New Zealand softball legend and Hawke's Bay Sports Hall of Famer Thomas Makea knows all about the pressure associated with winning a world title on home turf.
Makea, 45, experienced it when he tasted world championship glory for the fourth and final time as a Black Sox player in North Harbour in 2013.
On the eve of the start of the inaugural Under-18 Men's World Cup in Palmerston North tomorrow the Junior Black Sox head coach admitted there is more stress with the coach's cap on.
"There is extra pressure to perform. It's a bit different at home because the expectations of the people on the boys are right there. But we've set the standards and we know it's about keeping the boys relaxed and letting them play," Makea said.
A St John's College old boy, Makea, 45, has had the Junior Black Sox job since 2013. He guided the team to silver medal finishes at the 2014 and 2016 world championships and a bronze in 2018.
When quizzed about the hosts' chances of a gold medal on March 1, Makea replied: "If everything comes together at the right time we'll have a good chance. The boys played well in periods at the NFC tournament last weekend. Now it's about making that happen all the time."
His troops played six games at the National Fastpitch Championship against the country's top men's teams and won one - 7-6 against Southern Pride.
"It was pretty tough ball for the boys against hard pitchers. It shattered their confidence a bit and we knew that would happen but it was all about them getting game time against tough teams. They will benefit from the experience," Makea said.
On Wednesday night his troops had a convincing win in what he described as "a hit out" against the Denmark under-18 side which had lost all three of their games against Hawke's Bay opponents in Hastings earlier in the week.
"That match was all about bringing international softball to Levin. It was great for Levin and a couple of hundred people turned out. For us it was good to play away from the spies involved with our other World Cup opponents," Makea said.
He pointed out his previous world championship Junior Black Sox teams involved under-19 players and he has noticed a contrast with a younger age group.
"That year is a big difference. In the past all of our players were playing regular premier club ball. That isn't the case with this season's squad and the experience levels aren't high ... but I'm sure that is the case with the other 11 teams who will be at the tournament."
Two Hawke's Bay players, Maraenui Pumas pitcher Kahurangi Beamsley-Allan and Fast Pitch outfielder Elijah Mataira, are in the team which has two of Makea's former Fast Pitch teammates, Jarrad Martin and his cousin Bevan Martin, in the roles of assistant coach and batting coach respectively.
"I know Kahu and Boo [Mataira's nickname] can be better and they know they can be better. Hopefully they start firing at the right time," Makea said.
"Kahu needs more time in the pitching circle and Boo needs more consistency with his batting. He struggled against the faster pitching at NFC but I'm sure he will go well in his own age group."
The 12 teams have been divided into two pools. New Zealand are in the same pool as Japan, the United States, Mexico, Denmark and Guatemala. Defending champions Australia will be joined by Argentina, Canada, the Czech Republic, South Africa and Singapore.
The top three teams from Group A will play the top three teams from Group B in the Super Round and the top two nations in the standings after the Super Round will meet in the March 1 final.
Junior Black Sox draw:
Tomorrow: 7.30pm v Japan.
Sunday: 7.30pm v US.
Monday: 7.30pm v Mexico.
Tuesday: 7.30pm v Guatemala.
Wednesday: 7.30pm v Denmark.
Thursday to Sunday: Playoffs.