Teams ‘fierce, determined’ to win

Among the members of the Otago men’s (Whatukura) and women’s (Mareikura) softball teams playing...
Among the members of the Otago men’s (Whatukura) and women’s (Mareikura) softball teams playing in the South Island provincial tournament in Christchurch this weekend are (back from left) Logan Herbert, Nelson Yorston, Mitchell Finnie, Phoenix Wardell, (front from left) Katie Smith (Mareikura captain), Tessa Brown, Zillah Conder, Marissa Ahlfeld and Ben Foster (Whatukura captain). PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Otago softball teams will carry new nicknames and the usual hopes of taking down superpowers at the annual South Island provincial tournament this weekend.

Both the women and the men will play under their new labels for the first time at, respectively, the Jubilee Cup and Jefferies Cup in Christchurch.

The Mareikura (fierce and determined women) and the Whatukura (fierce and determined men) will need plenty of their names’ attributes for what is always an imposing challenge.

Canterbury has utterly dominated the tournament for decades, no surprise given its far superior softball resources.

But the Otago teams do not plan to wave the white flag.

The Mareikura have some confidence after winning the Henderson Shield, against old rival Southland, for the first time in 24 years.

They have also picked up some very useful ring-ins for the tournament, including White Sox pitcher Amy Begg and infielder Heaven Samson-Loffley, a player of origin.

"The girls are really excited, on the back of winning the Henderson Shield, and we want to carry that momentum into the next stage of our campaign," Mareikura coach Mark Ahlfeld said.

"We’re very lucky to have picked up Amy and the other girls. They certainly add some strength.

"Hopefully, we can come together pretty quickly as a unit."

Begg will shoulder the pitching load with Ahlfeld’s daughter, Marissa, as Kaitlyn Hastie is unavailable.

Otago players have often struggled at the Jubilee Cup as they face a higher level — and velocity — of pitching, but the women have been playing club softball against men this summer so should be better equipped.

There are just three teams in the Jubilee Cup, so Otago plays Southland twice and Canterbury twice before a potential final.

The men’s Jefferies Cup has five teams, as South Canterbury is returning to the tournament after a 22-year hiatus.

Otago plays South Canterbury, Southland and Nelson today, and the Canterbury Red Sox tomorrow, ahead of a final.

The team name might be new but the old band is back together for the Whatukura.

Three Watts brothers — player-coach Matt (25), and Christchurch-based Ben (28) and Cam (26) — will play together for Otago for the first time in seven years.

A family reunion became possible when Canterbury, recognising the tournament was getting too one-sided, decided to release some of its top players to other provinces.

It is especially good news for Otago, which will get dominant pitcher Ben Watts back on the mound.

"I’m looking forward to it," Matt Watts said.

"I’ve already had one of my brothers calling me ‘coach’, so that’s nice."

Only Canterbury’s name has been etched on the Jefferies Cup since Otago last won it in the 1992-93 season.

But Watts, who was with his brothers and making his debut in the 2012 Otago team that shocked Canterbury 3-0 in the round robin, sees no reason why there can’t be a seismic upset this weekend.

"With someone like Ben pitching for us, we can beat any team on the day.

"We’ve also got a few good hitters. So who knows?"

 - Hayden Meikle

Otago teams

Mareikura (women): Katie Smith (captain), Marissa Ahlfeld, Jo Ammundsen, Amy Begg, Kate Brewerton, Wendy Clinch, Zillah Conder, Kirsty Currie, Caitlyn Davidson, Tessa Matuatini, Finlay Martin, Terena Ramsay, Heaven Samson-Loffley, Keisha Togo.

Whatukura (men): Ben Foster (captain), Jayden Britt, Fletcher Due, Mitchell Finnie, Nathan Hill, Logan Herbert, James Mathieson, Patrick Oxley, Devon Robinson, Ben Watts, Cam Watts, Matt Watts, Jacob Wedlock, Nelson Yorston.



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