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JONATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 13:00 15/01/2014

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Saxton Ballpark is about to play host to the under-19 national softball championships, with six teams vying for the title.

Teams were due to arrive and train today, ahead of the action starting on the diamond tomorrow.

Nelson will be represented by the Mainland team but Wellington are the hot favourites after winning back-to-back titles in the past two years.

Hawke's Bay will also field a very strong team, while Auckland, Canterbury and Hutt Valley are also capable of making Sunday's final.

"The girls get pretty competitive at this level, and they are all vying for places in the New Zealand team for the next world series," said Mainland coach and Nelson Softball head Derryn French.

The Mainland team covers all the South Island districts outside Canterbury. The team is made up of players from Southland, Central Otago and Nelson-Marlborough, with some girls from Canterbury pitching in.

"We are probably a little bit of an unknown, because it is the first time we have come together as a Mainland group at this level," French said.

"The team is very young - the majority of these girls have come from the under-17 tournament last week.

"We'll have a presence but the unknown is to what level that presence will be. We are probably going in as the underdog, but we will hang around and be a pain for a few teams, I am sure."

French said it was a shame that there were not more teams competing in the tournament, because for girls at that age group, the international game of softball could provide "huge opportunities".

"Unfortunately, there is quite a large drop-off for softball from under-17 to under-19 grade, which has 10 and 11 teams.

"It is tough being in a minority sport [in New Zealand], even though there is huge opportunities for these girls to go to school in the United States on scholarships. There are a lot of Kiwis over there playing softball, because it is a major sport in the colleges over there."

The tournament will be one of the main chances for girls to push for selection in the New Zealand under-19 world series team for the ISF Junior Women's World Championship, to be held in the Netherlands in August.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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