Hard passage for Black Sox at world champs
Coach Eddie Kohlhase says the Black Sox have "a very demanding draw" as they bid to regain their world softball championship title in Auckland in March.
Their pool includes four-times champions Canada, Japan, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, the Netherlands and the Philippines.
"It's a very, very demanding draw," says Kohlhase. "Canada, Japan and Argentina are three of the big powers in world softball.
"It's a tough draw, not just in terms of qualifying for the quarterfinals, but also building up some powerful momentum going forward. It will be a real test for us."
Kohlhase said traditional rivals Canada, who the five-times world champion Black Sox beat in the 1996 and 2004 tournament finals, had powerful pitching. "They throw the ball very hard - and like most Canadian sports teams, they try to dominate you physically."
Japan, who the Kiwis beat to win the 2000 world title in South Africa, had a fast team, were "beautiful fielders of the ball and quite electric on the base paths".
"They have a lot of lefties [left-handed batters] and have very strong pitching and hitting - they'll be a real test."
Argentina are one of the emerging powers in world softball and won the junior world title at home last year, where New Zealand finished sixth.
Australia, who beat the Black Sox to win the 2009 world championships, head the other pool with the United States.
The Black Sox's pool play draw is (all games at 7.30pm unless otherwise stated): Friday, March 1: v Mexico. Saturday, March 2: v Colombia (2.30pm). Sunday, March 3: v Japan (2.30pm). Monday, March 4: v Canada. Tuesday, March 5: v Argentina. Wednesday, March 6: v Netherlands. Thursday, March 7: v Philippines. Friday, March 8 - Saturday, March 9: Playoffs. Sunday, March 10: Medal Games.