Black Sox hitters may run into trouble over style
A former champion New Zealand coach has a reservation about some Black Sox hitters' batting style ahead of the world softball series in Auckland.
Ed Dolejs coached the New Zealand women's team to medals - including gold in 1982 - at four consecutive world championships between 1977 and 1990 and was also the trainer and technical adviser to the New Zealand men's team that shared the gold medal at the 1976 world championships.
Dolejs agreed with Mike Walsh, coach of the world title winning 1984 and 1996 Black Sox and Don Tricker, who coached the team to the 2000 and 2004 gold medals, that the 2013 squad were capable of winning a medal in Auckland.
"I certainly expect them to be in the medals and hopefully they will be in the final,'' Dolejs said. "Naturally, we would love to see them win it. But if they strike the same problem they had with the Australian pitchers last time [at the 2009 world championships in Canada], it's not going to be easy.''
Dolejs - New Zealand's national coach for 17 years - is still a keen student of the game and is planning to write a book on batting.
The Black Sox have some of the best batters in the world, including Donny Hale, Brad Rona, Nathan Nukunuku, Patrick Shannon, Jarrad Martin, Thomas Makea and captain Rhys Casley.
But Dolejs said he was "extremely concerned'' about some players' batting style when he saw a Black Sox squad play in Nelson, his home town, late last year. He said the style now seemed endemic in New Zealand men's softball, at club and representative level.
"They have copied a style that's sometimes used in baseball where they stand with the bat pointing straight up in the air and point their rear elbow back towards the catcher. It will hurt them if they face a pitcher with speed who works the top of the strike zone.''
They would then be more susceptible to hitting "pop-ups and foul balls''.
"They are doomed to fail if they do that against the Australians. Against the lesser pitchers, they will get away with it. But we will see... that's my main concern.''
A hitter's swing had to match the trajectory of the pitched ball, he said.
Dolejs, whose dictum is defence wins tournaments, was very impressed with the Black Sox' fielding when they won the 2004 tournament in Christchurch and hoped it would be as good in Auckland.
Tricker, now the high performance manager with the New Zealand Rugby Union, felt the Black Sox were "going to be pretty tough to beat with the experience they have in the side''.
He coached six of the squad - Martin, Makea, Hale, Rona, Shannon and Nukunuku - in previous world champion teams and knows what they're capable of. "And they've got some exciting young talent like [Ben] Enoka".
Tricker believes it will "all come down to pitching'' and said it was critical that the coaching staff manage their players' workloads well in the round-robin stages.
"You need all your squad going into the last few days fresh and raring to go. That's a benefit of a world championships where you're only playing one game a day versus the normal regime of playing three or four.''
Tricker - who still coaches his children's age-group teams - rated defending champions Australia, Canada, the United States, Japan and "the emerging Argentina'' as New Zealand's greatest title threats and said Samoa "has one big upset in them''.
Walsh said the Black Sox should win a medal. "But which colour?''
He said their build-up tournament results were "a little bit disappointing'' with the Black Sox losing a game to Samoa and three matches against club or composite teams.
"But that's probably to be expected. Playing at home can be tough because you've got guys who are wanting to prove themselves. Thomas Makea said to me 'the other [New Zealand] teams know our pitchers so well'.''
Walsh, who also coached the New Zealand White Sox women's squad at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, said the Black Sox were experienced but were now "quite an old team''.
"Let's hope they can do it. It will all come down to our pitching and also keeping in the game with good defence and our hitters coming through when we get a run scoring opportunity. We have to make the most of it.
"I hope it's not like last time [against Australia in 2009] - hit and hope. It won't work.''
Walsh felt "really sad'' for outfielder Jerome Haretuku who was dropped so the Black Sox could bring Nukunuku in to cover for injured second baseman Casley.
"I found that quite staggering though we know there are reasons for it. They want Rhys there and I believed Nukunuku should have been there right from the start. With the type of game they want to play, with speed, hit and runs, slapping and bunting, Nukunuku fits ideally with that strategy and defensively, he's a good player.''
The Black Sox had to make the final for the "benefit of our game, for a lot of reasons - funding, acknowledgement and media [coverage],'' Walsh said.