Black Sox coach ponders golden swansong
Eddie Kohlhase has hinted the current world softball championships could be his last as he seeks to become the first New Zealander to win gold medals as a player and a coach.
The Black Sox are bidding to win back their world title from Australia when the XIIIth International Softball Federation championships start in Auckland today.
The five-time world champions have never lost a tournament held in New Zealand. They were joint champions when the 1976 series was rained out in Lower Hutt and romped home in Christchurch in 2004.
Roy Dalton, the 1976 coach, and Mike Walsh who masterminded the 1984 and 1996 triumphs, never played in the world championships. Don Tricker - in charge of the 2000 and 2004 champion teams - was a silver medallist as a player in 1988.
Kohlhase, the second baseman in Walsh's 1984 team, could make history at Rosedale Park where the Black Sox open their pool play campaign against Mexico tonight.
The senior New Zealand Customs manager said yesterday he had not decided his coaching future yet, but this could be his swansong.
The Black Sox are still smarting from their silver medal in 2009 after three successive gold medal victories.
Kohlhase, who took over as head coach after 2004 after two tournaments as Tricker's assistant, is convinced they have the hitting to beat any team but is mindful that "defence wins tournaments".
The Black Sox will relish playing in front of a home crowd but Kohlhase admitted he felt a weight of expectation. "Yeah, personally I do. I think the players understand the importance of playing well . . . I think [New Zealand] softball desperately needs another world champion."
Kohlhase confirmed the Black Sox could use up to six pitchers in Auckland - the four selected specialists Heinie Shannon, Jeremy Manley, Penese Iosefo and Nik Hayes, and veteran infielders Jarrad Martin and Brad Rona. Martin has pitched at the world championships before to freshen up the frontline hurlers and Rona regularly throws for his Northcote club and the North Harbour representative team.
The late addition of experienced infielder Nathan Nukunuku - covering the injured Rhys Casley - had not disrupted the Black Sox buildup, Kohlhase said.
Nukunuku has slotted straight into the leadoff batter slot, which would allow Ben Enoka to "drop down the order and give us an injection of speed . . . ".
Kohlhase can then call on Casley, Rona, Hale, Martin and Daniel Milne - all long-ball hitters - in the meat of his batting arsenal with shortstop Tyson Byrne and third baseman Tyron Bartorillo options at either two or nine in the order.
Since the 2009 tournament, Kohlhase has tried to move away from a dependence on slugging towards a more complete, speed-based game. He believes the Black Sox have a good blend of both styles and insisted there had been no change in strategy despite the dumping off outfielder Jerome Haretuku.
The Black Sox will aim to go through pool play unbeaten and must finish in the top two in pool B to take an extra life into the playoffs phase next Friday.