(Story by Marco Stoovelaar; Photo courtesy of Softball Australia)
New South Wales shuts out Queensland to win Australian Softball-title
BLACKTOWN, Greater Western Sydney, New South Wales (Australia) -
New South Wales Firestars is the new Australian Softball Champion and won the Gilley's Shield.
On Sunday (January 8), the team recorded a convincing 8-0 shutout against reigning champion Queensland Heat in the all-deciding Final of the 70th edition of the Open Women's Softball Fastpitch Australian National Championship Tournament.
Earlier in the day, NSW nipped Western Australia Flames 1-0 to become the second finalist.
Last year, NSW was dethroned itself by Queensland.
On Saturday-evening, Queensland won in the Semi-Final against NSW to qualify for the Final.
It was a very successful day for NSW, as its U17 Team also captured the title, winning the Esther Deason Shield in the national championship-tournament that also was held in Blacktown.
The NSW-Juniors were the defending champion and won 5-1 in the Finale against South Australia Starz.
The seventh and final day of the event at Blacktown International Sportspark in Blacktown, near Sydney, began with the game for fifth and sixth place.
South Australia Starz led briefly in this game against Victoria Titans, which went on to win 3-2 to finish in fifth place.
Victoria left the bases loaded in the second inning, then stranded a runner on second base in the third at bat.
In the bottom of the third, Starz opened the score on a single by Madeline Cameron.
But in the fourth, Titans scored twice off of starting pitcher Morgan Melloh.
She got the bases loaded with no outs, then was relieved by Monica Perry, while Belinda White (who was the designated player) took over the catching.
A sacrifice fly by Jackie Di Siervi then brought in the tying run, which was followed by a force play-grounder.
Another grounder then followed, but that ended in an error, resulting in the second run.
In the bottom of the fourth, Starz came alongside thanks to a single by Jasmine Lee.
They then stranded two runners in the fifth off of Greta Cecchetti, who had taken over the pitching for Titans.
The Italian righthander struckout the side in the sixth, then was supported with a run in the seventh.
With two outs, Kimberley Quince and Emma Wilcott both singled to put runners on the corners.
A steal-situation then led to what would be the deciding run.
In the Second Semi-Final (Backdoor), New South Wales Firestars won only 1-0 against Western Australia Flames to become the second finalist.
With the loss, Flames finished in third place.
Flames left a runner on second base in the first inning, then got runners on second and third with two outs in the second, but was unable to open the score.
Another runner was left behind on second base in the fourth.
Flames-pitcher Amber Johnson saw NSW get into scoring position only once in their first three innings.
NSW then scored what would be the only run in the game in the bottom of the fourth.
With two outs, Rachel Lack walked and stole second base, then scored on a single by Bianca Abrahams.
Flames got one final chance to do something back in the top of the seventh inning.
With one out, Allanah Alvarado doubled off of Kaia Parnaby, who went the distance for Titans.
With Alvarado on second base, Parnaby struckout the next batter, then a grounder ended the game.
Saskia Kosterink was 0-for-3 for the Flames.
...New South Australia wins its fourth softball-title in the last six years...|
(© Photo courtesey of Softball Australia)
In the evening, New South Wales Firestars shutout defending champion Queensland Heat 8-0 to win the title.
Czech umpire Jan Hora was at third base in the 4-man crew that officiated the Final.
In the Round Robin, Queensland appeared to be unbeatable, as it recorded eight consecutive wins, some of them with a small margin.
On the final day of the Round Robin, it was NSW that handed Queensland its first loss with a convincing 6-2 score, signaling that they probably were the better team this time.
Before the Final, there was a special moment, as Joan Fraser threw the ceremonial first pitch to Blacktown City Mayor Stephen Bali.
Joan Fraser is the oldest surviving player of the very-first Gilley's Shield.
The Final remained scoreless for three innings.
NSW then opened the score in the top of the fourth on a single by Jasmine Peters.
In the meantime, NSW-pitcher Kaia Parnaby pitched around powerhitter Chelsea Forkin and didn't went for the confrontation with her.
In the bottom of the first inning, Parnaby struckout the first two batters, but then issued an intentional walk to Forkin.
A grounder then ended the at bat.
In the bottom of the fourth, after having retired the first batter, Parnaby again walked Forkin intentionally.
After a pop-fly in the infield, the inning ended when Forkin was caught stealing.
Giving these intentional passes with no runners on base and one or two outs is of course risky, as you never know what the next batters will do.
In the top of the third, Queensland-pitcher Justine Smethurst also had walked powerhitter Stacey Porter intentionally.
But that was done with runners on second and third base and two outs, first base open and Porter being the hitter.
NSW stranded three runners, as a grounder followed.
In the top of the fifth inning, NSW broke open the game with a 4-run rally.
With two runners on base and no outs, Samantha Poole delivered a runscoring single, which led to a pitching change.
Sandra Holden took over for Justine Smethurst, who had been dominating in the Round Robin.
Holden was greeted with a single by Taylah Tsitsikronis that loaded the bases.
An error on a grounder by Simone Freeman then resulted in two runs and a following single by Bianca Abrahams lifted the lead to 5-0.
In the sixth, NSW added three more runs, which were scored on singles by Samantha Poole and Bianca Abrahams and in between an error.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, leading 8-0 and with two outs, Parnaby gave up a single to Alexandra Forsyth.
To avoid to have the mercy-rule run-difference get in jeopardy, Parnaby hereafter walked Chelsea Forkin for the third time intentionally.
Moments later, a grounder ended the inning and the game.
NSW collected 10 basehits, while Queensland was limited to only two.
By winning the tournament and the championship, New South Wales won the Gilley's Shield, the trophy for the Open Women's Australian National Championship.
The trophy is named after Mack Gilley, who was the President of the Queensland Softball Association, who organised the first interstate championship competition in 1947.
Back then, only Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria participated.
No event was held in 1948, but an annual tournament has been held since 1949, making the current one the 70th edition.
In early years, it was Victoria that dominated the event, winning the championship 22 times in 1947 through 1985.
But its last title now dates from 32 years back.
Since 1986, Queensland and New South Wales are the most successful teams.
Queensland won twelve times since then, including last year.
New South Wales captured the title 16 times since 1986, the last in 2015.
NSW now has won the championship in four of the last six years.
A year ago, Netherlands Team-player Britt Vonk played for champion Queensland Heat
With a .476 batting average, she then was the Best Hitter of the event and won the Sybild Turner Best Batter Award.
She also was named to the All Tournament Team as its short stop.
Queensland first to reach Final Australian Championship. (January 7)
NSW hands Queensland 1st loss in Australian Finals. (January 6)
Queensland, NSW in Semi-Final Australian Finals. (January 5)
Queensland remains unbeaten in Australian Finals. (January 4)
Queensland adds 2 Wins in Australian Finals. (January 3)
Saskia Kosterink, Belinda White open Australian Finals. (January 2)