Coaches and players ready to go

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Argentina's Andres Gamarci speaks as Canada's Jeff Ellsworth and Australia's Robert Harrow look on during a coaches press conference Friday at the Art Hauser Centre ahead of the 2018 Junior Men's Softball World Championship.

The preparation for 13 nations is officially over.

After training camps, practices and exhibition games, the 2018 Junior Men’s Softball World Championship officially begins Saturday with a full slate of games at the Max Power Ball Parks.

As the tournament hosts, Canada will be waiting until primetime for their first matchup, as they’ll take on the United States at 7:30 p.m. at Rotary Field.

“We’re telling our guys to approach everything the same way that they have so far,” Canada coach Jeff Ellsworth said. “We don’t want them to get caught up in the hype and let the moment overtake them.

“If they do what they’ve done to get this point and just enjoy the experience, we should be successful.”

The team that everyone is chasing is Japan, who captured the 2016 championship with a 2-1 win over New Zealand in Midland, Mich.

They will be starting their title defence on the Kinsmen Field at 7:30 p.m. against Argentina, who won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2014.

“We have a strong group here and we don’t feel like there’s any extra pressure for us,” Japan coach Yukihiro Tanaka said. “We’re just looking to play our very best.”

It’s just not the coaches that are giving advice ahead of the tournament, as the veteran players are letting the youngsters know what to expect after previously competing at the World Championships.

“We’re making sure that they are ready to play and not feeling nervous,” Argentina infielder Alejo Muñoz said. “We’re sharing with them that feeling of pleasure that they’ll get from representing their country.”

“I just want my teammates to enjoy the experience,” South Africa shortstop Reece Nyland said. “It’s not very often that we play on fields as nice as these ones, so I hope they make the most of this opportunity.”

The tournament will also serve as a chance for some of the sport’s developing nations to go up against the top international sides.

“The best way to learn is to go up against the best in the world and see what they do,” Denmark head coach Gilles Fournier said.

“As we say in Denmark for those that play soccer, the ball is round for everyone, so we’ll see what happens.”

This year’s tournament marks the seventh time that Canada has hosted the event, but this is the first time that it’s ever been held in Saskatchewan.

“We’ve seen big crowds in Saskatoon for the Men’s World Championship a couple of years ago, so I expect to see the same fantastic atmosphere here in Prince Albert,” Australia coach Robert Harrow said.

Round-robin action will begin Saturday at 10 a.m. with Mexico playing Denmark at Rotary Field and the Czech Republic taking on Guatemala at Kinsmen Field at 11:30 a.m.

New Zealand will face Hong Kong at 12:30 p.m. on the Rotary Field Diamond, while South Africa will match up with Denmark at 2 p.m. on the Kinsmen Field Diamond.

Australia will go up against India at 3 p.m. at Rotary Field.

The opening ceremonies will take place at 6 p.m. on Rotary Field ahead of the marquee matchup between Canada and the United States.

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