WORLD SOFTBALL: RP BLU BOYS FACE AUSSIES IN OPENER IN NEW ZEALAND
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND, January 30, 2004 (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - A big boost to heart and mind, that’s what a first victory would give the Philippine team when it goes up against a resurgent Australia today in the XI men’s world softball championships here in Christchurch.
Ranged against a team which it shared close to tail end finish in the last championship in East London, South Africa but has since rebuilt behind a Canadian-born coach, the Blu Boys will make their debut looking for a win that would jump-start their bid for a quarterfinal seat in the tough Pool A of the tournament — the men’s centerpiece event of the International Softball Federation (ISF).
There are 15 nations in the fold, representing the very best of the ISF’s regions in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania, divided into two groups in the one-round eliminations, which got underway Thursday with a lone game between New Zealand and Samoa.
The top four teams from each pool will move on to the crossover quarterfinals.
Venue is the world-class facility of the Smokefree Ballpark. It is situated in the city known as the gateway to the southern island of this beautiful country whose magnificent landscape unravelled before the world in Peter Jackson’s cinematic trilogy "Lord of the Rings".
At the moment the main attraction here is the men’s world championships with the host New Zealand Black Sox going for a record world title three-peat.
The Blu Boys face off with the Aussie Steelers at 11 a.m. (7 a.m. in Manila) hopefully recovered from jet lag after a rigorous 18-hour travel from Manila Tuesday that left them red-eyed from lack of sleep.
"It’s a tough task but it would surely give us hope for the next games if we beat Australia. It will put the boys in the right frame of mind, in high spirits, at gaganahan," said head coach Reynaldo "Baby" Manzanares.
ASA-Phil president Manila Rep. Harry Angping, who is scheduled to arrive here Saturday, sent a text message to the Blu Boys, urging them to dish out their best in the world stage of the finest in softball. "We’ve done everything and worked hard for this championship and we’re confident we’ll do well," he said.
Maintaining the line that the Blu Boys have had a taste of world-caliber competition in two matches against world No.2 Japan during the Asian championship in Manila last December coupled with the East London experience of nine carryovers in the team, Manzanares feels they have the tools to accomplish the mission at hand–get possibly four wins to advance from their side of the draw.
Still it’s a tough draw. The RP team is bracketed with Canada, which had medalled in eight straight championships; Venezuela, joint pool leader with Japan in the championship four years ago, South Africa,
European champion the Netherlands, and newcomer Samoa, whose core is made up of former New Zealand aces.
The Steelers themselves are coming off a heavy pre-tournament buildup that included a tri-nation series with New Zealand and Japan and shutout wins over Venezuela, 3-0, and Great Britain, 7-0, on the eve of the tournament.
Expected to lead the Aussies is power pitcher Andrew Kirkpatrick, who had 16 strikeouts when Australia beat Japan in the tune-up series.
The 19-year old, who had attracted major league teams in the US, will be one of the main concerns for Manzanares as he toiled overnight on how RP’s pitching rotation would go against Australia.
Mark Rae Ramirez, 21, the most valuable player in the Asian tournament; veteran Roger Rojas and Sonny Boy Acuña make up the RP rotation with assistant coach Eufrocino dela Cruz on standby as Manzanares makes do with a compact 14-man roster.
Three members of team were left behind due to airline booking problems.
Another concern is the cold weather, dipping to 22 degrees in temperature, and bringing back to mind similar conditions in East London four years ago where the Blu Boys ended up joint ninth with Australia and Venezuela.
"Laban ito," Manzanares said.
Making up Pool B are Japan, United States, Czech Republic, Argentina, Bostwana, Great Britain, and Hongkong, a late replacement for Taiwan.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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