The Aussie Steelers put in a brilliant performance but fell just short against New Zealand in the final of the XV WBSC Men’s Softball World Championship in Whitehorse, Canada.
The Black Sox won 6-4 in an outstanding game that featured high-quality pitching and defence, as well as some clutch power hitting.
Although they had to settle for silver medals, the Steelers showed they are a force in world softball. They scored some crucial wins throughout the 10-day tournament and showed considerable improvement on their fourth placing at the 2015 World Championship.
For the New Zealanders, it was their seventh men’s softball gold medal. Much of the credit for this one goes to Joel Evans, whose dramatic grand slam in the sixth inning gave his team the lead after they had trailed for much of the game.
Pitcher Adam Folkard kept Australia in the lead for five innings, but his one mistake was punished severely. Folkard struck out five and walked four in six innings of work.
Black Sox pitcher Josh Pettett kept the Steelers off the scoreboard in the top of the first inning, with James Todhunter the only base runner after a one-out walk.
New Zealand wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, with Campbell Enoka walking, advancing to third when Joel Evans singled, then scoring on a sacrifice fly by Nathan Nukunuku.
After a scoreless second inning, the Steelers took the lead with two runs in the third. Julian Jemmott singled and went to second when Ryan Sinclair was hit by a pitch. Jemmott scored Australia’s first run when Todhunter singled and Sinclair advanced to third on the throw. That proved crucial when Andrew Kirkpatrick hit a sacrifice fly to give his team a 2-1 lead.
They doubled that lead in the fourth inning when Ryan Sinclair’s single drove in Liam O’Leary.
The Black Sox pulled a run back in the fifth inning, with Brad Rona’s sacrifice fly scoring Enoka.
Folkard kept his team in front not only with his pitching, but also with an outstanding defensive play that saved at least one run.
But his good work was undone with one swing of the bat in the sixth inning. Two singles and a hit batter loaded the bases for Evans, whose towering home run to left field turned the game on its head.
Even then, the Steelers were not going to give up. A solo home run by Nick Shailes in the top of the seventh inning kept the flame flickering, but that was as close as the Aussies would get.
Host nation Canada won the bronze medal, with Argentina, USA, Japan, Venezuela and Botswana filling out places 4-8.