Connor Peden was the toast of Auckland softball after his grand slam home run lit up the National Fastpitch Championship men’s softball title.
Peden blasted five RBIs (runs batted in) in Auckland’s 9-3 win over a Wellington controversially deprived of Black Sox pitcher Josh Pettett.
Player-coach Nathan Nukunuku’s Auckland team scored eight runs in the final two innings at Christchurch’s Mizuno Ballpark on Sunday.
Peden – a former catcher who has found a niche in the outfield – showed his power hitting prowess with three hits from four at-bats for a .750 average.
Auckland finished with six safe hits to Wellington’s four, but Thomas Makea’s capital city team showed plenty of spirit to recover from the enforced loss of ace pitcher Pettett due to a concussion stand-down.
Pettett- later awarded the tournament’s top pitcher award- was hit in the face by a ball driven by Nukunuku in Saturday’s semifinal, and although cleared of concussion, had to face a 24-hour stand-down under Softball New Zealand’s concussion protocols.
The NFC tournament showcased the talents of players determined to force their way into Black Sox coach Mark Sorenson’s team for the June world championship title defence in Prague.
None more so than Peden, and Wellington second baseman Dante Matakatea, who batted two from four in the final to cap a fine weekend.
Matakatea blew the game open with a first inning home run to give Wellington a 1-0 lead.
But Auckland equalised in the top of the second when tournament MVP and top batter Kallan Compain – tripled and scored on cousin Thomas Enoka’s sacrifice fly.
Wellington went ahead 3-1 in the fifth frame after Matakatea singled and ambled home when Auckland starter Daniel Chapman threw a bases-loaded walk.
Wayne Laulu followed on a wild throw by catcher Zane van Lieshout as Auckland attempted a home-one double play.
Auckland’s power-packed batting lineup produced the goods in the sixth with three runs, including RBIs by brothers Thomas and Campbell Enoka.
That left Peden to produce the fireworks in the seventh and put the game beyond Auckland’s reach.
Nukunuku said Peden had been “hot [with the bat] all season” and had been “one of the top hitters in the Auckland competition, while Compain – who .550 with 11 hits from 20 at-bats – had bounced back from “a pretty quiet” Challenge Cup tournament with the Black Sox.
Black Sox pitcher Nik Hayes came on in relief to hurl Auckland to their fourth title in the last five years. Click here to continue reading and to view photos at Stuff.co.nz