The Owen Sound Selects and New Zealand Junior Black Sox played to a 4-4 draw in the first game of their scheduled double-header at Duncan McLellan Park in Owen Sound on Tuesday night.
The seventh and final inning felt like more than just an exhibition game as the two teams battled to a tense final frame.
With the game tied, the Owen Sound Selects had runners on the corners and two out.
Moments earlier New Zealand’s Brock Attewell made a game-saving snag with the bases loaded and went home with the throw saving what could have been the game’s winning run.
The final out came down to a pitcher’s duel with Owen Sound’s Matt Wardrop stepping into the batter’s box against Reilly Makea.
Wardrop – who pitched all seven innings for the Selects – grounded out to the shortstop to end the game.
The second game of the doubleheader was still in progress ahead of the Sun Times deadline.
It’s not often people come to Canada to escape the winter season, but that was the story for the Junior Black Sox ahead 2018 World Baseball Softball Confederation junior men’s championship in Prince Albert – slated to start on July 7.
New Zealand, in the middle of their winter season, hasn’t played a game since March according to the Black Sox Alf Robson.
Larry Lynch, head coach of the Hill United Chiefs men’s fastpitch squad – and International Softball Congress hall-of-fame inductee – had put together a schedule of nearly a dozen tune-up games for the Sox in southwestern Ontario.
“I know they’re disciplined in their preparation for softball in New Zealand, that’s why they’re perennial champions,” he said in advance of the game.
Lynch has helped out the New Zealand men’s team on similar tours five or six times previously, he said.
“I’m obviously a proud Canadian, I wasn’t in collusion with New Zealand . . . I’ve taken a lot of heat over the years believe me,” he said. “New Zealand and Canada were never real-real close in international competition. They loved to beat each other and hated to lose to each other.”
That much was evident on Tuesday night as the game with Owen Sound remained close through seven innings of play.
“The national teams hate to lose. They come to your park to play a game, but they come to win a game. They’re competitive all the time,” Lynch said.
Jamie Simpson, head coach of the Selects, and his father Bill Simpson were high on the list of Lynch’s contacts when he got involved with the Junior Black Sox tour.
“Those are two of the guys that keep the game growing in Ontario and Canada. For decades and decades the Simpson family has been fantastic,” he said. “Our grassroots for many of us were in small-town softball. When I grew up every little town had a ball team. I want the New Zealand guys to see this isn’t just a game, it’s a community that comes together.”
The Black Sox played in Ponsonby on Monday night, and will play games in New Hamburg and Kitchener, as well as the Hill United invitational. They will play against Australia in Mitchell as the Junior Steelers are also in the area playing warm-up games.
“If you want to show a team like New Zealand what softball in Canada is all about you got to take them to where softball is important,” said Lynch.
New Zealand is currently the No. 1 ranked softball team in the world. Team Canada’s under-19 squad is ranked second.
New Zealand and Canada will play in a Group B at the world championship with the United States, Czech Republic, Guatemala and Hong Kong at the world championship. Japan, Argentina, Australia, Mexico, Denmark, South Africa and India round out the tournament line-up in Group A.