Major revamp for tournament
Story by: Nelson Mail - Photo by: MARC PALMANO - Shuttersport
Nelson's major annual softball tournament has reinvented itself, with the newly named GJ Gardner Labour Weekend Fastpitch Open set to start tomorrow (Saturday 23rd October) at Saxton Field.
Formerly known as the 3 Rings Softball Academy tournament, the annual three-day Labour Weekend event is now into its fourth year and is being run by the Stoke Sports Club in association with the Turf Hotel.
Last year, Wellington's Poneke-Kilbirnie ended Parklands Christchurch United's two-year title reign with a convincing 7-2 win in the final. Both are back for the revised five-team format, reduced from seven teams. Christchurch team Papanui and local sides Stoke Eagles and Waimea Eagles complete the draw.
The PCU Devils scored a convincing 8-1 win over PK in the 2008 final, having beaten Christchurch's Albion 7-0 for the inaugural 2007 title.
Tournament organiser Derryn French said the smaller format had its advantages.
"We would have liked to have had more teams. However, the five teams are going to be extremely competitive.
"You're going to see some really good softball, and it actually makes the draw quite good with five teams because we play a full round-robin. That basically seeds everybody, and the teams that come first, they obviously get a slightly easier ride to the final than the other teams.
"But any of the teams could come back in round two and win the tournament ... so it's quite exciting."
Adding to the excitement value is the involvement of several current and former Black Sox players.
Poneke-Kilbirnie pitcher Thomas Cameron and Daniel Tarapi are among those named in Eddie Kohlhase's Black Sox squad to tour Australia in December, along with PCU hurler Regan Manley.
The PCU side also includes former Black Sox player Gareth Cook, while Papanui pitcher Scott Sutherland was on the mound for Canterbury's Southern Cross Challenge title success in Brisbane in April.
Both local lineups are full of talent, with the Dennis Dolejs-coached Waimea side including Dolejs' son and former New Zealand under-19 representative Damien. Gareth Oliver is the starting pitcher and Nathan Delany provides the hitting power.
The Stoke team, coached by Simon Ashby, includes Junior Black Sox player Sam Church and New Zealand under-19 tournament team player Jack Fletcher, with Kurt Schollum joining the side from Blenheim.
The traditional home run derby will be held on Sunday at 5pm. This year, as well as the usual individual competition, each team will enter two players whose combined total will determine a team cash prize.
The draw is - Saturday 10am: PK v Stoke, Papanui v PCU; noon: Stoke v Waimea; 2pm: PK v Papanui, Waimea v PCU; 4pm: Papanui v Stoke.
Sunday 10am: PK v Waimea, Stoke v PCU; noon: PK v PCU, Papanui v Waimea; 3pm: playoffs.
Monday's play continues with playoff matches at 9am and 11am, with the final scheduled for 1pm.
Stoke Eagles: Simon Ashby (coach), Joel Harris, Brendon Ross, Simon Ashby, Paul Grant, Tom Arps, Sam Church, Nick Max, Kyle Glass, David Orr, Daniel Mallabar, Jack Fletcher, Kurt Schollum, Jordan Tullock.
Waimea Eagles: Dennis Dolejs (coach), Gareth Oliver, Sam Miller, Aaron Ewers, Damien Dolejs, Nathan Delany, Derryn French, Willi Lunei, Jack Rennie, Luke Bowers, Adam Caves, Scott Avery, Craig Higgs.