World Class Junior Men’s World Championship


The Australian Under-19 Men’s Softball Team was from the onset regarded as the underlying favorite to take back-to-back titles. The pressure on them was immense. Not only was the VI ISF Junior Men’s World Championship being played in their own backyard, but they had the arduous task of defending Australia’s World Title won four years in Canada.

For many the Blacktown Olympic Centre shall always be known as the home of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Softball Program. Blue banners, brandishing circles of gold still fly in the evening breeze, but for a group of seventeen young men, Blacktown will mean only two things – 2001 Junior World Fastball and Gold, Gold, Gold.

The Australian Under-19 Men’s Softball Team was from the onset regarded as the underlying favorite to take back-to-back titles. The pressure on them was immense. Not only was the VI ISF Junior Men’s World Championship being played in their own backyard, but they had the arduous task of defending Australia’s World Title won four years in Canada.

“Playing at home is like playing in your own back yard,” Head Coach of the Australian Team, Lindsey Carroll said before the Championship. “The hometown crowd and support will be positive but it can also lead to distraction and put high expectations on performance.

“The team also has a lot to live up to with the ’97 team winning the title four years ago. But it is a different team and we (coaching staff) will do our best to ensure their focus is on their own performance and not the accomplishments of 1997.”

Saving the best until last, Australia breezed through the final seven innings of the Championship, against a very worthy foe in Japan and in doing so set a world record for being the first side in the history of the competition to go through undefeated.

While the Australia team traversed the course of eight days of competition with little trouble, the standard set at the Blacktown Olympic Centre can be nothing less than applauded. Goals were made and set, records reached and broken and heroes made.

From the onset, the 2001 Junior World Fastball was going to be something special and set the standard for Men’s Softball for many, exciting years to come.

From the 21 – 28 April, 2001, the world class venue that is the Blacktown Olympic Centre, Sydney, Australia played host to 170 young men from ten countries throughout the world – Argentina, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, United States of America and Venezuela – each continuing a tradition that evolved two decades ago.

Of the ten teams only Japan and Canada had competed in every Junior World Championship since its inception in 1981. USA, Mexico, Argentina and New Zealand had each competed in four, with USA, Mexico and Argentina inaugural competitors and New Zealand winning two titles and two silver medals. Home side Australia entered the competition in 1993 with Venezuela and the Czech Republic debuting in 1997.

Only Israel would make their first appearance and it was an appearance that very nearly did not come into fruition. The cash-strapped Israeli Softball Association was unable to fully fund the team and sponsorship was hard to come by, so it was up to the players themselves to dip into their own wallets and fork out the necessary funds for entry.

“People in Israel play soccer and basketball so it’s very hard to get sponsors,” Coach Gersen “Goose” Gillett said. “The kids paid half of their way which was about $700 U.S. apiece.”

Equally as challenging was the plight of Venezuela. The luckless team was due to arrive in Sydney on the Thursday before the competition began and play Mexico in the opening game of fixtures, but visa problems and delays saw them travel to Sydney via Chile, Los Angeles, London and Singapore. Arriving three days into the competition, the tired, but excited team took to the diamond only four hours after their 48-hour ordeal to face a powerful New Zealand team, who were forced to come from behind to secure the victory. A result that had even the most ardent Kiwi supporters applauding the late-comers’ determination and prowess.

Dogged by rain on the opening day of play, the first games of the Championship finally got underway at 6:00 p.m. between Australia and Czech Republic, and Israel and New Zealand. Despite the rescheduling of a number of matches throughout the week, it became clear after only two days of play, who the competition leaders were going to be.

Australia with power hitters Matthew White and vice-Captain Michael Tanner had little trouble disposing of their opponents and racking up big, side breaking scores. James Darby had registered an unbeaten 132 kmph from the pitching plate and Andrew Kirkpatrick, Scott Norman and Luke Lee Tet were equally as challenging with the ball. New Zealand had William Raston, Carlaus Te Kawa and sixteen year old Frank Pointon adding to their huge run tally with a very polished diamond as back up, including Haizley Martin, younger brother of senior Black Sox side captain and experienced World Championship campaigner, Jarrad.

Canada were proving themselves to be a major contender, despite losing to Australia 7-0 in game 15, with pitcher Jeff Wilson quickly gaining a fierce reputation from the plate and Japan’s speed and skills on the field and between the bases were doing the necessary damage to give themselves a good shot at the heralded title.

Not be completely discounted, Argentina, Czech Republic, Venezuela and Mexico were displaying signs of determined aggression that put fear into all of the top four contenders. USA and in particular Garrett Hone showed some signs of competitiveness, while Israel who struggled from the batter’s box showed a heart that would endear them to all.

After day three, the Championship looked to be a Trans Tasman affair with Australia and New Zealand both tied on five games and five wins apiece. Combined they had totaled 105 runs with New Zealand registering 57, with eight runs against, and Australia 48, with one run against.

Japan now regarded as the top two team’s closest rival with four wins from four games. Pitcher Naoki Otazawa was proving deadly from the pitcher’s plate with accurate and smart pitching while Subaru Takahashi was performing brilliantly from the third position on the batting line-up. Japan did show some signs of struggle when faced with the aggression of Mexico and Argentina, who both came within a whisker of victory.

