Black Sox to face Venezuela
The New Zealand Black Sox will play Venezuela in today's world softball championships grand final after the South Americans upset titleholders Australia in Auckland this morning.
Venezuela scored two early runs ad held their 2-0 lead till the end thanks to clever, controlled pitching by southpaw Erick Urbaneja.
The Venezuelans - who are playing in honour of their nation's late president Hugo Chavez, a keen softball supporter - will now play the Black Sox in the final at 1pm.
Eddie Kohlhase's New Zealand side will start favourites after beating Venezuela 2-0 in a playoff match yesterday.
But Venezuela, who took a superb double play for the final outs of a gripping game, have become the first South American team to make a final in the 47-year history of the International Softball Federation world championships.
Australian coach Bob Harrow may rue his decision not to start number one pitcher Adam Folkard, who he was presumably saving to be fresh for the final.
But he was spoiled for choice.
His chosen starter, lefthander Andrew Kirkpatrik hurled a no-hitter yesterday against Japan.
But Venezuela simply are not overawed by anyone. Their leadoff batter Iran Paez supplied a perfect start in the first inning, punching a single and advancing on a sacrifice.
He scored when catcher Rafael Flores, Venezuela's most dangerous hitter, drove a single to rightfield.
The South Americans doubled their lead in the second inning when Franklin Gonzalez led off with a hit to centrefield and scampered home on Yeider Chirnos' deep double to the fence.
Harrow then brought on Folkard, who he was presumably saving for the final.
That ended the Venezuelans' scoring with only Flores and Paez getting hits off the Australian ace.
But Venezuela's own hurler Erick Urbaneja also proved pretty parsimonious on the mound. The left-hander tied up most of the Australian hitters with his good movement and clever changes of pace.
When Australia did get runners on base they blew it with poor running.
The ice-cool Urbaneja held Australia to six hits and took seven strikeouts before he was replaced by number one Ramon Jones after Joel Southam led off the sixth inning with a hit.
Jones struck out Cameron Bint and Flores, who had dropped the pitch, pulled off a big play by unleashing a bullet throw to have Southam tagged out at second base.
James Todhunter gave Australia a glimmer of hope in the seventh inning with his third hit of the game.
The Venezuelan victory was treated with great joy by the Kiwi crowd, who chanted "take this batter, take this batter'' when Jones pitched to the Australians in the final innings.
Pandemonium broke out when the South Americans took a slick infield double platy to close out the game - and end Australia's reign as world champions, relegating the Steelers to a second bronze medal after their third-place finish in Christchurch in 2004.
The Venezuela bench players raced out of the dugout to embrace their teammates in a typical show of passion.
They have won the hearts of softball fans with their exuberant style of play typified by showman Flores' habit of throwing the ball between his legs to second base in pre-innings warmups.
Of these accolades, which would you like to win most?