More to come from Black Sox big hitter
Big Brad Rona hit his fourth home run of the tournament to set up the Black Sox’s epic victory over Australia last night, but his coach is predicting bigger things yet from the master blaster.
Rona slammed a two-run homer in the fourth inning to tie the score at 2-2 after two huge home runs from Australia’s Jeff Goolagong.
The tall first baseman also stepped up before his hometown North Harbour crowd and crashed a shot to the fence in the bottom of the 10th inning. He drove in the equalising run and scored the winner on Ben Enoka’s power-packed hit.
“He’s just a big-time player,’’ Black Sox coach Eddie Kohlhase said of Rona’s role in New Zealand’s 5-4 victory.
“The bigger the game, the better he gets. He’s got a lot left in him. You saw the way he responded and the way he reacted to the crowd. I think we’re in for a big couple of days from Brad Rona.’’
Rona drove in three runs against Australia to take his tournament tally. Most of his batting success has been against the better pitchers.
Enoka, who has had an excellent tournament in the batter’s box and in centrefield, joked it took him five attempts to get his game-winning 10th-inning hit.
But he described beating Australia before a big home crowd as “probably one of the highlights of my career’’.
Enoka said Australian ace Adam Folkard was “a tough pitcher’’ but the Black Sox batters “took it to him’’.
“Adam’s a tough pitcher, he throws pretty hard… I was just trying tofind a strike to hit. He was pitching all around me and he threw the first one in. It was the best one, and I thought it would be a good one to hit. I’m just stoked, to be honest… I’m speechless.’’
The Black Sox play Veneuzela at 5pm today (Saturday) with the winner advancing straight to tomorrow’s final and the loser to the bronze medal match.
Australia were to play Japan today with Argentina meeting Canada in another playoff.
Venezuela upset Canada 3-1 last night after Japan beat Samoa 4-2 and Argentina eliminated the United States 9-2.
New Zealand and Australia could yet meet again in the final but both Enoka and Rona believe the Black Sox will no longer be overawed by Folkard, who held them scoreless twice in 2009 when Australia won their first world title.
Rona said the New Zealanders now have “got a belief we can beat him]’’.
“He’s had a couple of injuries the last couple of years, he’s not the same Adam Folkard as in 09,. He’s probably lost about 5k [off his fast ball].’’
But Folkard, who still mustered 16 strikeouts, was adamant afterwards he can bounce back.
The Sox rebounded from a 2-0 deficit after Australian veteran Jeff Goolagong hammered two early home runs off Sox starting pitcher Heinie Shannon.
But Goolagong – nephew of former grand slam champion Evonne Goolagong – knew “two runs wouldn’t cut it against a world class batting lineup like the Black Sox’’.
So it proved. Rona then tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth when he hoisted a hit over the leftfield fence with Tyson Byrne on base.
Sox skipper Rhys Casley produced a captain’s knock as a pinch hitter, punching a single to rightfield and scoring on Nathan Nukunuku’s second hit of the game to give the Sox a 3-2 lead.
The partisan crowd thought Donny Hale had hit a dinger down the left field line but the umpire ruled it was foul by the merest of millimetres.
Jeremy Manley’s scoreless pitching stint ended after he conceded back to back hits to Mark Harris and Mick Tanner in the top of the seventh. Young reliever Nik Hayes came on for the biggest game of his life and instantly gave up a hit to Joel Southam, who drove in the tying run.
But Cannonball Hayes got out of the inning and went on to show remarkable poise in three tiebreaker stanzas, taking three strikeouts to keep Australia scoreless in the top of the eighth. He gave up just the one hit and took five of New Zealand’s 14 strikeouts.
Hayes and Folkard kept the brakes on the batters in the eighth and ninth innings before Australian substitute Cameron Bint singled to score Australia’s fourth run in the top of the 10th.
New Zealand loaded the bases in the ninth and should have scored on a passed ball but Nukunuku chose not to run from third base. Fortunately Rona and Enoka slashed two timely hits and the Sox celebrated a superb comeback victory.
Kohlhase has played down a seventh inning scuffle between his New Zealand team and Australia.
The rival benches cleared and tempers frayed after Folkard struck Black Sox catcher Patrick Shannon with a pitch – which results in a free pass to first base.
But, as Folkard appeared to be asking the umpires if the ball had hit the bat before glancing into Shannon, the situation escalated.
Black Sox captain Rhys Casley burst out of the dugout to remonstrate with the Australians and both teams engaged in some push-and-shove until the umpires restored order with Sox second baseman Nathan Nukunuku also a calming influence.
Folkard has been accused in the past of deliberately hitting the Black Sox’s expatriate Australian infielder Tyron Bartorillo.
But the Australian pitcher was adamant last night that the striking of Shannon was accidental.
Kohlhase did not believe it was deliberate.
“Patrick gets close to the plate, I couldn’t see any reason for Adam to hit him at that stage.
“It was unfortunate that the dugouts emptied like they did but the umpires kept composed and handled the situation well.
“It’s just part and parcel of the game, no-one hit the deck. It was just push and shove.’’
Folkard was disappointed with the Black Sox’s response but Australian slugger Jeff Goolagong, who hit two home runs, dismissed the incident.
“There were a bit of emotions back and forth in that game, which is always good to see. It got the crowd involved.’’