Baseball: Diamondblacks primed for South Africa in WBC qualifiers

By Dale Budge

Scott Campbell #13 of Team New Zealand hits a sacrifice fly. Photo / Getty Images
Scott Campbell #13 of Team New Zealand hits a sacrifice fly. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand Diamondblacks baseball team begins their World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament with a must-win game against South Africa in Sydney this afternoon.

A win first-up will take a lot of pressure off the side in the double elimination format used for the four-nation tournament. Australia faces the Philippines in the other game today. The two winning sides from Thursday square off tomorrow for a place in the final while the losers will battle to stay in the tournament.

Hosts Australia will be the overwhelming favourites to win the tie and book a spot to next year's 16-team World Baseball Classic finals.

Veteran Kiwi infielder Scott Campbell says the Kiwi side is in good shape ahead of the first game.

"I think we are in a really good spot. We have done a good job preparing ourselves over the last couple of weeks. We had a couple of good couple of warm up games and got things flowing the last couple of days and we are really excited."

The New Zealanders surprised many with their run to the last WBC qualifying final in Taiwan four years ago, launching the baseball programme onto the world stage. Campbell, who had spent a number of years with the Toronto Blue Jays organisation was one of several Kiwi players to catch the eyes of Major League scouts in Taiwan.

"I definitely think we are a better team now," Campbell says. "We have some guys that gained a lot of experience in Taiwan and then done a lot with their careers since then.

"Obviously we have got some key guys that have stuck around.

"I think our pitching staff has been strengthened as well. Obviously there are a key few guys that aren't on this roster that we are going to miss like the Holdzkom brothers but we are prepared and in the time frame we had, I don't think we could have done much more."

New Zealand is like to go with left-handed pitcher Scott Cone as the starting pitcher against South Africa.

- NZ Herald

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