato. The pitching staff of Kurt Schollum and Watts cut the North Island team down, while the batters scored regularly.
French said one of the most pleasing aspects to come out of the tournament was the experience gained by many young guns in the team. Mallabar and Bowers got involved, learning throughout the tournament and were influencing games by the end.
The standout performers of the tour were Watts with the ball and Fletcher with the bat, French said. Fletcher just missed out on being the top hitter for the tournament.
For a team that was made up of several districts, with unique challenges, he was happy with the result.
"We are not one of the top four teams based on the personnel they have got, but to finish fifth is a pretty fair result. Now the reality is if we had have knocked over Hawkes Bay we would have had three wins and Canterbury progressed to the top four with three wins ... and then to lose to Auckland 4-2, well it's a pretty positive result."
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