Group B preview: New Zealand aims high, Singapore, and Hong Kong China eager to test themselves against the best

WBSC photo - Singapore pitcher Aloysius Ong

New Zealand aims to end medal drought

The most decorated nation in Men’s Softball history is eager to get back on the diamond after a disappointing outing in 2022.

New Zealand had high hopes when they hosted the 2022 World Cup, but finished in eighth place with a 4-4 record. For some countries, that’s a strong outing, but in New Zealand, where the men’s team has won a record seven World Cups, expectations are a bit higher.

“There’s always expectations from New Zealand,” said shortstop and team captain Cole Evans. “It’s got a rich history in softball. We try not to let that affect us too much. We just go out and play our natural game.

“The players themselves have high expectations, so we’re looking to have one of those top two spots sewn up by the end of the week.”

The 2022 tournament marked the second straight World Cup where New Zealand failed to finish in the top three. To end the medal drought, the Black Sox brought in three-time New Zealand player of the year Thomas Makea as manager.

As a player, Makea won World Cup’s in 1996, 2000, and 2004. Evans said it’s great to have someone in the dugout with that experience and knowledge.

“Obviously, his reputation speaks for itself,” Evans said. “The respect he brings, not only from our team but the country back home, is huge. He just holds a great presence on the diamond, and has an amazing softball mind.”

At the coach’s press conference on Tuesday, Makea said the New Zealand squad is rebuilding, but the future is bright. He said the team has good fundamentals, but mental preparation will be the key to success in Prince Albert.

“(It’s) understanding the little parts of the game that really need to get right,” Makea said. “We’ve got some fantastic ball players. We’re just trying to teach them the little things.”

New Zealand enters the tournament with more than a few players who competed at the 2018 Junior Softball World Cup in Prince Albert. Evans wasn’t on that squad, but heard plenty of positives about Prince Albert from those who were.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “(It’s) personally, my first-time here and I’ve been super impressed with the facilities. I know a few of the guys where here in 2018 at the Junior World Cup and they spoke highly about it. What they spoke about is ‘it’s proven, it’s a really nice facility.’ We’re really excited to get started.”

Singapore ready to face the heat in Prince Albert

After just missing out on World Cup group qualification four years ago, Singapore Team Captain and 1B Say Kian Foo relishes being here in 2024.

Singapore finished second in the 2024 Asian qualifiers to earn a spot in Group B. Foo said it’s an exciting opportunity for a country making just its fourth appearance in World Cup group play.

“We’re actually very fortunate and very excited to be here,” Foo said. “Hopefully we manage to have a better showing in one of the rare chances we get to play in a World Cup. This doesn’t happen to us regularly, so we will cherish every chance we have to play out here.”

Singapore lost just twice in the Asia qualifiers—both times to Japan. Their best finish came in 1972 when they finished ninth out of a 10 team tournament.

During the coaches press conference on Tuesday, head coach Ruo Jie Koh said they have a roster filled with players who represented Singapore at the 2014 U19 World Cup and again in Whitehorse at the 2017 World Softball Championships. He said those players are eager to test themselves on the world stage.

“Now, they are here in Canada again hoping to show what they have gained over the years,” Koh said. “Being in group B with three pervious world champions is a tough group. We hope to make it (to) a playoff and from there we will take it game by game and hopefully get tickets to the World Cup.”

If Singapore has one advantage in Prince Albert, it might be the weather. Environment Canada has a heat warning in effect for Prince Albert, with temperatures expected to reach as high as 32 C on Wednesday and Thursday. For Foo and team Singapore, however, it’s nothing new.

“I understand that you guys have a heatwave here yesterday and past few days, but it’s nothing compared to the weather we have back home,” he said. “I think we are all just enjoying the moment.”

Hong Kong China looking to gain experience on world stage

At 24th in the world, Hong Kong China is the lowest ranked team headed into Group B play, but CF and Team Captain Corey Ng isn’t worried.

The squad was awarded the wildcard spot in Group B after losing to the Phillipines in the Bronze Medal game at the Asian Qualifiers. This will be the country’s fifth appearance at the World Cup group stage, and Ng is enjoying every minute of it.

“It’s an honour and we’re excited to be here,” Ng said. “We’re looking for a good tournament and for some good games.”

Ng said strong defence and timely hitting will be key to the team’s success.

Hong Kong China’s best finish came in 1972 when they placed 10th. Their other four World Cop Group Stage appearances resulted in 15th (1988, 2004) and 16th (1992, 2017) place finishes.

Head coach Jacob Pang said his team is excited to be back in the group stage facing the best softball players in the world.

“We put out the effort, (and) training, and then we put every player in their best condition to come here,” he said during the coach’s press conference on Tuesday. “We hope to see our best Hong Kong China team.”

Other team previews: Canada, Argentina, Israel

–with files from Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald