Black Sox coach Mark Sorenson knowshis side’s playoffs fate hinges on the result of a must-win Softball World Cup clash with Cuba on Wednesday.
The seven-time world champion Black Sox have made life harder for themselves after two consecutive defeats in Auckland.
They went down 7-0 to the United States on Sunday – their first defeat to the Americans since 1988 when Kiwi pitcher Peter Meredith hurled his adopted nation to the world championships title.
Then, they surrendered a 5-1 lead going into the seventh inning to lose 11-5 to world champions Argentina, who grabbed six runs going into the ninth inning tiebreaker.
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The Black Sox are due to play the Philippines on Tuesday evening and are expected to post a big win.
But the playoff permutations in Pool A took a fresh twist on Wednesday when the hitherto impressive Cubans lost 8-4 to the United States.
If there is a two-way tie between the Black Sox and the United States, it would be the Americans who would likely finish as second seed for Thursday’s top-six Super Round by virtue of beating the Kiwis.
Presuming Argentina remain unbeaten they would be top seed from Pool A.
Teams advancing to the Super Round only carry through their points against their two fellow qualifiers from their pool, which would disadvantage the Black Sox after losing to the US and the Argentines.
Firstly, the Black Sox need to get past Cuba, a slick defensive team full of contact hitters, many of whom honed their skills in baseball.
Much interest will centre on the pitching style of Cuba’s veteran hurler Alain Roman, 44. At his best, he is capable of tying up top international hitters – he showed that in a 3-1 opening day loss to Argentina.
But Roman was pinged several times for illegal pitching against the United States and conceded five hits, eight runs, seven earned runs and six walks before being replaced by left-hander Guber Plutin in the fourth inning. Two American runners scored after illegal pitch rulings.
The pressure on Roman might give the Black Sox an edge, but Sorenson admitted his team was in a dogfight.
“It’s probably going to come down to our game against Cuba on Wednesday night.’’
Sorenson agreed it “will be hard’’ to pick his players up after the nature of their defeat to Argentina, but he backed his team to bounce back.
“We’ve got enough pride in what we do, and we’re still going to do the right things and come out firing.’’
Captain Cole Evans – who smashed a first inning home run to spark the comeback against Argentina – admitted losing in the ninth inning was “tough to take’’.
“To take a four-run lead into the seventh, it’s always a tough one when you lose a game like that, but that’s sport, it happens, they’re a quality side – they’re not world number one for no reason and they showed that [on Monday night[.
“It’s the one that got away from us, but we’re a mentally strong side and we’ll be back fighting.’’
Evans 24, led by example with his captain’s knock homer off Mata, one of the world’s best.
He said it was while “it didn’t help with the end score, but it’s always nice to hit the ball hard.’’
Evans was conscious that Cuba had “knocked over a couple of teams and were a quality side’’, but he backed the Black Sox to “come back stronger’’.
Despite the defeat to Argentina, Sorenson felt “the quality of our at-bats was so much better’’ than it had been in the first two games, a 3-1 win over the Czech Republic and the loss to the United States.
He said while Mata “did pick up a few strikeouts, they weren’t 1,2,3 and we did go deeper in the count. We pressured him and they used four pitchers to beat us.’’
The Black Sox were denied by a close call at second base on automatic runner Thomas Enoka in the eighth inning on a pickoff play. Sorenson questioned the umpire’s decision, to no avail, and Enoka was given out. Had the call gone the Kiwis’ way, Enoka would have scored on pinch-hitter Jerome Raemaki’s double.
“I thought he was safe, but emotion might have been tied up with that. It was hard to see, but it looked like there were two movements,’’ Sorenson said.
Thomas Enoka had earlier hit a home run in the first inning, with his brother Ben on base, to give the Black Sox a 3-1 lead.
Meanwhile, four-time world champions Canada are now the only team with four wins in Pool B after beating Australia 6-0.
Both sides had already qualified for the Super Round.