Saints premier men's softball team first baseman Bailey Scott-Wray admitted he was feeling the pressure as he entered the batting box for his second turn at bat in Saturday's pre-Christmas competition final in Hastings.
His side's opponents and the team he played for last summer, Fast Pitch, had tied the score at 3-all after four innings at Akina Park, Hastings. With two down in the fifth inning and his team ahead 4-3, Scott-Wray drove the ball towards Fast Pitch short stop Liam Udy-Johns and as Udy-Johns fumbled it after more than a hint of obstruction from a base runner, centre outfielder Sam Coldicutt scampered home from third base to extend the lead to 5-3.
"It's quite nerve-racking because at 21 I'm one of the younger boys in the team and you don't want to let the older ones down on finals day. After I did the job there was a bit of relief and it was good to pick the boys up," left-hand batter Scott-Wray said after his team's 6-3 victory.
A father of one and property maintenance worker at Gourmet Blueberries Limited in Flaxmere, Scott-Wray - who has represented Hawke's Bay through the grades up to under-23 level - is confident Saints have the ammunition to complete the double with victory in the post-Christmas competition.
Should Fast Pitch reach that final they will be hoping experienced second baseman Te Rangi Chadwick doesn't get ejected. For the second consecutive year he was ordered off the diamond in the pre-Christmas final.
Obviously upset with no-obstruction call from the umpires, Chadwick swore about it in a team huddle instead of questioning the umpire in an appropriate manner. Base umpire Terry Whittaker marched Chadwick and as he left the diamond he told Whittaker his team gets ripped off in the final every year.
While Fast Pitch did receive some harsh calls, coach Quentin Chadwick, a cousin of Te Rangi, refused to criticise the umpires.
"They're volunteers and they're here every week for our game. We had our chances to win and I'm proud of the way our young side didn't let the ejection get to them and they kept battling."
Saints took an early 3-0 lead. In the first inning, lead-off batter and short stop Jacob Zurcher scored on a sacrifice fly from his pitcher and former Junior Black Sox teammate Adam Woon, who was the only Bay player to make the tournament team at the national under-23 tournament which ended in Christchurch the previous weekend.
In the second inning, second baseman Mace Price scampered home on an error and Scott-Wray scored on an error-assisted three-bagger from Zurcher.
Fast Pitch opened their account in the bottom of the third when right outfielder Donovan Mataira scored on a fielder's choice.
The bottom of the fourth inning saw Udy-Johns hit centre outfielder and Junior Black Sox squad member Elijah Mataira home and Udy-Johns levelled the scoreline when he scored on a fielder's choice.
Saints other run in the fifth came courtesy of third baseman Hoani Crawford with a walk when bases were loaded. Price had the final say when he dashed home on a wild pitch in the seventh inning.
Woon was the top batter in the game with an average of .500. On the mound he struck out 13 of the 25 batters he faced while conceding three hits and one walk.
Fast Pitch's 19-year-old pitcher Triple M Campbell, who has travelled from Gisborne each weekend since Labour Weekend to play for the side, struck out five of the 35 batters he faced while conceding four hits and five walks.
Saints coach Paul Woon was impressed with the manner in which his troops fired from the start.
"Like all teams we're struggling for players this summer. But I'm happy with the boys and we'll definitely be aiming to retain our title in the post-Christmas comp," he said.
In their respective semifinals, top qualifiers Saints beat fourth seeds Napier Boys' High School 10-0 and third qualifiers Fast Pitch beat second seeds and defending champions Maraenui Pumas. Coldicutt and catcher Phillip Te Nahu smashed home runs for Saints against NBHS.