Howick Pakuranga National Champions
- Published on Sunday, 11 March 2012 19:49
- Written by Alastair Bull
Howick Pakuranga storms back to repeat as National Champions
A three-RBI effort by Regan Hoet and solid pitching by Andrew Marck allowed Howick-Pakuranga to retain their New Zealand national baseball title with a hard-fought 6-3 victory over West City-Metro.
Howick-Pakuranga were heavily favoured in Sunday's final after going through the tournament unbeaten, but it wasn't until the bottom of the sixth inning that they took the lead for good to end what had been a thrilling three days of men's New Zealand baseball action in Glendowie, Auckland.
West City-Metro could only get one hit off pitcher Marck, back with his hometown club after a season with professional baseball club the Brisbane Bandits in Australia. Marck struck out an impressive 14 batters, but seven walks, three hit batters and five errors in defence allowed West City Metro to remain competitive.
West City took the lead in the first inning when Lewis Gerard scored on an error, but Howick equalised in the bottom of the second when Derek Grace scored on a single by Hoet.
The favourites went in front when Blair Johnstone scored from another Hoet single in the fourth, but West City bounced back in the top of the fifth after a centre field error allowed Richard Clarke and Casey Nukunuku to scamper home.
Grace levelled the score with a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, and his team went ahead later that inning when another Hoet single brought infielder Dan Tan home.
Further runs scored by John Lee in the seventh and Nick Koh in the eighth stretched Howick-Pakuranga's lead to 6-3, but they had a frustrating wait to secure the game when a rain delay was called with one out remaining in the ninth inning.
Jamie Wilson came in to get the final out once the rain eased and Howick retained their title.
Matt Mills threw eight innings, allowing six runs-four earned-10 hits and six walks for West City Metro.
Hoet and Marck had both been effective in reversed positions in the semifinal earlier in the day when Howick beat Canterbury 11-2.
Marck went 3-4 at the plate, with two RBIs, while Hoet pitched seven Innings, allowing four hits and two runs, one of them earned.
Lee opened the game up in the second inning with a grand slam, helping his team to a 6-0 lead which was never seriously threatened.
The other semifinal couldn't have been much different as West City needed all their experience to earn the spot in the final after a dramatic 4-3 win over a gallant North Shore City team in their semifinal.
North Shore had led 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh and final scheduled inning, scoring three in the third inning off West City starting pitcher Gordon Niemann and keeping West City-Metro to two runs via the canny pitching of former Korean professional player and coach Eric Cho.
Relief pitcher Yuya Goizumi looked set to close the game after getting his first two batters out and having two strikes on West City hitter Lance Taku, but the game was sent into an extra inning after Taku hit a clutch homerun over the left field wall.
Mills kept North Shore scoreless in the top of the eighth and then stepped up with the bat, hitting a walk off double off Goizumi to bring national team representative Gerard in for the winning run.
North Shore gained well-deserved compensation for their narrow loss by beating Canterbury 11-1 to take third place.
Canterbury took the lead in the top of the fourth but North Shore proceeded to score 11 in the next three innings to take the match by mercy rule.
Mills' efforts to throw 16 innings in three days, including nine on Sunday, for five earned runs, earned him the tournament award for best pitcher, while Hoet's effort to go 7-10, with three runs batted in the final and an on base percentage of .778, earned him the batting title. Marck was named tournament MVP for his final pitching effort and his 11 for 17 tournament with his bat.
It was a tournament full of drama and competitive baseball, with only Orewa among the seven teams leaving without a win.
Bayside's young team filled with numerous United States college-bound prospects and coached by national coach Cola Yeh, showed promise on their home soil with two wins in their first men's tournament, while the Wellington Senators, also first-time contestants, revealed to baseball fans that they too deserved to be there. Fronted by the pitching of Sam Bishop who - with two of his talented brothers by his side - led his teammates to an upset win of West City-Metro while also giving eventual champion Howick all they could handle in a tight 3-2 loss in round robin play.
All four of the semifinalists had their moments, but Howick-Pakuranga's unbeaten run made them worthy champions.
The depth among the teams augured well for the future of baseball in New Zealand and the community will look forward with interest to the 2013 tournament.
Story by: Alastair Bull
Photo: Mike Long