Auckland teams head seedings for national women's softball tournament
Any doubts about the current power base of New Zealand women's softball can be dispelled by a glance at seedings for this week's national interclub tournament in Auckland.
The top four clubs for the 16-team series are from Auckland, who have won the last three National Fastpitch Championship provincial titles.
Western Magpies are ranked number one for the Howick tournament this week after winning their first national interclub crown last season in their third successive final.
Led by New Zealand pitcher Jennifer Feret-Brear, Magpies clinched the Auckland premiership last weekend with a 2-1 grand final win over Otahuhu.
Magpies have experienced Hawaiian college graduate Kalelo Eldredge as player-coach, Dutch infielder Virginie Anneveld, who has played in the United States Pro League and White Sox internationals Kingsley Avery, Beth Stavert, Aaria Tawhia and Gillian Wills.
Otahuhu, beaten finalists in 2011, have never won the national interclub, but are seeded second.
Coach Jamie Brear has four proven pitching options - former White Sox hurler Michal Fletcher, experienced American Sammi Parks, Pania Monk and Loran Parker. Past New Zealand representatives Nita Hickey and Krysta Hoani add depth to the south Aucklanders' lineup.
Waitakere Bears, whose only national title came in 2013, will field Tyla Morrison, the White Sox pitcher who hurled Auckland to NFC grand final victory in February. She will throw to New Zealand catcher Kyla Bromhead, who is joined in the roster by sisters Rebecca and Tegan and White Sox reps Ancelle van Molendorf and Aieesha Hooper.
Ramblers, coached by former Black Sox slugger Donny Hale, are the fourth seeds. Longtime White Sox infielder Katrina Nukunuku will lead the side.
Howick, who are hosting the tournament at Meadowlands Reserve, are the sixth seed with canny American pitcher Marissa Berkes on the mound, backed in the batting lineup by White Sox catcher Stef Smith, Breanna Gibson and Zoe Tolhopf.
Auckland teams have won four of the last five tournaments, but three Hutt Valley sides should provide reasonable competition in 2017.
Six-time champions Te Aroha are the fifth seeds and have called up two veteran ex-White Sox internationals, pitcher Sheree Cartwright and outfielder Melisa Tupuivao, who won a silver medal at the 1990 world championships as a 15-year-old.
Cartwright will support pitchers Petra Kriklanova and Pallas Potter, the Junior White Sox captain. Kuraroa Ratu-James and Ashley Johnston are other well-performed experienced players.
Hutt Valley Dodgers, champions in 2014 and runners-up last year, have picked up White Sox pitcher and catcher Rita Hokianga and Mel Gettins, who play their club softball for a Hawke's Bay men's team, Flaxmere. Dodgers will also field former New Zealand player of the year Danica Ferriso, Emma Houkamau and junior international Mikayla Lewin.
Naomi Shaw's Hutt Valley Saints will have Junior White Sox pitcher Bailey Robertson backing up American Alyson Spinas-Valanis, current White Sox squad members Keri Simeon and Charlotte Tuala and former New Zealand captain Kiri Shaw and her daughter, Junior White Sox infielder Denva Shaw-Tait.
Poneke Kilbirnie look the best of the Wellington entrants with three Koko-Lutau sisters, Jaenin, Paiton and Lydia, Marama Makea and Canterbury pick-up Lucy McIntyre.
But Johnsonville cannot be discounted with power batters Emma Francis and Brooke Cutting, although much will depend on Jasmin Kaiaruna's workload on the mound.
Papanui, the Canterbury premiership runners-up, are the only South Island side. Canterbury Red Hawks regular Lauren Sutherland and Brittany Terrey, from the Junior White Sox, will form Papanui's pitching staff with Leah Stockford and Steph Kepa anchoring the batting lineup.
The tournament starts on Thursday with round robin play in two sections. The playoffs phase starts on Saturday with the final on Sunday.