CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND, January 31, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - The Philippines ran into fireball after fireball pitches from a tall Canberra youth and went down to a 1-2 decision to Australia Friday in the XI men’s world softball championship at Smokefree Ballpark here.

Andrew Kirkpatrick, 19, a member of the Australia’s 2001 youth world champion team, made an impressive debut on the world stage of softball, claiming 17 strikeouts against one hit, as the Aussies, long regarded as a coming force here, posted their first win in Pool A.

The 6-foot-6 lanky Kirkpatrick baffled, puzzled and dazzled a long line of Filipino batters with unrelenting pitches close to 130 kph in a seven-inning performance that left even the RP coaching staff in awe.

It took armyman Manuel Bacarisas to break the spell for the Blu Boys, belting a three-base hit to the centerfield in the upper third inning and personally converted his heroics into a run, scoring on a wild pitch from the Aussie teener to keep the Filipinos within striking distance.

Bacarisas’ exploits put the Blu Boys a run down following a wild, wild second inning that saw Australia forge ahead on a two-run single by Nathan Jones.

Losing pitcher Mark Rae Ramirez scattered eight hits — only six by RP team’s reckoning with two being charged on errors — and issued six strikeouts as he grimly defended the Blu Boys’ side with an offensive left in shambles in the face of Australia’s torrid pitching.

Jones unleashed a hard grounder through the infield gap onto the centerfield to score Peter Clout and Joel Southam in the lower frame of the second and then Kirkpatrick took care of the rest with his thunderbolt deliveries.

"We did all right, scoring a run with only a hit to show but we were simply dominated by their top pitcher," said RP head coach Reynaldo Manzanares.

The Phillippines will next meet Venezuela at 1 p.m. ( 9 a.m. in Manila), looking for a win that would fuel its quest for a quarterfinal berth with Zamboanga’s Roger Rojas, a veteran of the 2000 world event in East London, South Africa, or Sonny Boy Acuña taking the mounds.

"Kailangan maipanalo natin ito para di tayo naghahabol sa ibang teams sa bracket," said Manzanares.

Told of the close defeat in Manila, Cong. Harry Angping, ASA-Phil. president, texted back and said he’s confident the Blu Boys would still make it to the Top Eight quarterfinal round. "We did hold our own, magaling lang ang pitcher ng Australia, but we expect the boys to do better in the next few games."

Australia is coming off an impressive finish in a tri-nation series with the Kiwis and the Japanese and has emerged a serious contender for the gold.

"I think the Philippines is a very good team, it has a very good pitcher except we had a couple of breaks and our pitches really made the difference in this game," said Australian coach Bob Harrow.

Kirkpatrick was holding a 2-2 count on Bacarisas, another East London meet carryover, when he uncorked a riser of a pitch which the Filipino shortstop pounded to a three-base hit into centerfield.

"Tama ang basa ko, riser, sinalubong ko na lang," said Bacarisas, who had a base-on-ball, a hit and a strikeout in three times at bat.

The Aussie ace hurler struck out six of the first eight RP batters he faced before Australia seized control of the match with Jones’ two-run single. Clout earlier went on board on a single to center and stole second, then Southam belted a hopper to Apolonio Rosales at third and took a break as base umpire Victor Maoeng of South Africa ruled him safe at first, beating Rosales’ pick-off throw to Joel Binarao.

Manzanares protested the call but to no avail, then Jones came up with the crucial hit that did the Filipinos in.

In the other games so far completed, world No. 2 Japan blasted Great Britain, 9-2, and United States downed Bostwana, 2-0. In the lone game that accompanied the inaugurals Thursday, defending champion New Zealand downed Samoa, 3-1, in incessant rain and freezing cold.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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