It was a tight, two-run game for five innings. Then it wasn’t close at all.
Team Argentina scored seven runs in the sixth inning on the way to a 9-0 win over New Zealand for gold at the 2014 ISF Junior Men’s World Softball Championship at Whitehorse’s Pepsi Softball Centre on Sunday.
It was the most lopsided gold medal game the championship has ever seen and the first to be truncated through the mercy rule, finishing in the sixth inning.
“The feeling of being a world champion is incomparable with anything, especially in amateur sport,” said Argentina head coach Julio Gamarci. “You don’t play for the money, you don’t get nothing here to do the things here the right way. To achieve a world title, it’s the top a sportsman can achieve, so it’s incomparable to anything. Especially in an amateur sport, you do it for the love of the game.”
Sunday’s win marked two in a row for Argentina, having won the championship in 2012 at home in Parana. Argentina is the first country to win the championship two years apart now that the event is biennial, when before this year the tournament was quadrennial.
The back-to-back world titles come after seventh-place finishes the previous two championships.
Argentina’s softball federation put a lot of time into the team. The squad played together for 18 months leading up the championship. Team Canada, for example, played together for just a couple weeks before the championship, with only a few exhibition games before arriving in Whitehorse.
Argentina’s team management also put an emphasis on fitness. Five times a week the team spent half the day on the field before half the day in the gym.
“We decided to make a big change in the program,” said Gamarci. “We decided to work with the kids on everything. On the defence, on the hitting, on the hitting side, but also to make them athletes. Like the pro sports do, trying to make them know it’s important to be athletes before they get to the field. To do that you have to work every day, like the pro sports players do.
“When you work every day and sacrifice yourself, you’re going to see results.”
After scoring two runs in the top of the first, Argentina piled four more onto the board on singles from Gonzalo Masmu, Matias Zapata and Teo Migliavacca in the sixth. Masmu then knocked a three-run shot over the centre field wall with a low line drive that just kept going.
“It’s a big happiness,” said Masmu, through an interpreter. “We came to be winners – champions. We came for that.”
Argentina pitcher Roman Godoy threw all six inning, logging six strikeouts and an RBI at the plate.
“I’m so happy. It’s the most happy a person can feel,” said Godoy, through an interpreter.
Before the sixth inning, “we weren’t thinking anything, only that at some moment we’re going to win.”
New Zealand, which was in the final for the first time since 1997, was unable to register three runs in the bottom of the inning to avoid the seven-run mercy rule.
“They are pretty dejected right now,” said New Zealand head coach Thomas Makea. “We came here for one thing and that was to dig up a bit of Yukon gold, but we found a bit of silver.
“I think they are pretty happy with silver.”
New Zealand placed sixth in 2012 and has not won gold since 1989, when the team repeated from 1985. The Black Sox have won two previous silver medals, back-to-back in 1993 and 1997. However, New Zealand did win the ISF Senior Men’s World Championship last year.
“Our A game wasn’t good enough, obviously,” added Makea. “Argentina battled two hard games today and they just wanted it a bit more in the last one. They have the experience of being here too – they know what it takes to win.
“I’m very proud of the guys, the way they finished the week. Silver is not too bad.”
Argentina went undefeated in the round robin with nine straight wins last week. They suffered their first and only defeat of the championships in a 3-1 loss to New Zealand on Saturday and had to play Japan in the semifinal for a spot in the final.
They narrowly beat Japan in extra innings, scoring two in the ninth to win 3-1.
Godoy also got the win against Japan, up against the tough pitching of Kento Okazaki, who racked up 11 strikeouts in his team’s loss.
“New Zealand is a super champion of this sport,” said Gamarci. “New Zealand has always been in the top level, so they know how to play. So it doesn’t surprise me that they beat us.
“We analyzed what we did wrong and tried to make the adjustments to get to first, to beat Japan, which is an awesome team. Kento Okazaki is one of the greatest pitchers you will see in the future 10 to 15 years. He’s great!”
Japan left with the bronze. Australia, who has won the championship more than any other country with four straight between 1997 and 2008, placed fourth.
The United States claimed fifth in an 11-5 win over Mexico.
Canada slipped to seventh with a 9-8 loss to Mexico on Saturday.
Last week’s tournament was the third time Whitehorse hosted an ISF world championship event, with the junior men in 2008 and the women’s championship in 2012. The Yukon capital is slated to host the senior men’s championship in 2017.
“We tried to enjoy the game,” added Gamarci. “It was the last of these 18 months. (We tried) to make it enjoyable for us, no matter what.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org