The Upper South Island side was on the rough end of a tough draw, but still placed a credible fifth of 12 teams on the final day of the national under-19 tournament in Hamilton on Sunday.
The USI side won seven of nine games, including a win against the defending champions and beaten finalist North Harbour, while one of their two losses was in a tie-breaker against newly crowned champions Auckland.
Two round-robin losses, the second against an Auckland development side, cost USI a shot at the title. Auckland and North Harbour entered post-section play as the two top teams, while USI went on to finish post-section play unbeaten.
On Saturday, the Upper South Island, beat their southern counterparts, Lower South Island, 4-3, then accounted for home side Waikato 4-0 at Resthills Park.
In the final game of the evening, USI got one back on the Auckland development side, coming out on the right side of a tie-breaking eighth inning. A massive 14-13 run was one of the tournament's most entertaining games, and the highest scoring by some margin.
That victory put USI into a play-off for fifth and sixth against the Lower South side. With their confidence high, and a touch of indignation at being outside the top four, the USI led from the outset for a 5-1 win.
USI led from the first inning, scoring once while first at bat, twice in the second and again in the third. The southern side were restricted well by tournament team pitcher Kurt Schollum, only squeezing a run at the bottom of the sixth.
USI coach Darren Aldridge said the draw was not ideal as it was based on last year's seedings, and there was room for softball New Zealand to look at a new format.
"It was a tough draw for us with both finalists in our section, we had one of the better records there and still finished outside the top four, but that's they way it goes sometimes," Aldridge said.
"The eight innings tie-breaker against Auckland went right down to the wire and the winner went through.
"The team turned up and were able to compete at that very high level. From my point of view I couldn't have asked for anything more in terms of the effort involved, and those games against the finalist [Auckland and North Harbour] do standout.
"In the playoff [for fifth] we dominated the game and coasted through. The reality is the boys knew they were up there with one of the best sides, but they were dealt their cards and that's the way it goes."
Aldridge said his Top of the South side came together well as a team, though three individuals were marked for their efforts.
A Black Sox North American tour member in 2012, Schollum was named as a pitcher in the tournament team, but also stood out with the bat. In the 2-0 win over North Harbour on Thursday he had only one hit against him in the sixth innings after pitching three games in the day.
"Kurt probably pitched to 70 more batters than any other pitchers at the tournament, his workload was right up there."
Luke Bowers, a shortstop and left-hand hitter also made the tournament rest team, while Brad Peck was also given a decent wrap by the coach. Jack Rennie produced some match-winning plays at third base outfield, taking a diving catch on the outfield fence to save a game and producing a crunch hit against Auckland to score.
"Jack played his way into the tournament; he started on the bench but played his way into the team with his fielding and batting. For me that was one of the highlights, players coming through."
Aldridge said he was happy with the maturity of the team, keeping focused. He said most of the team would be available for this age group next year.
- The Nelson Mail