Black Sox take record-breaking world title
Captain Rhys Casley has shrugged off a shoulder injury to blast a big three-run home run and lead the Black Sox to a record-breaking sixth world softball championship gold medal.
The Black Sox, who have been in eight successive world championship finals - surely one of New Zealand sport's most consistently successful teams - beat Venezuela 4-1 in Auckland this afternoon.
Casley repaid coach Eddie Kohlhase's faith to the delight of 3500 delirious New Zealand softball fans crammed into Rosedale Park where Queen's big bit We Are The Champions blared out from the speakers.
Kohlhase - now the first New Zealand softballer to win a world title as a player and as a coach -retained Casley in the squad after the skipper aggravated a shoulder injury he had had surgery on late last year.
The Black Sox selectors made a tough call to cut young outfielder Jerome Haretuku and bring Nathan Nukunuku to cover Casley's position at second base. But Kohlhase wanted Casley to stay for his leadership and batting talent.
No-one was disputing that call today after Casley crashed the ball over the fence and into the centrefield bleachers to break a 1-1 deadlock in the third inning.
Brad Rona and Daniel Milne also scored on Casley's king-hit to give the Black Sox an unassailable 4-1 lead.
Casley's shot heard around the softball world was the Black Sox's second home run of the final.
Retiring catcher Patrick Shannon put the ball into orbit over the right field fence in the second inning for his third homer of the tournament.
But Venezuela - the first South American team to win a medal and make a final in the world championships' 47-year history - made a real race of it in the early innings.
Just as he had in their 2-0 semifinal victory over Australia, leadoff batter Iran Paez led the first inning with a crucial hit. He slammed Jeremy Manley's first pitch to the right-centrefield fence for a stand-up triple.
Manley then hit the next batter, Herwins Querales, with a pitch, giving Venezuela two base runners.
Big hitter Rafael Flores struck out but Edwins Linares picked a walk and Paez scampered home to beat Paddy Shannon's tag after Sox right fielder Donny Hale elected to catch a foul fly Venezuelan coach Ramon Lopez dragged starting pitcher Erick Alvarez in the top of the first after back-to-back hits by Tyson Byrne and Brad Rona.
But the Black Sox equalised through Shannon's solo shot homer over the right field fence in the bottom of the second.
Lopez made a critical call in New Zealand's next inning. With two-down, he yanked reliever Erick Urbaneja and brought on fireballer Ramon Jones to pitch to the meat of the Black Sox order.
The jittery Jones argued with the umpires about the choice of ball to pitch. It must have unsettled him because he hit Brad Rona with a pitch to put him on base. Substitute Daniel Milne showed great discipline to come back from two strikes to draw a walk after after four successive balls by Jones to set up Casley's big moment.
The Black Sox ,who had played in the last eight world championship titles, now have a record six titles - one more than United States, who finished eighth in Auckland.
With a 4-1 lead to protect, Manley - who overcame a violent vomiting bug overnight on Friday to pitch superbly in the playoffs - stepped up a gear to shut out the flamboyant South Americans.
Experienced outfielder Thomas Makea pulled off a clutch play when Rivero smashed a single to left field in the fifth inning. Makea raced in, scooped up the ball and showed why he is rated world softball's golden arm with a lightning-quick release and tracer bullet throw to have Rivero easily tagged out at second base.
Nukunuku, Tyson Byrne and Brad Rona combined for a double play to end the sixth inning.
That left the Black Sox with three outs to complete to clinch their title. Shortstop Byrne made a brilliant stop and throw for the first out, Nukuku was safe as houses for the second and - with the crowd already delivering a standing ovation - Manley did his own fielding to fire the ball to first base to grab the gold medal.
The Black Sox now have five gold medals and one silver from the last five finals.