Pitcher Hayes hurls Black Sox to game one win

GETTING THE WIN: Black Sox pitcher Nik Hayes gets a pat on the head from catcher Stephen Ratu during game one of a three-game series against Australia at Rosedale Park.
GETTING THE WIN: Black Sox pitcher Nik Hayes gets a pat on the head from catcher Stephen Ratu during game one of a three-game series against Australia at Rosedale Park.

Young pitcher Nik Hayes hurled the Black Sox to a 3-2 win in the transtasman softball series opener in Auckland tonight but reckons he needs to do better.

Hayes, 24, stepped up as the Kiwis’ strike pitcher in the absence of Jeremy Manley, who pitched the Black Sox to a record sixth world title last year.

The Hutt Valley man mustered 11 strikeouts by hitting his spots on the corners and delivering deceptive drop balls and cleverly controlled changeups.  He gave up four hits, three walks and hit a batter with a pitch.

Hayes formed a good rapport with recalled catching veteran Stephen Ratu before making way for left-hander Heinie Shannon to close out the seventh inning.

Black Sox coach Mark Sorenson said Hayes "threw very well", but also stated he would have to go a  gear and not put so many leadoff batters on base if he gets the ball again during today’s doubleheader.

Hayes agreed, saying he was lucky "the boys had my back and made a couple of crucial plays".

But Hayes felt "in the right head space" and said Ratu "called a great game", which helped him develop some rhythm in the mid-stages. However, he still insisted he "wasn’t too happy with my performance".  "I gave up a couple of late hits down the bottom end of the order."

He said he needed to have "everything working" to beat a top hitting lineup like Australia’s.

Sorenson was pleased to establish a 3-0 lead and get his first victory as Black Sox coach but he said two defensive lapses proved costly in the sixth inning and his new-look team had a few “work-ons’’.

But he had to be happy with the Enoka brothers, Ben and Thomas.

Leadoff batter Ben batted 1.000 after slamming two hits, including a double over his rival centrefielder’s head.

First baseman Thomas capped his comeback after five years in the Black Sox wilderness by forcing an infield error to score Thomas Makea for New Zealand’s first run in the bottom of the fourth inning.  He scampered home for the second when Australian catcher Nick Norton could not control a couple of Adam Folkard’s dipping drop balls.

Sorenson also praised Thomas Enoka for making a heady play, throwing out the lead runner at second with Australia chasing the tying run in the seventh inning.

The game was a classic pitcher’s duel in the early stages with Hayes and Australia’s world number one Adam Folkard going toeplate-to-toeplate.

Hayes displayed his poise in the top of the third after facing some early pressure.  He walked leadoff man James Todhunter for a second time and hit Joel Southam with a pitch to put runners at one and two.  But the Hutt Valley hurler hit back with two clutch strikeouts against Australia’s power hitters Zenon Winters and Andrew Kirkpatrick to end the inning and the Steelers’ scoring threat.

Hayes fanned all three Australian batters in the fourth inning on called final strikes to maintain his dominance.

Australia finally cracked in the bottom of the fourth after sustained pressure by the Black Sox batting lineup and untimely errors by the Steelers led to Makea and Thomas Enoka scoring.

Ben Enoka doubled in the fifth frame and scored the Black Sox’s third run when Hale hit a checked-swing single to rightfield.

But the Black Sox suffered the fielding fumbles in the top of the sixth with two infield errors allowing Winters and Kirkpatrick to score.  But, with the tying run on base, Hayes kept his cool to strikeout Mark Harris.

The second and third tests will be held at Rosedale Park tomorrow.