Black Sox beaten by Venezuela at world softball championships after big win over Japan
The New Zealand Black Sox have crashed to a sloppy 7-3 defeat to Venezuela in their first loss at the men's softball world championship in Canada.
Mark Sorenson's men - ranked No 1 in the world - went from the sublime - a 8-1 Wednesday morning (NZ Time) victory over second-ranked Japan - to the ridiculous a few hours later against the vibrant Venezuelans at Whitehorse.
Their defeat now leaves New Zealand, seventh-ranked Venezuela and Japan all tied with one four wins and one defeat each - Venezuela's a 7-0 forfeit to Japan after arriving late on opening day.
Being vanquished by Venezuela for the first time at at a world series was a big wake-up call for Sorenson's side.
The South Americans - runners-up to New Zealand in 2013 and bronze medallists two years ago - controlled the game from start to finish, scoring in five of the seven innings.
Black Sox starting pitcher Nik Hayes struggled on the mound, falling behind early in the count and being forced to throw too many fat pitches.
Venezuela made him pay with two automatic home runs - a first inning solo shot to Yeider Chrinos and a two-run blast by Jorge Lima in the top of the fourth.
Hayes also gave up three back-to-back singles in the third frame.
Venezuela shaded New Zealand with 10 hits to nine, but the Black Sox squandered some chances with some poor base running - with Cole Evans out for early leadoff and a couple of others falling victim to Venezuela catcher Rafael Flores' lightning release and rocket arm on pickoff plays.
Rightfielder Kallan Compain cracked his third automatic home run of the tournament in the second inning while captain Nathan Nukunuku and vice-captain Thomas Enoka both had two safe hits with Nukunuku driving in a run with a triple.
The Venezuelans were also slicker in the field with Carlos Carreno pulling off a brilliant mid-air diving catch to deny Brad Rona a hit - and New Zealand another run.
Hayes took eight strikeouts but left the game after being shelled for eight hits and six earned runs for a 8.40 ERA (earned run average).
Josh Pettett, who threw superbly against Japan, looked less convincing in relief against Venezuela. He entered in the sixth, giving up a leadoff hit to Lima, a couple of walks and several wild pitches.
Earlier, two home runs by Nukunuku highlighted the big comeback win over Japan.
The Auckland infielder batted in five runs as the Black Sox, rated number one in the world, thumped second-ranked Japan in Canada on Tuesday (Wednesday NZ Time).
Nukunuku, a 37-year-old attending a record-equalling sixth world championship, showed why Sorenson wanted him back to captain the team in Whitehorse after taking a break from the Black Sox due to work commitments.
New Zealand - chasing a seventh world title - were trailing 1-0 when the game resumed in the top of the third inning after rain forced the teams off the diamond on Monday (Tuesday NZT).
Japan made a pitching change when the game resumed, bringing on Kento Okazaki, who spent last season with Nukunuku's Auckland Ramblers club. When Nukunuku came up to bat in the bottom of the third with two runners on, the situation was ripe for a game-breaking captain's knock. He did not disappoint, hammering a three-run home run over the rightfield fence to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.
Canterbury third baseman Tyron Bartorillo smashed his fifth of the tournament in the bottom of the fourth inning, sending the ball over the centrefield fence to extend the score to 4-1.
Nukunuku later made Japan closer Yuki Mori pay when the right-handed hurler hung a pitch over the plate. The Kiwi skipper slammed a two-run homer over centrefield to make it 6-1.
Nukunuku provided two of New Zealand's six hits - both home runs.
Pettett showed great composure on the mound, taking eight strikeouts while serving up four scattered safe hits. The 24-year-old Wellington hurler did not deliver a single walk.
The Black Sox's final pool games are against Denmark and fourth-ranked Botswana, who seem set to qualify for the playoffs for the first time.
New Zealand Black Sox 8 Japan 1. Hits: NZ 6 (Nathan Nukunuku 2, Cole Evans, Tyron Bartorillo, Zane van Lieshout, Campbell Enoka) Japan 4. Pitching: NZ: Josh Pettett 8 strikeouts, 4 hits, 0 walks
Venezuela 7 New Zealand Black Sox 3. Hits: Ven: 10 ( Yeider Chrinos, Jorge Lima HRs) New Zealand 9 (Nathan Nukunuku 2, Cole Evans 2 hits, Brad Rona, Thomas Enoka, Tyron Bartorillo, Campbell Enoka, Kallan Compain HR). Pitching: NZ: Nik Hayes 8 strikeouts (Ks), 6 earned runs (ER), 8 hits (H), 1 walks (BB). Josh Pettett 2 Ks, 1 ER, 2 H, 2BB.