Difficult axing clears space for Black Sox skipper
Injured Black Sox skipper Rhys Casley is still confident of playing a full role at the world softball championships despite coach Eddie Kohlhase being forced to drop another player to bring in specialist cover for his captain.
Kohlhase described breaking the bad news to "distraught" Auckland outfielder Jerome Haretuku as one of the toughest conversations of his career.
But he felt he had to draft in two-time world champion infielder Nathan Nukunuku in case Casley's shoulder problem prevents him fielding at second base in the tournament which starts in Auckland on Friday.
Kohlhase said he felt "terrible" telling Haretuku the bad news on Sunday.
"It was a pretty tough conversation. Jerome was distraught . . . he's obviously very upset. He's a young man who's done everything we've asked of him, he's trained the house down.
"We can't fault his dedication and contribution to the team. The situation isn't a reflection on Jerome's ability, we just needed another infielder."
Casley also felt for the young Aucklander, "not just as a team-mate and a good friend but because I know it's directly because of me . . . every time I see him, it's a tough one. But Jerome's here with us, sucking it up for the guys."
Kohlhase said Casley, who bats in the key No 3 role for the Black Sox, "is our leader on and off the diamond" and was "such an integral member of the team" that they had to give him every chance to stay involved.
Teams must lodge their 17-man rosters with the International Softball Federation by Thursday, hence the need to make an early decision.
Casley is likely to skip today's practice game against the Czech Republic in Auckland, but was still hopeful he could be ready in time for the tournament opener against Mexico.
The 34-year-old Hutt Valley stalwart said he "over-extended" his shoulder, making a long throw from shallow right-field to third base in the final game of a tournament in Auckland nine days ago. He "probably shouldn't have made the throw" and "tore some scar tissue" in his right shoulder where he had surgery to reattach tendons in November.
But he said he had "aggravated" the shoulder "not reinjured it" and his surgeon and physio were "quite happy" at his progress over the last week.
"Your mind can take you to some pretty dark places, but I'm just as determined as I was from day one [after surgery]."
Kohlhase said there was "nothing wrong with Rhys' glove" and he could still bat but his recovery was "a work in progress". "But the fact that he's actually here is remarkable given the surgery he underwent."
He hinted he would not be rushing back his skipper before he was ready but would aim to have him right for the playoffs stages on Friday week.
But Kohlhase is also aware the Black Sox have three tough pool games in succession against Japan on Sunday, Canada Monday and Argentina on Tuesday, which will be pivotal to their hopes of securing a top seeding for the playoffs.
Nukunuku, who won world titles in 2000 and 2004, was considered a controversial omission in the first place. The Auckland representative team player-coach is an accomplished shortstop but Kohlhase said he could also play in Casley's second-base slot.
He feels he has all contingencies covered with his infield mix of Casley, Nukunuku, Tyron Bartorillo, Tyson Byrne and Daniel Milne, who could also do outfield duty. Bartorillo is the preferred third baseman but Byrne, Milne and Nukunuku could all play shortstop or second base.
Nukunuku was playing against the Black Sox for Auckland club Ramblers when Casley tweaked his shoulder. He was brought in to join a team-bonding camp in Northland last week.
Kohlhase said Haretuku would stay with the squad throughout the tournament as a non-playing member. "I know he's disappointed, but I also know he's young enough to help us win world titles for a while to come."