By Tony Smith
Captain Nathan Nukunuku has a shot at becoming the most decorated softballer in Black Sox history after being named for a record seventh world championships squad.
The 38-year-old Auckland infielder will lead a 17-strong Black Sox team to defend their world title in Prague in June where Nukunuku will chase a record fifth gold medal.
The veteran infielder – first selected for New Zealand in 1999 – is among a select band of five players with four gold medals for the Black Sox, who have won seven world titles.
Head coach Mark Sorenson – another four-time world champion – said Nukunuku’s contribution to New Zealand softball and to the Black Sox had been immense and he remained a clearcut choice.
“We are blessed to have such a strong leader, and someone the group want to follow. It’s Nathan’s team – it has been for a couple of years – he’s a great leader that they all trust.”
Sorenson has named three world series rookies, including Wellington outfielder Reilly Makea, 20, whose father, Thomas, is one of the four-time world champions.
Auckland pitcher Daniel Chapman and Canterbury outfielder Jackson Watt – both 21 – are the other world series first-timers.
Thirteen players are returning from the Black Sox’s 2017 gold medal winning team, while Wellington infielder Josh Raemaki, who missed that tournament with a knee injury, played at the 2015 world series.
Sorenson, Black Sox coach since 2014, said it had been “probably the hardest group to select.
Canterbury infielder Tyron Bartorillo is aiming for his fourth world title after winning with the Black Sox in 2013 and 2017 and his native Australia in 2009.
Hayes and outfielders Ben Enoka (Auckland) and Wayne Laulu (Wellington) are seeking a third winners’ ring after being part of the 2013 and 2017 successes.
Sixteen of the 17-man squad were in the Black Sox team at the Challenge Cup international tournament in Auckland in February. The exception was Canterbury infielder Josh Harbrow, who captained the Black Sox B team. The 2017 world series winner has forced his way back in after outstanding batting form in the latter half of the domestic season.
AT A GLANCE
The 2019 New Zealand men’s softball world championships squad
Pitchers: Nik Hayes (Auckland), Daniel Chapman (Auckland), Josh Pettett (Wellington).
Catchers: Zane van Lieshout (Auckland), Kallan Compain (Auckland).
Infielders: Nathan Nukunuku (Auckland, captain), Jerome Raemaki (Wellington), Joel Evans (Hutt Valley), Cole Evans (Auckland), Tyron Bartorillo (Canterbury), Josh Harbrow (Canterbury).
Outfielders: Ben Enoka (Auckland), Campbell Enoka (Auckland), Thomas Enoka (Auckland), Reilly Makea (Wellington), Wayne Laulu (Wellington), Jackson Watt (Canterbury).
Head coach: Mark Sorenson (Hutt Valley). Assistant-coach: Daryl Marino (Hutt Valley). Battery coach: Jim Wana (Wellington). Manager: Casey Eden (Auckland).
The WBSC world men’s softball championships will be held in Prague, Czech Republic from June 13 to 26, 2019.
DID YOU KNOW?
Nathan Nukunuku will be attending a record seventh men’s world championship (2000, 2004, 2009, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019).
He shares the record (6) with Mark Sorenson, Thomas Makea, Jarrad Martin and Brad Rona.
Nukunuku has a shot at becoming the most decorated player in Black Sox history.
He has four world championship gold medals (2000, 2004, 2013, 2017), an accolade he shares with Sorenson (1984, 1996, 2000, 2004), Makea and Martin (both 1996, 2000, 2004, 2013) and Rona (2000, 2004, 2013, 2017).