RP BLU BOYS BRACE FOR TOUGH GRIND

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND, February 2, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - It may not be the kind of breaks the Philippines truly needs but it could use any at the moment, including a weather break, to hopefully turn its fortunes around after two shattering defeats in the XI menís world softball championship Sunday here in Christchurch. The Blu Boys are reeling from the impact of their losing stand against Australia (1-2) and Venezuela (1-8) right off their first two outings but took a breather as Day Three of the softballís world series was postponed due to persistent rains.

They return to action Monday against Canada in their original schedule at 1 p.m. at the world-class Smokefree Ballpark, then go on a gut-wrenching doubleheader Tuesday against South Africa at 9 a.m. and defending champion New Zealand at 5 p.m.

The Filipinos would need to sweep four of their last five assignments to be able to figure in the race for the fourth and last berth in the Pool Aís Group of Death but they face a herculean task since they would challenge the likes of the NZís Black Sox, two-time champion Canada, newcomer Samoa, European titlist the Netherlands and South Africa.

Left as the only winless team in their bracket, the Filipinos could take some solace on a wild Saturday that sent the seedings in shambles in the pool as the South Africans stunned the Dutch, 4-3, and the Samoans toppled the Canadians, 3-1, while the reigning champs stopped the Aussies, 9-2, in five innings, invoking the seven-run mercy rule.

"Make or break na ito, sana bumalik ang laro ng mga bata," said RP head coach Reynaldo Manzanares, a member of the team that placed fourth in the 1968 world meet in Oklahoma, United States.

The Blu Boys have yet to come up with a solid game in two contests they saw action in. They couldnít get their offense in groove against the Australians and needed to lean on resolute defense and when they found their hitting rhythm against the Venezuelans, their defense simply deserted them failing to execute even basic double play on two occasions. They ended up with five errors.

Awed by Aussie youngster Kirk Patrick, who registered the fastest pitch in the tournament so far at 134 kph against the Filipinos, the RP teamís bats finally awaken against John Garcia of Venezuela, pulling off four hits spiked by a double to center field by skipper Fidel Moncera and a three-base RBI by Orlando Binarao.

"Dito ang laban kasi ang mga pitchers try to overpower the batters," said Moncera, 37, who has been in three RP teams, the first in 1988 in Saskatoon, Canada.

The Blu Boys had one run, four hits and five men left on base against Venezuela and one run, one hit Ė a triple to centerfield by Manuel Bacarisas, and two LOBs against Australia. Venezuela had eight runs, 11 hits and eight LOBs and Australia two runs, eight hits and four LOBs. "Sana magtapat-tapat ang laro laban sa Canada. If we defended well against Venezuela baka magbago ang tema ng laro," said Manzanares.

Informed of a second loss against Venezuela, ASA-Phil president Cong. Harry Angping of Manila packed up Sunday for Christchurch to personally give moral support to the nationals. "We should get our act together in the next few games. I havenít lost my confidence in the boys. Laban pa rin tayo," said Angping in a text message.

SOFTBALL NOTES: The Filipino community is throwing its full support to the Blu Boys by cheering them during their games. On Sunday, a sumptuous lunch was tendered by Leony Sevillano Miller, husband John and daughter Cory. Leony is the sister of Gary, golf take-charge guy of Vince Villafuerte and Allan of ASA-Phil... The other Filipinos helping out are Bles Sutherland, chair of the Filipino Sports Club in Christchurch, Irish Timtim Smith of Sipalay, Amalia Sanchez, Rod Avila, Leysur and Susan Correos who own a Filipino restaurant in the port town of Lyttleton, and Mary Ann Yulo, whose daughter Chloe, 17, was ranked No. 2 last year in New Zealand fencing... Dominik Kelly, an amiable physical fitness guy, is the liaison officer of the entire RP delegation. Over at the Auckland airport, Rene and Carmela Tapay and their kids Joebert, Lex and Kristine welcomed the team upon its arrival.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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