Flaxmere player-coach Luke Herrick saluted Hawke's Bay officials for allowing women to play in the province's premier men's softball competition after his team created history on Saturday.
With two down in the bottom of the seventh and bases loaded, United States import and first base player Alyssa James produced a swinging bunt which sent the ball between the Saints pitcher and first base player. This allowed outfielder Stu McIntosh to scamper home, beat the flick and give Flaxmere a 4-3 victory at Akina Park, Hastings and their first premier men's title since the club was formed in 1975.
James was one of three women who played for Flaxmere this season. The White Sox pitcher-catcher combination of Rita Hokianga and Melanie Gettins were the others.
The trio played in the comp as part of a plan instigated by Hawke's Bay-based White Sox head coach Kevin Gettins to give his players a higher level of play in the countdown to the qualification process for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
"The girls have been awesome for us this season and top marks to the Hawke's Bay board of control for allowing them to play at this level. The result in that final proved how much they were missed in the pre-Christmas final when we lost 7-1 to Saints," Herrick said.
Saints' 2016 Junior Black Sox World Series pitcher Adam Woon gave his team the ideal start with an automatic home run over the centre oufield fence in the first inning. His team led 3-1 before Flaxmere clawed their way back and scored the equalising run in the bottom of the sixth.
"I'm glad we didn't go to a tie-breaker because this was our third game for the day and Saints' second. They were also at the top of the order and we were down the middle of ours," Herrick said.
"It was awesome to have Darryl Tamati snr as our head coach today because he was one of the originals from 1975."
Flaxmere had earlier lost 5-0 to Saints before beating Maraenui Pumas 9-2 to secure their berth in the final. James and catcher Gettins played all three games while Hokianga shared the pitching duties with her brother Tamihana Hokianga.
"In the first game Rita started the pitching and Tamihana finished it. In the final Tamihana pitched the first four and Rita shut them down during the final three ... the Saints boys couldn't handle the change of pace," Herrick explained.
"In the first game we tried too much long stuff with the bat. But in the second we shortened up and made Saints field the ball more," Herrick added.
Saints coach Paul Woon was quick to congratulate Flaxmere on their victory. It denied his troops a record fourth consecutive post-Christmas final title.
"Like everyone has said it was an outstanding game which could have gone either way. A few silly mistakes cost us during the final two innings and Flaxmere deserve praise for the way they changed things which didn't work when they lost to us earlier in the day.
"We only had four losses all summer and two of those were against Flaxmere, one in the first game and that last one."
Woon has been involved as a player or coach with Saints for more than 40 years and next season his son Luke will coach the premier side.
"I want to focus on administration and fundraising so our boys can travel to more tournaments out of the Bay," he added.
At the Hawke's Bay prizegiving staged after the final, Saints infielder Xavier Herrick was named senior player of the year. Herrick will begin a six-month stint in Canada later this year.