Champion Black Sox face exodus of talent

TONY SMITH IN AUCKLAND
Last updated 05:00 11/03/2013
Black Sox
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CHAMPS AGAIN: The jubilant Black Sox get into party mode after New Zealand beat Venezuela 4-1 in the grand final at the world softball championship in Auckland yesterday. It marked this country’s record sixth win in the world series, including five of the past eight.

Coming in off the long run

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Black Sox mentor Eddie Kohlhase is set to bow out as a world champion but the record-breaking team's two most decorated players might put up their hands as future coaches.

The Black Sox, who beat Venezuela 4-1 in yesterday's final in Auckland, embellished their reputation as one of the most successful teams in New Zealand sport, winning their sixth gold medal in their eighth consecutive grand final.

Softball New Zealand general manager Dane Dougan hoped their triumph would attract continued funding and boost the sport's public profile.

Dougan said "one of the first of many" congratulatory texts came from High Performance Sport New Zealand chief executive Alex Baumann.

"That was the important one. This [victory] doesn't secure our funding [the Black Sox receive $200,000 a year] but it goes a long way towards it.

"We are going to get on and file our application pretty quickly."

The Black Sox planned a big party with whanau and friends last night but it was also a time for reflection for coach Kohlhase and several senior players hanging up their cleats at elite international level.

Home-run-hitting catcher Patrick Shannon confirmed he was retiring, as did long-time outfielder Thomas Makea - rated by Kohlhase as "alongside Mark Sorenson as our greatest ever player" - and former captain Jarrad Martin said it was likely he had had "my last at-bat".

Kohlhase said before the tournament that this was likely to be his last and he repeated his stance yesterday. "I've been involved with this team now for 30 years as a player and a coach and it's probably time to move on.

"I think it was very important that I carried on and put things right because we weren't overly pleased with our performance in 2009 [when the Black Sox lost their world title to Australia]."

He said he had not fully discussed his departure with the players but it seemed a perfect time to go out.

Kohlhase was unaware he had made history as the first New Zealander to win world championships as a player and a coach but it made him very proud.

"To win it as a player [in 1984] was great but to win it as a coach, I'm just honoured."

Yesterday Martin and Makea emulated Mark Sorenson's record of four world championship gold medals.

The Wellington pair won their first world title in 1996 but won't be tempted to go for a fifth in Canada in 2015.

"I actually talked to Thomas afterwards and said, ‘what about one more [as a player]?'," Martin said. "But he said, ‘nah, nah' [and] I said, ‘I'm joking too.

"It's time for us to move on. There's a lot of young talent coming through and it's time to give them a shot."

Martin stopped short of saying he was retiring.

"We don't want to take the euphoria away tonight from the championship win" - and he will "just make those decisions later on".

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But he dropped a broad hint his appearance as a pinch-hitter was probably his last Black Sox at-bat.

Martin, 40, who made his Black Sox debut in 1991, said he wanted to stay with the team in some capacity.

Makea, who has coached Wellington age-group and senior teams, confirmed to reporters "that was my last game - it is all over" but asked about his aspirations to coach the Black Sox, he said: "Not yet. I am just going to celebrate with the boys tonight and whatever happens in the future happens.

"I'm just enjoying coaching the younger [teams] and we will see where that goes," Makea, 38, said.

Martin said he knew Kohlhase was "looking at moving on" and there could be new appointments.

"There's a big family of Black Sox players out there, former and present, who can help out."

Dougan said Softball New Zealand, with help from High Performance Sport New Zealand, would undertake a full review of the tournament. He hailed the North Harbour Softball organisers, who delivered a well-run tournament and returned an operating profit.

Softball New Zealand would look at the "succession planning" issue, he said. Whoever does take over from Kohlhase will be inheriting a champion team with future potential. Kohlhase said he and Don Tricker, who coached the Black Sox to the 2000 and 2004 titles, might be interested in assisting as mentors or advisers in a future structure to bring the next generation of coaches through.

Before the tournament, the Black Sox were tied with the United States on five titles at the International Softball Federation world championship which started in 1966.

They now have a record sixth and have won five of the past eight titles and taken three silver medals.

Only the Silver Fern netballers, among New Zealand sporting teams, can match the Black Sox's record but international netball is basically a two-country race.

The softball world championship may not be bigger than the Rugby World Cup in terms of audience, but it is more competitive. Six of the eight playoff teams - from the Oceania, Asia, South American and North American continents - at the 16-country tournament were technically capable of winning this year after the rise of silver medallists Venezuela and fourth-ranked Argentina.

Martin, captain of the New Zealand team that won the 2004 series in Christchurch, said this was the toughest of his four titles to win.

"Just the way we came into this tournament, we had a lot of things go on in camp in terms of injuries and players not making the mark expected of them.

"We went through adversity, we went through a slump, but we came through."

- Stuff

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