Coach praises Manley as Black Sox make final

WINNERS: The Black Sox celebrate their win against Venezuela.
WINNERS: The Black Sox celebrate their win against Venezuela.

Coach Eddie Kohlhase hailed "a fantastic pitching performance'' by an ailing Jeremy Manley for getting the Black Sox softballers "one win away from another world championship''.

Manley confirmed he was "throwing up'' overnight and till midday today after eating some dodgy chicken.

Despite dizziness, he threw superbly on the pitching mound took 15 strikeouts in a 2-0 win over Venezuela tonight as the Black Sox qualified automatically for tomorrow's final at Albany.

"I'm just very proud of the team. We've made it to the championship game and are only one game away from winning the championship..

"The group has worked three or four years for this. There's a lot of resolve in this team. We're not dominating teams, we're just playing hard, tough softball.''

Kohlhase also praised captain Rhys Casley's injury and

Skipper Rhys Casley had his moment in the sun with a superb stand-up double to left-centrefield in the sixth inning to score substitute runner Daniel Milne and double New Zealand's lead.

It was rich reward for Casley, whose participation had been limited after he aggravated a shoulder injury.

He justified Kohlhase's call to keep him in the squad and warranted his inclusion yesterday as the designated player (DP) specialist batter ahead of Wayne Laulu.

Kohlhase hinted he would keep Casley there for the final to bat behind big-hitting Brad Rona and Donny Hale.

But Manley was the Sox's supremo. The Manawatu man has so long been touted as the torch bearer of New Zealand pitching, the heir apparent to past greats like Bill Massey, Kevin Herlihy, Owen Walford, Steve Jackson, Peter Meredith, Michael White, Chubb Tangaroa and Marty Grant.

Today's final may be the time to deliver on his undoubted potential. Maybe, just maybe, the Kiwis do have a hurler to rival Australian flame thrower Adam Folkard or veteran Argentina Lucas Mata.

The Black Sox must surely go with their "hot hand'' after Manley shut down the free-swinging Venezuelans.

He only gave up four scattered hits, including a running bunt. Any time he looked like getting into a jam he dug deep and re-exerted his control. The Manawatu man fanned six of the first seven batters and also took three strikeouts in the fifth inning.

Equally importantly, he had some of his old chutzpah, confidence and composure back after a tentative start to the tournament following knee surgery.

His tenacity was best evidenced by his clutch strikeout of Venezuela catcher and clean-up hitter Rafael Flores with the tying run at first base in the top of the sixth inning.

The game never reached the nerve-jangling heights of the Black Sox's 5-4 tiebreaker triumph over Australia on Friday. But then few fixtures would. Softball New Zealand general manager Dane Dougan said Sky TV told him it was one of their most gripping sports telecasts for some time.

Last night's encounter was one for the softball purist. The Kiwis collected six hits to the South America's four.

But Venezuela - bidding to become the first South American medallists in tournament history - were the architects of their own demise with fatal fielding lapses in the second inning. They made three errors while the Black Sox played blemish-free ball.

Hale singled to leftfield for the Sox's first hit . He stole second base as Rhys Casley was being struck out and a rushed throw soared into the outfield where another throwing error allowed Hale to hare around the diamond to score.

Auckland outfielder Ben Enoka, who drove in the winning run against Australia, had his batting eye in again, collecting two hits, including a hard-hit slash to right field.

Hale grabbed another hit with sizzling too-hot-to-handle pull shot to third base.

Catcher Patrick Shannon was New Zealand's only other safe hitter with a leadoff single in the fifth frame. No wonder the mask man looked skyward when he got to first base - it was only the third hit of the tournament for the proven power hitter after two home runs in pool play.

Kohlhase will demand more diligence at the plate today - especially in the execution of bunts.

Left-handed hurler Andrew Kirkpatrick threw a no-hitter in Australia's 4-0 win over Japan. The Australians grabbed three runs in the top of the first inning and Kirkpatrick controlled the Japanese hitters.

Jeff Goolagong - whose aunt Evonne was a grand slam tennis champion - slammed a home run in the sixth inning to follow his brace of homers in Australia's 5-4 tiebreaker loss to the Black Sox on Friday.

Argentina caused a sensation with a 2-1 win over Canada to complete a clean sweep over North American teams.

Centrefielder German Sacks slammed a two-run  home run in the sixth inning for Argentina but Canada's Brad Ezekiel hit a solo shot homer in the seventh.

Argentina pitcher Juan Potolicchio said his "heart was beating real fast'' but he dug deep to force the final two batters to ground out.

The rise of the South American teams - Venezuela and Argentina - has been the talk of the tournament. .The Argentines earlier knocked out the United States 9-2 while Venezuela triumphed over Japan 3-1.

It is the first time two South American sides have made the top-four and the continent is assured of its first medal.

The new world order means no North American team will stand on the medals podium for the first time since the tournament began in 1966.