BLU BOYS MADE MARK ON WORLD TIFF, 9-6 DECISION OVER SOUTH AFRICA

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND, February 4, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - The Philippines finally made its mark on the XI menís world softball championship, pulling off a hard-fought 9-6 decision over South Africa Tuesday here at Smokefree Ballpark in Christchurch.

But the feat came on the day the Filipinos also bowed to the defending champion New Zealand, 7-0, in five innings and the loss pushed the Blu Boys to a must-win bid in their last two games.

The RP squad put up a brave stand in the first two innings behind Roger Rojas but the power-hitting Black Sox eventually wore him down as they posted two runs on the third inning and five runs in the fourth.

Pumped up by their victory over the South Africans, the Blu Boys tagged ace hurlers Michael Gaiger and Thomas Cameron with four hits with Apolonio Rosales claiming two ó a two-base hit to right field in the first inning and a single in the fourth. The other hits were made by Manuel Bacarisas and Jasper Cabrera.

The Blu Boys brandished the form that earned them a ticket to the world stage of menís softball through the Asian qualifier, beating the South Africans in a face-off of lower rung teams in the Group of Death pool A.

Hit with three earlier defeats in the tough bracket, the Filipinos seized control after three innings, survived a big South Africa fightback and secured the win with a late surge of three runs to avenge their defeat over the same squad four years ago in East London.

More importantly, the win gave the Blu Boys a sense of finally being part of this world conclave after shattering results in their first three outings and rekindled hopes ó no matter how the odds are stacked ó of matching a joint ninth place finish four years ago.

They play the Netherlands at 9 a.m. today (5 a.m. in Manila) and close out their eliminations assignments against newcomer Samoa on Thursday.

Parched to only two runs in three matches in the face of top-level pitching, the Filipinos finally cranked up their offensive clout against two South African hurlers for 11 hits and finished the contest with nine men left on base.

The Blu Boys fought to a one-all deadlock in the first inning, unleashed a stirring five-run assault in the third behind six hits, struggled under the weight of a four-romp by the South Africans in the fifth before easing the pressure with three more runs in the sixth.

"Nanalo rin. We were able to play our game at nagkapag-adjust din sa ganitong level ng laro at playing conditions," said RP head coach Reynaldo Manzanares who only a day ago felt, like rest of the team, a virtual outsider in this world-caliber competition after an 8-0 shellacking by Canada.

Their fortunes havenít changed but they have found some momentum going into their final two matches.

Asian qualifier MVP Mark Rae Ramirez took the win through a four-inning job at the mounds, issuing five of their rivalís eight hits and earning four strikeouts but it was Sonny Boy Acuna who wore the face of a victor after going through a wringer at the height of South Africaís comeback.

The Blu Boys went through some anxious moments in the contest, enduring an injury to four-time world championship veteran Fidel Moncera and a glaring miscall by umpire Damien McCauley ó ruling Melvin Villegas out at the plate despite the Filipino beating the throw from centerfield and pulling off a fade-away slide off Manuel Bacarisasí two-base hit in the fifth inning.

The 37-year-old Moncera suffered a bruised left knee after a collision with the stocky 6-foot-2 Garrett Scott as he tried to pull off a double play in the fourth inning. The knee was put on a brace and Moncera could be out of the world series for good.

Manolito Binarao chased out South Africaís starter Dion Kahts with a three-base hit to left field for three RBIs (runs-batted-in) to fuel RPís five-run siege in the third inning.

Villegas, Orlando Binarao, who had RPís lone RBI against Veneuzela, and Manolito Binarao accounted for two hits each for the RP side against Kahts and reliever Richard Claassen.

After Orlando Binarao and Apolino Rosales went on board on singles, Moncera bunted safely to fill the bases. Manolito Binarao then wore down Kaths with eight pitches before belting a long ball that banged on the left field aluminium fence. Binarao later scored on a passed ball and Villegas brought home Isidro Abella with the first of his two hits ó a hard grounder to right field for RPís five runs in the third inning.

South Africa which shocked the Netherlands, 4-3, put the Blu Boys under pressure with four runs on four hits on the upper fifth to keep the count close at 6-5. Tario Moosa fired two RBIs on a grounder and Ramirez later pitched himself into trouble by filling the bases by hitting Scott.

Manzanares pulled out Ramirez, brought in Roger Rojas who faced only two batters and gave up a run on a walk with the bases full. Then Acuna, the last in the rotation, came in to defuse the threat. It was Acuna himself who bundled out the Africans on the seventh inning, stopping their rivals rally at one run by striking out pinch hitter Francois Smit in what he called the best pitch in his bag?a curving off-speed to the corner of the plate.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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