Can Saints break their drought

By SHANE HURNDELL


Fastpitch v Saints

Pre-Christmas final

Softball

LUKE Woon knows his Saints side are the underdogs for today's pre-Christmas final in Hawke's Bay's premier men's softball competition.

GSB Building Saints have yet to beat their opponents Fast Pitch this season and will start the Akina Park, Hastings, encounter without three of their most powerful batters, former Junior Black Sox utility Jovaan Hanley, first baseman Brian Dellow and catcher Joe O'Leary who have all left town to start their Christmas holidays. However, should the going get tougher than expected centre outfielder Woon, 19, will only have to look at his family members sitting among the supporters for inspiration.

One of those family members in particular: 14-year-old brother Bradley. A former Hawke's Bay under-13 outfielder, Bradley has a brain tumour and has been travelling to and from Auckland's Starship Hospital since September for treatment.

He is on his third visit home and will return to Auckland on January 16 to begin five months of chemotherapy.

"To see what Bradley has gone through makes you appreciate life a bit more. Our family have a long association with Saints and it would be great to upset Fast Pitch in front of Bradley ... I know I will be trying a little bit harder because he will be there," Luke said.

A fifth-season member of the Saints premier side, Luke pointed out Saints have improved their batting with each game and the six hits they got off the province's top pitcher Regan Manley when they upset defending champions Maraenui Pumas 3-1 in last weekend's semifinals will give them confidence for today's match.

"All we have to do is hit the ball and use our brains."

Saints haven't won the pre-Christmas final since the mid-1990s. Luke and Bradley's father, Paul, now a co-coach of Saints, played for Saints in that upset against Fast Pitch.

Paul is likely to put himself on the team sheet this afternoon as cover for the first base and catcher positions. This will leave Bradley, his twin brother Adam, sister Chelsea, 17, and mother Sharon in charge of the Saints cheer group.

Paul agreed the Saints may have to resort to the short game to beat Fast Pitch in the absence of Hanley, Dellow and O'Leary.

"That's not a problem ... we're one of the better teams in the Bay when it comes to the short game," Paul said. "Be disciplined and dedicated to the cause and keep positive," replied Bradley when asked what advice he would give the Saints side.

Sharon said Bradley's positivity had rubbed off on the rest of the family during the past three months.

"The fact he was so fit before his operation and treatment was a big plus also," she said.

Bradley has three bead necklaces and each bead represents a completed treatment session.

"We're thrilled with the support we have got from so many people. Starship has been fantastic and without the help from Ronald McDonald House, Child Cancer, Canteen and our wonderful friends we don't think we could have got through this," Sharon said.

During one of his stints at Starship Bradley was visited by Black Sox captain Rhys Casley and fellow members of the national squad Campbell Makea and Daniel Milne. He has also been given Phoenix soccer gear and earlier this month he accompanied his mother to North Harbour Rosedale Park to watch Luke play for Hawke's Bay at the national Fastpitch Championship.

It was Luke's second NFC and the St John's College product who has played in national development teams in the past has a long-term goal of Black Sox selection. Luke managed to get on base when playing for Hawke's Bay against the Black Sox last month.

Like his younger brother he is no stranger to defying the odds.

People keen to help Bradley financially can email the family: woonytoones@hotmail.com or phone: 0221930330.

As HB Today went to press there was a chance Dellow and O'Leary were going to make today's final and Hanley will be the only first stringer missing.


Both teams for today's 2.30pm final:

Fast Pitch (defensive formation 1-9): Jordan Waterhouse, Kane Herbert, Mario Herbert, Te Rangi Chadwick, Puhi Rapaea, Curtis Huata, Giovani Matairangi, Rongo Rapaea, Cody Tamati. DP: Josh Tipoki. Substitutes: Ryan Martin, Grant Dean, Stirling Bartlett, Daniel Greene, Isaiah Tangaroa, Mike Thompson, Daniel Green.

Saints (defensive formation 1-9): Pablo Masmu, Joe O'Leary, Devontae Roberts, Jesse Little, Hoani Crawford, Taniera Miratana, Fred Jackson, Luke Woon, Jacob Zurcher. DP: Paul Roberts. Substitutes: Shaan Abbott, Jamie Ngawhika, Paul Woon.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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