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Heat goes on in Black Sox build-up

Published: 4:32PM Saturday February 09, 2013 Source: ONE Sport

Black Sox pitcher Penese Iosefo is honest about his personal ambitions.

"I want to be the guy that starts."

As the national men's team head into a nine-day camp in their preparation for next month's world softball championships, competition within the ranks begins to heat up.

During the next few days, the Black Sox will contest two club tournaments, tackle their first international opponents, and begin to implement the tactics and strategies that will hopefully carry them back to the world title.

They'll get to test combinations and clearly define roles within the team. Nowhere is that more true than out on the pitcher's plate, where four candidates are used to being "the man".

"You do want to be the one, but it's all positive though," insists Iosefo. "We all know that, on the day, anyone could do the job, but if you put yourself out there, you never know what could happen."

Pitching is crucial to the hopes of any team, as Australia proved when they toppled the three-time defending world champion Kiwis at the last tournament.

This time round, Black Sox coach Eddie Kohlhase and his staff - assistant coach Dave Workman and pitching coach Chubb Tangaroa - have opted to have an extra hurler on their roster at the expense of an outfielder, providing a little more flexibility down the stretch.

While Auckland's Heinie Shannon and US-based Jeremy Manley both attended the 2009 event, Shannon and Iosefo also had a taste with Samoa in 2004, and Hutt Valley's Nik Hayes will be making his debut at this level.

Iosefo (25) has probably been the form pitcher in domestic play this summer, helping Canterbury to the provincial title in December and bringing Northcote home at the Vic Guth Tournament in Auckland two weeks ago.

"Rightly or wrongly, pitching tends to dominate softball," reflects Black Sox coach Eddie Kohlhase. "We felt that we needed a battery team to win this championship.

"These four guys will always want the ball in their hands, but they will also have a role to play.

"It's important to have that internal competition for places for this team to succeed, as long as it's healthy and respectful. At the end of the day, we all have to be pulling in the same direction."

Everyone in the 17-strong group will get their chance to stake a claim this weekend, as the Black Sox compete against Auckland's best clubs at the Brother Patrick Tournament and face Samoa twice in their first international outings.

Last time the Samoans contested the world championships, they finished sixth at Christchurch 2004, beating powerhouse Canada in the early rounds. Several of the current Black Sox line-up were in that team and Kohlhase likens them to the Manu Samoa rugby set-up.

"They're a combination of guys from everywhere, but a lot are domiciled in New Zealand," he says. "It will certainly mark a step up to the next level from the club games we will have played - it's exciting.

"It's always fun to play Samoa, there are a lot of connections there."

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