Otago starts in style to end 28-year drought in Jefferies Cup

Otago Whatukura celebrates after breaking its drought to win the Jefferies Cup in Christchurch...
Otago Whatukura celebrates after breaking its drought to win the Jefferies Cup in Christchurch yesterday. Back row (from left): Jodi Loffley (manager), Fletcher Due, Ben Watts, Mitchell Finnie, Cam Watts, Phoenix Wardell, Nathan Hill and Jacob Wedlock (assistant coach). Front row (from left): Jayden Britt, Logan Herbert, Matt Watts (player-coach), Nelson Yorston, James Mathieson, Ben Foster (captain). PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Otago had waited 28 years to end its Jefferies Cup drought.

In the end, a red-hot start was all it took.

Its bats came to life to take a 6-0 lead after the first innings of yesterday’s final.

That set the platform for an 8-3 win over Canterbury in Christchurch.

It ended Canterbury’s winning streak in the Jefferies Cup — the men’s South Island interprovincial tournament — that went back to 1993.

The win was also Otago’s first over Canterbury, in any game, since 2012.

"It means everything," Otago player-coach Matt Watts said.

"Me and my brothers [Ben and Cam], we’ve been to close to 10 of these each, for Otago.

"And just not been able to play in a final, or losing a final. It just means heaps to go out and win it for our association."

While there were many familiar faces in the newly christened Otago Whatukura team, Watts said those faces had grown in experience, and that was a big difference from past years.

The return of Ben Watts to the Otago pitching circle was significant as well.

"Largely, it was made up of people who developed their softball in Otago.

"But a lot of us are a lot more mature, a lot better at softball than in other years.

"Having Ben back was huge. Having an ace pitcher back as a workhorse — it just meant everything.

"Bad innings were one or two runs, rather than seven or eight. And everyone stepped up and got hits, which was important."

Watts said Otago had taken good form into the final and the team had been confident.

It knew it would have to score runs to beat Canterbury, making Otago’s start all the more meaningful.

Pick-up player Fletcher Due tripled, before Mitchell Finnie brought him in to open the scoring.

A Cam Watts bunt then brought Finnie home.

Otago continued to hit well to get on base, before a Logan Herbert grand slam made it 6-0.

It was a buffer Otago held the whole way.

While Canterbury managed two late home runs, the gap proved too big to genuinely threaten Otago, as pitcher Ben Watts closed out the game.

In the women’s Jubilee Cup, the Otago Mareikura was beaten 9-1 by Canterbury in the final.

The score had been 6-1 the majority of the game, before a three-run hit in the final innings made it look more convincing.

Otago women’s coach Mark Ahlfeld said the team had played well throughout the weekend, including a 12-2 win over Southland yesterday morning, to reach the final.

"I think it was an amazing weekend, actually," he said.

"Some very tough softball. Certainly, for the women, there were three very strong teams.

"I guess for our girls, we just grew as the tournament went along.

"With our pick-up players, they fitted in really nicely, really gelled with the team and assisted in getting us to where we got to."

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