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Two new teams will join the battle for Otago club softball’s top prize this season.
Both Ellis Park and Old Boys have stepped up to the premier men’s grade, which begins at Ellis Park today.
They join Dodgers and Cardinals, the only two teams in the grade for the past two seasons.
After spending the majority of the past decade in lower grades, Ellis Park has grown exponentially over the past year.
Having had just 14 players and one team at the start of last year, it now fields five and has more than 80 players.
One of those teams, predominantly made up of its colts team from last year, will contest the premier grade.
The team is a young one, with all but three players aged between 16 and 19, although it is hopeful of doing well.
It has several quality, fast pitchers, with Jacob Wedlock returning from Christchurch, 17-year-old Kruz Cleminson and the experienced Mike Bunn all likely to be key.
In Jacob Sinclair and Caleb Bennett it also has two very strong catchers.
Meanwhile, Old Boys enters the premier grade for the first time, although it has plenty of players that have previously played in the grade.
The oldest and most experienced of the teams, it has been dominant in the reserve grade in recent years and decided to step up to help the sport.
Despite that, it was there to win.It has made the key acquisition of young pitcher Nelson Yorston, whose father, James, also plays for the team.
He comes across from Dodgers and was one of the dominant players last season.
Other key players are Ryan Tupuhi and Dylan Brett, two of the team’s younger players who would play in the outfield.
A strong all-round team, its players are versatile and will look to use their experience to take advantage of the mental side of the game.
However, the newcomers will have a big task to topple the established teams of Dodgers and Cardinals.
Dodgers is hoping for another successful season, having returned most of its squad from last year.
Yorston is a big loss at pitcher, although in Callum Rowley and Josh Eastwood it has two promising youngsters who will get a good opportunity.
Brothers Matt and Cam Watts will both be available more frequently this year, having played much of their softball in Christchurch in recent years.
Both will be key players, as would the likes of Logan Herbert, Jake Burtenshaw, Liam Mclister, who, while young, have built up plenty of experience in recent years.
Meanwhile, Cardinals was hopeful of contending for the title and had plenty of talent, although are another young team.
Tyrone Wall has returned to the club and will be key in bringing some experience, while hitting the ball hard.
Catcher Ben Moody is also back after having had last season off.
Alongside having a good arm and being a strong hitter, his return will free up others in the team to fill the other infield positions — something the team lacked last season.
Being the only pitcher at this stage, Mitchell Finnie will be a pivotal player.
Otago premier softball
Today, Ellis Park
Noon: Opening ceremony
12.30pm: Cardinals v Old Boys
2.30pm: Ellis Park v Dodgers
4.30pm: Old Boys v Dodgers
Cardinals: Mitchell Finnie, Ben Moody, Will Bathgate, Isaiah McLellan, Tyrone Wall, Jackson Lobb, Lyall Scott, James Mathieson, Tane Mercer, Doug Hill, William Hewett. Coach: Grant Johnstone.
Dodgers: Matt Watts, Cam Watts, Logan Herbert, Jake Burtenshaw, Liam Mclister, Tom Snow, Eric Munro, Callum Rowley, Josh Eastwood, Scott Cameron, Jack Stuart, Aran Bailey, Nich Kelly, Hoani Iva Keen, Connor Flynn. Coach: Aran BaileyEllis Park: Jacob Wedlock, Jacob Sinclair, Teremoana Hamblin, Kruz Cleminson, Mike Bunn, Caedyn Webster, Tim Donaldson, Marnix Leathen, Jesse McKersey, Caleb Bennett, Jack Dalton, Cody Webster, Damion James. Coaches: Wiki Haua, Debi Dysart.
Old Boys: Reece Flawn, Scott Flawn, Ryan Tupuhi, Dylan Brett, Mark Ludlow, Josh Ludlow, Jason Crosbie, Aaron Booth, Gary Iti, Andrew Nicolson, Nelson Yorston, James Yorston, Grant Phillips, Christian Amos, Simon Rakiraki, Ben Foster, Mark Ahlfeld. Coach: Scott Flawn.