Teenager into starting lineup for White Sox
Teenage Canterbury infielder Mikayla Werahiko has forced her way into the starting lineup at shortstop for the New Zealand White Sox's opening world championship game in Holland tomorrow.
The 18-year-old Junior White Sox captain has got the nod against Russia ahead of Canterbury Red Sox teammate and Aranui High schoolmate Cassie Siataga, the White Sox's starting shortstop last season.
New Zealand coach Naomi Shaw has also converted former infielders Katrina Nukunuku and Ellie Cooper into outfielders for their first game at Haarlem, near Amsterdam.
Shaw said Werahiko had forced her way into the run-on nine based on her form at a tournament in Prague and in warmup games in Haarlem.
"She's played in the outfield, at third base and shortstop and has done well in them all. She's a youngster with a big future.''
Shaw has also rated Siataga highly but said the Canterbury shortstop had been struggling to shake off a heavy flu which afflicted several of the White Sox players after the long journey from New Zealand to Europe.
"She's still suffering, but is getting better.''
But Shaw said Werahiko had made the team on merit after playing "with confidence, flair and style''.
Werahiko has more recent games under her belt after captaining the Junior White Sox at the Canada Cup tournament last month.
Nukunuku, playing at her third world championships, has spent most of the last season at second base, but Shaw said the White Sox coaches had prepared her to play in the outfield at the world championships.
"She's been batting the ball and when someone's doing that, you find a place for them in the lineup.''
Nukunuku - wife of Black Sox men's team captain Nathan Nukunuku - has been hitting so powerfully Shaw has assigned her to the number four cleanup slot in the batting lineup.
Cooper, a utility player at Florida State University, will lead off the hitting, followed by Hutt Valley second base Danica Ferriso, captain Lara Andrews - who arrived in camp yesterday after completing her commitments to her American Pro League team - Nukunuku and designated player Jennifer Feret.
Auckland's Kyla Bromhead has won the catching spot ahead of the experienced Mel Gettins.
Shaw said both were talented and experienced catchers but Bromhead worked well with Auckland pitcher Megan Farrell, who will start on the mound against Russia.
Bromhead will bat at six, followed by United States-based leftfielder Te Reo Powhiri Matautia, first baseman Rebeccca Bromhead and Werahiko.
The White Sox lost the final of the Prague tournament to the Czech Republic, 3-0 after beting them 7-6 in the first round.
But Shaw has been encouraged by their progress in two "scrimmage'' games against Australia (lost 4-2) and the Netherlands (lost 3-2), who are both ranked above them in world standings.
A third game against world champions Japan was rained out.
Shaw said the Kiwis had arrived in Europe "out of season, out of sorts [because of the flu] and jet lagged'' and "hadn't seen a softball diamond for a while'', but were starting to hit their straps.
Australian-based infielder Stacey Webber and teenage Hawke's Bay pitcher Courtney Gettins are nursing minor hamstring strains.
New Zealand have targeted a top-eight place after finishing 12th and 13th at the last two world championships.
The White Sox last finished among the medals (silver) in 1990 and were world champions in 1982 when Shaw was captain and current assistant coach Debbie Mygind was on the pitching mound.
Shaw said every game in the section was important, but, to make the top four in Pool A - headed by world and Olympic champions Japan, Canada and China , they must beat Russia, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Czech Republic.
The White Sox should start with a win after walloping Russia 7-1 in Prague after collecting nine hits and profited from five fielding errors. But Shaw said Russia were bringing "a pitcher we didn't get to face in Prague'' to the world championships.
The Pool B favourites are the United States and Australia, followed by host nation Holland and European rivals Italy.
The New Zealand White Sox squad: Pitchers: Megan Farrell, Michal Tangaroa, Jennifer Feret (Auckland), Courtney Gettins (Hawke's Bay), Tyneesha Houkaumu (Auckland/US). Catchers: Mel Gettins (Hawke's Bay), Kyla Bromhead (Auckland). Infield: Rebecca Bromhead (Auckland), Danica Ferriso (Hutt Valley), Mikayla Werahiko, Cassie Siataga (Canterbury), Lara Andrews (Hutt Valley/US, capt), Stacey Webber (Australia).Outfielders-utilities: Katrina Nukunuku, Beth Stavert (Auckland), Ellie Cooper (US), Te Reo Powhiri Matautia (Auckland/US).
Head coach: Naomi Shaw (Hutt Valley). Assistant-coaches: Debbie Mygind, Israel Nukunuku (Auckland).
Starting lineup to play Russia: Pitcher: Farrell. Catcher: K Bromhead. First base: R Bromhead. Second base: Feriso. Third base: Andrews. Shortstop: Werahiko. Left field: Matautia. Centrefield: Nukunuku. Right field: Cooper. Designated Player (batting for Farrell): Feret.
White Sox Pool A draw:
Tomorrow: v Russia. Sunday: v Cuba. Monday: v Canada. Tuesday: v Japan. Wednesday: v Czech Republic. Thursday: v China. Friday: v Puerto Rico.
Pool B teams: United States, Australia, Netherlands, Italy, Botswana, Great Britain, Chinese Taipei, Dominican Republic.
2012 world championship medallists: Gold: Japan. Silver: United States. Bronze: Australia.