The Tairawhiti Softball Boys Under 15 team traveled to Hawkes Bay on Saturday to play 3 games to begin preparations for the under 15 nationals to be held in Gisborne January 12-15.
First up was Napier Boys High School who struggled with the accuracy and power of Tairawhiti pitcher Treyson Hikitapu-Wilson. Tairawhiti dominated with the bat culminating in a massive home run by Hikitapu-Wilson eventually winning 15-1.
The next game provided a sterner challenge playing the very experienced Maraenui under 17 team. Initially Tairawhiti were blown away by the size and power of of the Maraenui team as they raced out to a 4-0 lead. The game looked like it was getting away from Tairawhiti but they showed real character by hanging tough only going down 4-2. Standouts for Tairawhiti were Chleo Reihana-Davis who took two unbelievable outfield catches to stop multiple runs from coming in and the pitching of Brandie Reihana who didn’t walk anyone and for all but a few errors from his infield contained the Maraenui batters with his movement and variety.
Game 3 was against Hawkes Bay Under 15s, Tairawhiti’s bitter rival. Games between these two teams take on a State of Origin feel so the scene was set after a stirring Haka’s from both teams. Hawkes Bay jumped out to a 2-0 lead early and held this advantage through to the 4th inning even though Tairawhiti looked the better team. Tairawhiti had loaded bases twice but could not convert those opportunities into runs because of ill-discipline in the batters box and Hawkes Bay’s ability to make big plays under pressure. In the 5th inning Tairawhiti loaded up the bases again but this time the flood gates opened with key at bats from Cayleb Kingi, Brooklyn Kingi, Brandie Reihana, Alec Coutts and Jesse Hohepa-Okeefe pushing the score out to 6-2 which was the final score. Star of the game was Jesse Hohepa Okeefe who pitched 4 scoreless innings in a display that was calculated and aggressive. Coach Ray Noble was full of praise for his young pitcher ” Jesse has clearly benefited from being a member of the ISA New Zealand under 14 team to Australia earlier this year. He has come back from that tour as technically a better pitcher but where he has made huge strides is in his mental approach to pitching. He is a lot more resilient now and for him to be down 2 runs early and remain focused on the process not the outcome created pressure Hawkes Bay couldn’t handle.”
Although the nationals are 5 weeks away, Noble was happy with where they are at but knows there is still a lot to improve before the tournament, “I’m stoked with their progress. Their effort, concentration, skill execution and decision making were excellent and just need to improve on how to read certain situations which comes with experience.” Tairawhiti Softball Association president Walton Walker agreed that experience is crucial in the development of these young players. “Whilst we endeavour to provide opportunities for our youth to improve, these opportunities lie outside our region which is a challenge for all those involved.”