The most anticipated game so far of the XII WBSC Junior Men’s Softball World Championship did not disappoint. In a matchup of the top-two ranked teams that were both undefeated, Team Canada upset New Zealand with an 8-5 victory in front of the biggest crowd that has ever been at the Max Power Ball Parks—or perhaps anywhere in Prince Albert during a sporting event.
The victory keeps Canada’s record at a perfect 4-0, and bringing New Zealand’s down to 3-1.
Canadian head coach Jeff Ellsworth talked about what a win like this means for the team.
“It’s everything,” he said. “To beat New Zealand, they’re one of the best organizations in the world and have been for a long time in the men’s division and junior men’s division. To actually put in a performance like that against them is a tremendous confidence boost for us.”
The crowd was a big factor in the game. Although there were certainly loud pockets of fans dawning all black gear and flying fern flags, the rest were loud and proud Canadians. The official estimate from organizers is over 6,000 people stood and sat around the diamond for the game.
“There were a couple innings there where I was looking around and was just in awe,” Canada second baseman Dallas Kipfer said. “All the bleachers were full, they were doing the wave in the last inning. It was pretty surreal.”
Although it all ended well for Canada, the start was a little worrisome. After being retired in order, the New Zealanders scored twice to tense up the crowd. Harrison Valk’s single scored a pair of runs to get the Kiwis off to 2-0 start.
But in the Canadian dugout, their confidence didn’t waiver.
“We knew we weren’t out of the game at all,” Kipfer said. “It was early and we knew our sticks were way too hot to not score any runs. We were very confident.”
That confidence showed on the field as Canada racked up six runs in the third inning.
Canadian third baseman Isaac Lefebvre drove in Dawson Sellick with a poke through the middle of the infield to get on the board. Then with the bases loaded, Kipfer highlighted the inning with a clutch single, bringing in two runners and giving all the momentum to Canada.
“Coach actually told me to sit [for a] changeup, so I was sitting in the back of the box with my hands back and he threw me a pitch that was in my zone,” Kipfer said. “I didn’t hesitate.”
“Dallas, I call him a professional hitter,” Ellsworth said. “He has really great zones, he takes tremendous hacks at the plate and that was big.”
New Zealand starting pitcher Reilly Makea, who was lightly limping on the mound, walked in three batters with the bases loaded before being replaced by Josh Kelly. Canada led 6-3 after three innings.
Harrison Valk got N.Z. back on the board in the fourth inning with a solo shot.
Then Canada advanced their lead to 7-3 in the top of the sixth inning, with a Jordan Pomeroy double scoring Noah Baker from second base.
New Zealand loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth with two outs and was a hit away to dangerously cutting into Canada’s lead. But reliable Riley Manion entered the game and struck out pinch-hitter Jared Gillard to end the threat.
“He’s built for those types of moments,” Ellsworth said. “He just comes out with a big smile on his face. ‘Gimme the ball and I’ll throw it as hard as I can. If they can hit it, hit it. If not, that’s too bad for them.’ The stress and the pressure doesn’t get to him.”
Canada entered the bottom of the seventh and final inning up 8-3, but a desperate and highly skilled New Zealand side wasn’t going to fold easily.
They scored a pair of runs to make it 8-5, then put two more on and had the tying run in Seth Gibson at the plate. But Manion was able to strike out Gibson and end the ball game.
Canada will have a day off on Wednesday and are planning to throw a nice mid-tournament barbeque to recharge the batteries. They’ll play their final group stage game against Hong Kong (0-4) at 8 p.m. on Rotary Field before the playoffs start on Friday.
Here are the rest of Tuesday’s games.
Australia 8 Mexico 1
While the Canada-New Zealand matchup was going on, Australia (4-0) defeated Mexico (2-2) by a score of 8-1. Layton Reid struck out 15 batters, and only surrendered one hit through six innings of work.
U.S.A. 3 Guatemala 0
The Americans (2-2) picked up their second straight win, shutting out Guatemala (1-3) by a score of 3-0. Nathan Landry went seven full innings for the States, giving up just one hit and striking out 14. Dalton Gray, Jeff Lewis and Craig Lewis all crossed the plate.
Japan 16 South Africa 5
Japan (4-0) won the highest scoring game of the tournament thus far, beating South Africa 16-5. The 21 total runs is the most two times have combined for. The second biggest scoring game was Australia’s 18-0 win over Denmark on Monday. The Japanese got three home runs in the game from Wataru Seki, Ayumu Nishimori and Seiya Shimomoto.
Czech Republic 13 Hong Kong 0
The Czech Republic (2-2) got their bats going in high gear and enjoyed a 13-0 defeat over Hong Kong (0-4). The Vojtech’s had the best nights at the plate for the Czechs, with third baseman Vojtech Forman going 3-4 at the dish with four runs batted in and two runs scored. Designated player Vojtech Buchner scored three runs, had a double and a RBI.
Argentina 3 Denmark 1
Argentina (2-2) evened their record by beating Denmark (0-5) narrowly with a 3-1 victory to kick off Tuesday’s action. In fact, it was the Danes striking first. Melin was walked in to give Denmark a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning.
Argentina equalized in the fifth when Lucio Retamar hit an inside-the-park home run. Argentina then took the lead with a pair of runs in the sixth, with Leonel Dardanelli scoring on a wild pitch and Alejo Muñoz hit an RBI double.
On Twitter: @jeff_paNOW
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