Home running hitting Black Sox top seeds for world softball championships playoffs
Thomas Enoka's grand slam home run set up the New Zealand Black Sox's win over Botswana to secure top seeding for the world championships playoffs.
New Zealand completed a 7-0 five innings win over the emerging African nation in Whitehorse, Canada on Friday to top Pool B after round robin play.
Mark Sorenson's Black Sox will carry two lives into the medal round where they are likely to face arch rivals Australia in the opening stage on Saturday (NZ Time).
Botswana, who have qualified for the top eight for the first time, left their ace pitcher Kagiso Mogale on the sidelines against the Black Sox.
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The 26-year-old is reputed to be the fastest pitcher of the tournament after racking up 52 strikeouts in 18 innings. But the Botswana coaching staff opted to keep him fresh for a sudden-death playoffs game.
Understudy Karabo Motsholathebe struggled to find the strike zone, giving the first four batters a free pass to first base. He dished up three walks and struck Kiwi captain Nathan Nukunuku's shoulder with a wild delivery.
Campbell Enoka walked home for the first run and brother Thomas made Botswana pay with his second home run of the tournament - a bases-loaded blast over the centrefield fence for a 5-0 lead.
Botswana made a pitching change, calling on designated player Odirile Legau, who retired four batters in a row over two innings before conceding a Texas league single to Campbell Enoka.
Veteran outfielder Wayne Laulu, who celebrated his 50th cap earlier in the week, slammed his first home run in Whitehorse with a two-run shot in the bottom of the third inning.
Laulu's shot was New Zealand's 20th home run of the week - the highest homer tally at the tournament.
Sorenson rang the changes, bringing pinch hitters off the bench for some of his highest-average hitters.
Legau lost his control in the third, loading the bases with three walks and Botswana went to the bullpen for their third pitcher.
New Zealand had just four hits ( three of them from the Enokas - two to Thomas and a single to Campbell).
Sorenson started with Nik Hayes on the pitching mound. He took six strikeouts in three innings, giving up a solitary safe hit - a leftfield single by Moses Kgosimore.
Left-hander Karl Gollan took over in the fourth, striking out two batters before Campbell Gibson closed it out in the fifth, finishing the game with a strikeout.
Sorenson said before the Botswana game that the Black Sox would need all four pitchers in the playoffs.
He believed the medals hunt was "wide open" with the championships proving one of the most competitive in recent history.
Defending champions Canada, New Zealand and Venezuela appear to have the strong teams, but Australia and Japan are also genuine threats and Sorenson said the United States - who last won a medal in 2000 - had one of their best lineups for many years.
The Black Sox ended pool play with seven wins and one loss (7-3 to Venezuela), scoring 71 runs while conceding 11.
Canada - the only unbeaten team at the tournament - topped Pool A and will meet Japan in the playoffs.
Sorenson had been hoping Botswana would throw Mogale to give the Black Sox batters a chance to sight power pitching before facing Australia's Adam Folkard or Andrew Kirkpatrick in the medal round match-up.
Folkard, rated the top pitcher in the world over the past decade, beat the Black Sox in the 2009 world championships final but the New Zealanders had his measure on their way to the 2013 title.
AT A GLANCE
New Zealand Black Sox 7 Botswana 0 (5 innings). Hits: NZ 4 (Thomas Enoka 2 inc HR, Wayne Laulu HR, Campbell Enoka) Botswana 1. Pitching: Nik Hayes 3 innings, 1 hit, six strikeouts, 0 walks; Karl Gollan 1 inning, 0 hits, 2 strikeouts 0 walks; Campbell Gibson 1 inning, 0 hits, 1 strikeout, 0 walks.
NZ's pool play record: beat Turkey 22-0, beat Czech Republic 9-2, beat Great Britain 16-0, beat Japan 8-1, lost to Venezuela 7-3, beat Denmark 8-1, beat Botswana 7-0.