International trio boosts Red Sox
The Canterbury Red Sox have bolstered their batting lineup for the National Fastpitch Championships with three past or present Black Sox internationals.
Catcher Stephen Ratu retired from representative softball at the end of last season after slamming a home run to help Canterbury win the Southern Cross Challenge title. However, the 2009 world championships representative has answered an SOS call to suit up for the NFC tournament in Auckland early next month.
Black Sox outfielder Daniel Milne is back after missing last year's tournament through work commitments, and veteran first baseman Darren Davies will wear red-and-black again after several seasons' absence.
Coach Greg Newton welcomed the extra power and experience.
"We should have a stronger batting lineup with Darren obviously going into lead-off and Daniel in the clean-up position.
"They will definitely bolster our hitting and their big-game experience will be valuable."
Milne is part of the Black Sox's senior leadership group and Newton believes Davies has been the best New Zealand first baseman, "defensively and as a lead-off hitter" for many years.
Newton said Ratu's availability was particularly welcome, with Papanui catcher Sam Woodcock unavailable for personal reasons and Albion mask man Clayton Ellis still recovering from a shoulder injury.
"Clayton should be right by the time we go away but it's good that Stephen has put his hand up to give us another option. We've got a couple of other young catchers but they're not ready for this level yet."
Black Sox hurler Penese Iosefo and Papanui's Scott Sutherland return from last year's Red Sox pitching staff and are joined by Albion's Aiden Cocker, a former Junior Black Sox international.
"Aiden has decided he wants to pitch this year, which wasn't the case in previous seasons," Newton said. "He's put in the work and he's a left-hander, which gives us options."
The other team newcomer is Papanui outfielder Paul Barker.
Newton said Barker was a proven hitter and an energetic outfielder.
Canterbury Red Hawks head coach Carl Tuinenga has gained a new assistant, former White Sox catcher Angela Hammond, who still plays premier softball.
They have promoted promising teenage Halswell pitcher Amy Begg, who impressed for the Canterbury development team at the Southern Cross tournament and is in the Junior White Sox training squad.
"Having rising talent in Amy coming in is pretty exciting for Canterbury softball," he said.
She will join Elisha Smith and Lauren Sutherland, who pitched for the Red Hawks last year.
"The unluckiest player not to make the squad would be [pitcher] Jenni Mumm after her performances last year in club and rep stuff.
"But Lish [Smith] had a good tournament last year and has gone away and done some things we asked her to work on and is rewarded with another shot."
Tuinenga said the Red Hawks had a young squad, ranging in age from 15 "to the mid-20s".
Ten Red Hawks are returning from last year's squad, which finished third in Wellington.
Only Begg, Papanui infielder Steph Kepa and Richmond Keas (RKS) utility Charryl Moody are yet to play at a NFC tournament. However, Kepa proved her hitting prowess at the Southern Cross Challenge and Moody is a former national age-group representative. RKS catcher Manawa Ruki and outfielder Oriana Hesp return to the Red Hawks' ranks.