Young Red Hawks ready to swoop on NFC rivals
Coach Carl Tuinenga thinks the Canterbury Red Hawks have the depth to bid for a place in the National Fastpitch Championships (NFC) women's final.
It has been eight years since the Hawks won a New Zealand championship. However, a young squad finished third in Hutt Valley last season in Tuinenga's first term in charge.
The NFC opens today in Auckland
They backed that up with a third-placing at the Southern Cross Challenge in Christchurch in April, where they beat a New Zealand White Sox selection.
Four Canterbury players - young infielders Cassie Siataga and Mikayla Werahiko and outfielders Robyn Hall and Lauren Sutherland - were in the White Sox Selection squad that played in the Australian interstate series in Adelaide last month.
"I think we'll go OK [at NFC]," Tuinenga said.
"We are hoping to progress from where we were last year.
"To make a final would be fantastic," he said.
"We've got good depth and we've got a young side. It's good to have four players in the [White Sox] mix; we haven't had that for a while."
Tuinenga - assisted this season by former White Sox catcher Angela Hammond (formerly Moreton) - said rotating the Red Hawks pitchers "will be key".
He has Elisha Smith - who had one of the lowest earned run averages (Era) last season - and Sutherland, who will also play outfield, back on the mound, with 15-year-old "rising star" Amy Begg making her NFC debut.
Sutherland passed a fitness test on Monday after missing the Red Hawks' victory at the South Island Jubilee Cup tournament to rest a hand she injured while batting for the White Sox.
Tuinenga is confident outfielders Oriana Hesp (heel) and Christina Bartorillo (ankle) will be over injury niggles to play a full part at the NFC.
Hesp made a successful return to the Red Hawks after a two-year absence, slamming an in-the-park home run in the Jubilee Cup final to cap a solid batting tournament.
Tuinenga was also impressed with his team leaders, captain Nicole Baxter and vice-captain Carly Werahiko.
"Cole-B [Baxter] has come on heaps in the last two years with her leadership and attitude and Carly gives us real experience [at catcher]."
Baxter was top batter at the Jubilee Cup and, along with Carly Werahiko, showed some base-stealing dash.
They will lead the Red Hawks hitting lineup which has been augmented by consistent club competition batter Steph Kepa. Siataga, Mikayla Werahiko, her sister Krystal, Hall, Bartorillo, catcher Manawa Ruki and versatile infielder Emma Frost have also had previous batting success at top tournaments. Only Begg and utility Charryl Moody have not played at NFC level.
Tuinenga rates champions Auckland as the team to beat again because of "their pitching strength and general ability across the board".
White Sox world championship pitcher Michal Tangaroa will be joined on the mound by AmericanJen Feret (who guested for Canterbury at the Southern Cross Challenge) and Junior White Sox pitcher Krystal Hoani.