The Aussie Spirit players and coaches have returned home after their final international event of 2017, a highly successful tournament in Kochi City, Japan.
In this case, success was not measured by medals, final placings or wins and losses. This venture was more about developing depth in the Spirit squad by including some less-experienced players and giving the team a chance to play in Japanese conditions against high-quality teams.
Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow declared the trip a success on several fronts.”We took a very young group and exposed them to high-quality international competition,” Barlow said. “We had some tough games and the players, especially the newbies, learned a lot.
“The facilities were great and we were spoilt by the hosts, who gave us Japanese National Team men’s pitchers and catchers to help us out at training. It was a real eye-opener for our younger players.”
With some of the early schedule affected by rain delays, the Spirit were given a chance to play in a domed stadium. “It’s a great indoor facility,” Barlow said. “We have to play under modified rules because of the roof, but it was a great experience and a chance to make up for games lost because of rain.”
The Spirit were more than competitive, losing only one game. But that was not the point, according to Barlow. “A tournament like this is not all about wins and losses,” he said.
“Of course we send our players out there with the aim of winning every game, but from the coaching side it’s not as important. We try to get players out of their comfort zone, see what they can do in different situations. Sometimes we put players in different positions to see how they handle it.
“This type of tournament is valuable because we don’t get to play many international games where we’re not having to qualify for playoffs or playing for medals. That gives us a chance to try different things and see how the players respond.”
Only once in nine games did the Aussie Spirit score more than two runs in what was a pitching-dominated tournament. “That was to be expected,” Barlow said. “Our pitchers and catchers were our most experienced players. We had a lot of younger players in other positions.”
Among the most impressive Spirit players was infielder Taylah Tsitsikronis, who has been among the team’s most consistent hitters this year. “Taylah was our most productive hitter, getting some big hits and driving in runs at key times,” Barlow said.
It was the younger players who came most under Barlow’s spotlight. “As tends to happen, our young hitters were a bit up and down. Consistency will come with more experience. But we were able to see what players can do, and overall they handled themselves very well.
“That’s great for our program because it adds depth to our squad looking ahead to next year’s big events.”
The biggest of those events is the WBSC XVI Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan, next August, which will serve as the primary Olympic qualifying tournament. Barlow said many of the strategies used in the Kochi tournament and other recent events were made with one eye on next year.
“Sometimes we put players in situations that might not make much sense to them from a winning and losing perspective. But we have other priorities, other things we’re looking for.
“Every decision we make is with the 2018 World Championship and Olympic qualifying in mind.”