By TONY SMITH – Sunday Star Times
Top Black Sox pitcher Jeremy Manley guided Hutt Valley Dodgers to their first national interclub softball title yesterday and said it helped “numbed the sting” of the world series loss to Australia.
Manley won the top pitcher and most valuable player awards at the NZCT men’s open tournament in Christchurch through his heady mix of power pitching and dynamic hitting and surprisingly swift base running.
Batting in the number four clean-up spot, the accomplished all-rounder slammed two hits and batted in two key runs in Dodgers’ 8-6 win over Canterbury champions PCU Devils in a thrilling but topsy-turvy grand final.
“To pitch in with the bat is huge, I’m happy with that… winning is grinning,” a beaming Manley said after collecting his team and individual awards.
“I was trying to post a zero [score-line] but they kept coming’ they’re one of the best hitting teams in the country.”
Manley was rapt to win the national crown after last year’s disappointments at the world championships in Canada. “This rates highly to help numb the sting from the world series.”
He also earned brotherly bragging rights over younger sibling Regan, who left Dodgers this season to guest star for the PCU Devils. But Jeremy played down the rivalry. “There’s no real duel there, he’s just pitching for another team now.”
Most of the Dodgers team, including popular coach Brad Baker, transferred en masse this year from Hutt City United, who they led to the 2006 national title.
Manley said they were “a great mix” of young and old” and he paid tribute to two of the elder statesman. Seasoned catcher Steven Deans “controlled things there behind the dish [home plate]”. Deans and Manley live in Feilding and drive to Lower Hutt twice a week to train and play for Dodgers.
Pinch hitter Trevor Evans, 49, produced a superb squeeze play bunt to score his son Joel from third base to spark a fifth inning rally which saw Dodgers shoot out to an unassailable 8-4 lead. “Trevor’s nearly 50. He gives us all hope,” Manley quipped.
PCU struck back with a two-run automatic home run from Black Sox star Daniel Milne, who went three from three against Manley for a perfect 1.000 average.
But Manley held on to end the game with his ninth strikeout as Dodgers outbatted PCU 11 hits to nine. PCU coach Ted Forrester hailed his team’s character to keep coming back in a game which had many momentum shifts but he rued a couple of missed catch opportunities in the outfield.
PCU beat three-time defending champions Ramblers 4-2 in the semi-finals, with two runs scoring in the eighth inning tiebreaker on controversial illegal pitching calls on Ramblers’ Australian pitcher Andrew Kirkpatrick by base umpire Nicola Ogier.
Chief umpire Wayne Saunders “strongly supported” his umpires and said Ogier called Kirkpatrick, who took 17 strikeouts, for “stepping forward with his front foot” and that all teams had been warned illegal pitching would be penalised. But Ramblers’ player-coach Donny Hale was frustrated with the calls, claiming Kirkpatrick was doing nothing different to PCU counterpart Regan Manley. He said the umpires should have been calling it from the game’s outset, not waiting “to the tiebreaker with loaded bases”. Saunders said Kirkpatrick was called on a couple of occasions earlier in the game.
Dodgers came from behind to beat Waitakere Bears 2-1 in the seventh inning after more pinch hit pressure from Trevor Evans and a costly infield error, which negated Casey Eden’s first inning home run for Bears.
Poneke-Kilbirine’s former international pitcher Thomas Cameron and Eden Roskill’s Duane Jerard were ejected from the tournament after an in-game fight yesterday morning. Cameron could not pitch in PK’s 3-5 middle-section final loss to Papanui Tigers (Canterbury).
Some great photos on Nicky Woon’s Facebook.