Black Sox edge world champion Aussies

TONY SMITH
Last updated 21:18 08/03/2013

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Hometown hero Brad Rona slammed a huge homer and batted in a vital tiebreaker run to lead the Black Sox to within a game of the world softball championship final.

The Black Sox won a tense tiebreaker tussle with Australia tonight after Ben Enoka drove in Rona for a 5-4 victory in the 10th inning tiebreaker.

They scored a major psychological boost over the world champions in arguably the most dramatic softball game played in New Zealand.

It even had a trans tasman tussle. Both teams cleared the benches after Sox catcher Patrick Shannon was struck by a pitch and the umpires had to step in to stop the push-and-shove.

Pinch hitter Cameron Bint batted in a run to put Australia up 4-3 in the top of the 10th before Rona and Enoka produced their heroics.

The Black Sox will now play either Canada or Venezuela tomorrow for a place in Sunday's final.

Eddie Kohlhase's New Zealanders exorcised a four-year-old demon, bouncing back from two early innings home runs by Australia's Jeff Goolagong.

The Sox had been unable to take a hit off Australian pitching ace Adam Folkard when the Steelers won the world title in Canada in 2009.

But the Sox blasted nine off the big right-hander last night, highlighted by Rona's two-run homer in the fourth inning.

The other Kiwi heroes were relief pitcher Jeremy Manley and Nik Hayes. Manley put the brakes on the Australians' scoring after starter Heinie Shannon had his neck stretched twice by Goolagong's hits.

Cannonball Hayes, a 23-year-old at his first world championships, who showed great zip to strike out three batters in the first tie breaker and kept his coll throughout.

The partisan crowd watched the Black Sox claw their way back after Goolagong's early blast and they saw Folkard feel the heat after he seemed to have settled into a groove, striking out six successive batters in the second and third innings.

But Tyson Byrne, New Zealand's top batter, slammed a shot that glanced off Folkard's glove to second base to lead off the top of the fourth. He beat out a bare-handed throw and then stole second base.

The situation was tailor made for Rona. Just as he did at the International Softball Congress tournament in America last year, the big, Black Sox slugger used all his power to pull a pitch over the left field fence to the delight of the New Zeland fans in the outfieldseats.

Donny Hale followed with the Black Sox's third back-to-back hit and the spell Folkard had been weaving was broken.

Manley gave up three hits in the top of the fith - an outfield drive by Mark Harris, an infield single and a safe bunt - but the Australians were unable to score.

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Sox coach Eddie Kohlhase then made an inspired substitution.

Captain Rhys Casley came in to pinch hit and punched a hit to right field. He scampered to second on the fielder's error, went to third on a passed ball that eluded the catcher and scored on Nukunuku's second hit of the game to put New Zealand ahead 3-2.

Hale had the crowd on their feet with another sizzling swing up the left field line but the ball was ruled foul.

Harris led off the seventh for Australia with his second hit and Mick Tanner followed with a left field single. With no outs and runners atone and two, Tangaroa took Manley off and introduced Hayes.

He yielded a hit to Joel Southam for Harris to tie the score at 3-3.But Australia wasted a potential winning run Tanner got caught in a run-down and was tagged out at third base. Hayes then struck out James Todhunter and forced Zenon Winters to fly out for the third out.

Folkard struck out two Kiwi batters then hit Patrick Shannon with a pitch, sparking a scrap between the two teams, the melee exacerbated when Casley came out of the dugout.

When play resumed, Tyron Bartorillo, a former Australian gold medallist playing for New Zealand, slapped an infield single to give the Black Sox two runners on base.

Nukunuku came to bat with two hits from three-at bats, survived a chin music inside pitch from Folkard before the Aussie fanned him.

But Hayes showed great composure to dismiss Australia in the top of the eighth and the Steelers imploded in the field in the bottom of the eighth.

Tyson Byrne made base, Rona was walked to load the bases. But Folkard dug as deep as Hayes - until Rona and Enoka unleashed their big bats in the 10th.

Japan beat Samoa 4-2 and the United States were eliminated after a 9-2 loss to Argentina, highlighted by a grand slam run.

- Fairfax Media

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