Junior Black Sox clinch playoff spot at U18 Softball World Cup with comeback win over Guatemala

Brodyn Knuckey
Source: 1News

The Junior Black Sox have well and truly recovered from their opening loss at this year's under-18 Men's Softball World Cup after clinching second place in their pool with a game to spare in Palmerston North.

Following their 12-1 defeat to Japan on Saturday, New Zealand bounced back with big wins over USA [11-1] and Mexico [14-3] before sealing their place in the tournament's super round with a victory over Guatemala last night.

But their latest win proved much harder than the last two, with the Junior Black Sox forced to pull off a comeback win against the Central Americans.

New Zealand jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first innings when Harrison Wildbore delivered an RBI single up the middle but his clutch piece of hitting was undone soon after with Guatemala bringing in four runs in their next turn at bat.

The Junior Black Sox responded with two more runs in the bottom of the second - courtesy of an RBI double to deep left centre from Te Kirika Cooper-Nicola and a sacrifice hit from Ciaran Bolger - but Guatemala pushed their lead back out to three with runs in the third and fourth innings.

The Kiwis weren't helping themselves, though, with errors piling up in the field and Guatemala capitalising on every chance they got.

"Tough battle by the boys," coach Thomas Makea said.

"We were chasing runs after the second innings there but we just told the boys to stay patient."

That patience eventually payed off with the Junior Black Sox able to score five runs in their final three at-bats to claim an 8-7 comeback win, spearheaded by Cooper-Nicola.

After Wildbore and his cousin Traye Wildbore both delivered RBIs in the fifth, Cooper-Nicola set the game alight with an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the sixth innings to tie the contest.

The North Harbour first baseman then came up with the bases loaded and one out in the Junior Black Sox' final at-bat and delivered a walkoff single up the middle while collecting his fourth RBI and third hit of the game to give the hosts a crucial third win in Palmerston North.

With the victory, the Junior Black Sox are guaranteed second in Pool B when they move to the super round after today's final round robin game against winless Denmark.

In the super round, they, along with the other two best-placed Pool B countries, will face off against Pool A's top three seeds - defending world champions Australia along with two others to be finalised from today's results.

The two teams with the best overall record from both the round robin and super round will then face off in Sunday's final.

Makea, a four-time world champion as a player, says it'll take his entire squad to make that final.

"We had to use 15 [last night] and that was always our plan," Makea said.

"They all stepped up at times, which was good to see."

The Junior Black Sox play Denmark at 7.30pm today.