White Sox through at world championships
The New Zealand White Sox beat Puerto Rico on Friday to qualify for the top-eight at the women's softball world championships for the first time since 2002.
Naomi Shaw's New Zealand team finished pool play with a three-win four-loss record and were tied on points with Cuba and the Czech Republic.
But the White Sox had a better runs differential when International Softball Federation (ISF) officials analysed the results between the three teams.
Team manager Anaru Pewhairangi confirmed to Fairfax Media that the White Sox will play Chinese Taipei in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday morning (NZ time) at Haarlem, near Amsterdam.
Softball New Zealand official Glen Roff said the ISF had advised overnight that the White Sox would go through to the top-tier playoffs if they beat the Puerto Ricans.
They did that this morning, despite being outbatted by six safe hits to five.
But the Kiwis capitalised on a couple of Puerto Rican fielding errors while playing mistake-free defence themselves.
Captain Lara Andrews led from the front for the White Sox, picking up two safe hits. Katrina Nukunuku continued her good hitting form with a single in the second inning and Jennifer Feret also hit safely but New Zealand could not score.
But they leapt out to a 2-0 lead in the third frame when Stacey Webber singled to bat home Mikayla Werahiko and Andrews followed with a line drive to leftfield to score Ellie Cooper.
Puerto Rico pulled back a run in the top of the fifth inning after three safe hits. But Andrews stepped up, as good skippers do, to smash a single and advance Cooper, who scampered home for the Kiwis' third run on Nukunuku's sacrifice hit.
New Zealand pitching coach Debbie Mygind brought Tyneesha Houkamau onto the mound to replace starter Megan Farrell.
Houkamau hurled a no-hitter and shut down the Puerto Ricans with two strikeouts in the final inning.
New Zealand will join champions Japan, Canada and China as the Pool A qualifiers with the United States, Australia, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands advancing from Pool B.
The White Sox scored 16 runs in seven pool games after being shut out three times by Cuba, Japan and China. They conceded 31 runs.
It will be hard work for them in the playoffs, which start tomorrow, but qualification is just reward for some consistent performances by some players, notably top batter Danica Ferriso, Nukunuku, Cooper, Mel Gettins, Rebecca Bromhead and Andrews and for the find of the tournament, Werahkio, 18-year-old Canterbury infielder and Junior White Sox captain who cemented a spot as the starting shortstop.
Shaw will be satisfied with their progress after the White Sox finished 12th at the 2010 world championships in Venezuela and 13th in Canada in 2012, Shaw's first tournament as head coach.