Day four provided the biggest upset of the tournament with a rarely seen, unconfident New Zealand going down to Japan 2-1. Argentina and Czech Republic were looking to be dark horse selection for the final four position with Canada, beaten by Czech Republic 1-0 late in the day, in danger of losing their spot.

Individual performers were also starting to take shape after day four. New Zealand’s Raston, who turned seventeen during the Championship and Australia’s White found themselves in a race to break the home run record which was set in 1985 by U.S.’s Michael Ginger and equaled in 1993 by Canadian Rob Giesbrecht. Raston and White were both tied on the record amount – four, while Tanner, Te Kawa, Carlos Sanz (Venezuela) and Miguel Valle (Mexico) were on three.

White was also rapidly approaching the RBI record, which stood at 21 and was set by Japan’s Tomaki Okamoto in New Zealand in 1993 and Japan’s Atsushi Kinoshita was approaching the run record of 14 set by Doug Middleton (USA) in 1981.

On day five, while the vast majority of Australians and New Zealanders were remembering the heroics of World War One, the two sides were face to face in an ANZAC special. It was a game that had continued to build in reputation as the competition progressed and one that saw many rare errors being made by both teams. Australia eventually won the game 2-0 to remain the only undefeated side and solidify top position. Canada reinforced their pre-tournament ranking as a final contender with a strong performance against Mexico, while Japan with their only loss coming from the hands of the home team, looked set to cement second position, despite a horrific injury sustained to Takashi as he slid into third base after breaking his bat from the box.

The results from the final day of preliminary rounds had little bearing on the top four positions and the Blacktown Olympic Centre said goodbye to Argentina, Mexico, Czech Republic, USA, Venezuela and Israel. But not before providing some intense and exciting competition, including the 17-14 slugfest between Mexico and USA.

In a shock result in the first preliminary game of the final series, a jubilant and revitalized Canadian side put New Zealand out of the competition. New Zealand, who first competed in 1985, was the only team to have competed in all four Grand Finals.

Dennis Dolejs, Head Coach of the Junior Black Sox side, was bitterly disappointed with his team’s loss.

“Obviously we’re disappointed with the team’s result because we really wanted to win,” Dolejs said. “Canada’s strength with the bat was too great and our defense too weak.”

Despite the disappointment Dolejs was proud of his young side, many of who will undoubtedly feature in the senior side sometime in the future.

“I am disappointed with the result, not the individual performances.”

The loss came with bittersweet success as Raston finished his Championship with a world record – 6 home runs, and a tournament-high .583 batting average.

The win for Canada, however assured them a medal and booked them a berth in the preliminary final against Japan who narrowly went down to Australia in one of the home team’s closest encounters which included another home run to White.

Despite a gallant effort and a last ditch home run by Brad Orr in the bottom of the seventh inning to take the game into extra innings, Canada’s fairytale ended in the most devastating way. With three runners on base and only one out, Wilson, Canada’s leading pitcher, allowed one to get away and hit Takeru Yasui on the helmet, giving him first base and progressing teammate Tatsunori Yamoa across the plate for the winning run.

“We gave up a couple of runs and when it comes down to it, you can’t make errors like that at this level,” Canadian coach Mark Smith afterward. “But we go home with a medal and that is great and I think a just reward for the efforts of the guys.”

Smith also acknowledged the increased level of skill in the competition. “We knew it would be tough coming here because we only had two weeks together to prepare and each time you come to these tournaments the bar is raised. Australia and Japan have improved, Argentina has improved so there a few things we have to do, but the next generation of the Canadian ball players is in good shape.”

Justly, the two best teams of the competition, Australia and Japan, were left to fight it out for the title of World Champions and it was almost too easy for the home side. With the greatest of ease, Australia was outright winners, defeating the slick Japanese machine, 8-0. Raston relinquished his world record to White, who belted two out of the park to set the milestone at 7 home runs, and also bettered Okamoto’s eight year old RBI record by finishing the Championship on 22.

As well as being tight defensively, the pitching of Australia’s Andrew Kirkpatrick was a big factor in the victory. He had a heavy workload in the closing few days of the tournament, but did not show any signs of fatigue as he notched up another ten strikeouts to bring him to a total of 54. Kirkpatrick also registered four Grand Final assists.

Despite the loss, the Japanese team was more than happy with their silver medal.

“We are disappointed and although we played well, the Australian team was much better on the day,” Japan’s head coach Takuo Hirose, who had the arduous task of taking his team through an elimination final just hours before, said at the conclusion of the match. This was only Japan’s second Grand Final appearance, the first of which occurred in the inaugural Championship in 1981, which resulted in Gold.

In addition to the silver medal, however, Kinoshita also set a new world record for the most runs. Kinoshita smashed Middleton’s total of 14 and ended his World Championship campaign with 20 runs from 34 at bats.

But it was Australia’s moment, and an ecstatic and emotional Lindsey Carroll, who was Assistant Coach in 1997, could not praise his charges enough. “That was once again a team effort,” Carroll said. “It was tougher than the last title Australia won because the guys had a lot more pressure on them being at home in front of a home crowd.

“The expectations were high and I can’t explain just how proud of them, the players and the officials, I am. They did a great job all week and they saved the best until last.”