It will be a homecoming of sorts for two international coaches at Levin when New Zealand under-18 softball team takes on its Denmark counterpart at Playford Park.

The New Zealand Junior Black Sox side is coached by former Black Sox legend Thomas Makea, no stranger to this area having played NPC rugby for Horowhenua-Kāpiti as a midfield back in his 20s.

Denmark is coached by Kevin Stockford, a local now living abroad who has carved a career as an international player and coach, representing Great Britain at three World Series.

Both Makea and Stockford have strong family ties to Horowhenua and jumped at the chance for a match at Playford Park, as it would provide a perfect lead-in for either side to the World Series in Palmerston North in a few days time.

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The two teams are seeded in the same pool so are guaranteed to play each other again soon.

Both Makea and Stockford know that staging an international match is a huge coup for the local Horowhenua scene, and a good crowd is expected at Playford Park.

Denmark under-18 coach Kevin Stockford.
Denmark under-18 coach Kevin Stockford.

Stockford wasted no time getting his boys acclimatised. Just hours after hoping off the plane they had a match in Auckland before tripping down to Levin to play men's team Levin United the following day.

While honing their softball skills, of equal importance was their personal growth and Stockford wanted to ensure the squad was enriched with New Zealand culture during their stay.

They were welcomed with a pōwhiri and had slept at an Ōtaki marae during their stay, cooking meals and cleaning up as a team. Stockford said it would be the making of them.

The Danish side had already contributed to Horowhenua softball by staging a training camp for young players at the weekend, and were impressed by the talent.

They also played a match against senior Levin men's team Levin United, leaders of their league in Palmerston North.

It was an entertaining match with some exciting plays, especially when a huge hit from ring-in Nopera Stockford from Poneke-Kilbernie was caught in a spectacular catch on the boundary fence.

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The Danish player flipped over the fence as he caught the ball and somehow landed back on his feet, holding the ball high in the air.

While the final scoreline of 10-9 suggested in was a close match against United, the visitors were too young and slick and loaded the United bases late in the game to test themselves under pressure, inflating the scoreline.

L-R: Keith Trask, Auckland, former Hawke's Bay Rowing Club member and 1984 Olympic Games gold medallist; Thomas Makea Jnr, softball, inductee, Hawke's Bay Sports Hall of Fame - Hawke's Bay Sports Awar
L-R: Keith Trask, Auckland, former Hawke's Bay Rowing Club member and 1984 Olympic Games gold medallist; Thomas Makea Jnr, softball, inductee, Hawke's Bay Sports Hall of Fame - Hawke's Bay Sports Awar

Meanwhile, Makea has put together a strong NZ team that includes Brandon Bristowe, who is based in Queensland, and a son of former Auckland representative Mike Bristowe.

Makea said he saw Bristow playing during their recent Queensland tour and they were impressed.

"We followed his progress throughout the remainder of their season where he put up some impressive stats," he said.

The U18 Men's World Cup starts on Saturday. The best young softball players in the world will compete in 50 games over nine days at the revamped Colquhoun Park in Palmerston North.

All 12 teams will be in action on opening day, with host New Zealand facing the new leader in the men's softball world rankings, Japan, following the Opening Ceremony.

Pere Nepia send one down fopr Levin United against Denmark at the weekend.
Pere Nepia send one down fopr Levin United against Denmark at the weekend.

World No. 11-ranked Denmark will play No. 21-ranked Guatemala at 11am.

With five top-10 teams in the recently updated Men's Softball World Rankings, Group A features the defending champions and world No. 5 Australia, along with No. 2 Argentina, No. 4 Canada, No. 7 Czech Republic, No. 10 South Africa and No. 17 Singapore.

Group B includes host and world No. 3 New Zealand, No. 1 Japan, No. 6 USA (wild card), No. 8 Mexico, No. 11 Denmark and No. 21 Guatemala.

Following a five-day Opening Round, the top three squads from each group will advance to the Super Round. The two teams with the best record after the Super Round will play in the World Championship Game on 1 March, while the third and fourth-place teams will play for the bronze medal.

The official website of the U-18 Men's Softball World Cup has been launched in six languages, including English, French, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Traditional Chinese.

The final will be played on Sunday 1 March. This World Cup event will be screened live on Sky Sports.

New Zealand team: Oscar Clark, Ryan Earley, Liam Jardine-Ngauamo, Harrison Wildbore, Traye Wildbore, Levi Wilson, Te Kirika Cooper-Nicola, Elijah Mataira, Kahurangi Beamsley-Allan,
Jonathan Little, Caleb Taylor, Dallas Clifton, Dylan Jackson, Ciaran Bolger, Jacob Davidson,
Brandon Bristowe. Non Travelling Reserves: Jayden McCabe-Priestly, Hunter Simpson, Kotiti Patea, Jamieson Graham.