With two outs and the bases loaded, Joel Evans emptied his mind and stepped up to bat.
After three balls and two strikes, against Australian pitcher Adam Folkard, the 26-year-old second baseman for New Zealand smashed the ball out of the park with a soaring hit that flew over the fence at the Pepsi Softball Centre for a grand slam to put New Zealand up 6-3 after six innings.
“At that stage it’s important not to watch the scoreboard,” said coach Mark Sorenson. “We just needed to get runners on base and we needed to create some pressure and create opportunities.”
Wayne Laula led the way, getting on base first and as the bases were loaded one by one, he stood on third and motioned for us team and the rowdy New Zealand-friendly crowd to get loud.
“I just knew that if we can get runners on and build pressure, I thought that we’d give more of our boys more opportunities and squeeze Australia,” he said. “Obviously we were really lucky.”
The New Zealand dugout emptied and as Evans came around home, Laula lined him up for a giant mid-air hug.
The Black Sox would get their next three outs in the top of the seventh, but not before Australia’s Nick Shailes hit a solo home run to bring the Steelers within two.
“That’s Aussie pride,” said Laula. “They come through and never give up.”
Australia, which had been eyeing a top-two spot since the beginning of the tournament, succeeded, going 5-2 after pool play.
They would need their second life after dropping their first playoff game against New Zealand 6-2 Friday night.
The team would go on to win their next two games: 11-7 over U.S.A. and 7-3 over Canada to secure a spot in the gold-medal match.
“It’s been a long day today,” said coach Laing Harrow following the team’s second-place finish. “Very proud of our guys, they fought very hard.”
Australia finished fourth at the 2015 world championships. Their previous best was gold in 2009.
The Steelers were up until the sixth inning.
“We knew we had to get a lead,” said Harrow. “I think we had our opportunity to score more runs.”
The Steelers had only about 40 minutes to prepare before the gold-medal game, after dispatching Canada 7-3.
“We just said we had to work hard the last two days and it was one more game,” said Harrow. “We put it all out there and unfortunately came up just a little short.”
While the Black Sox enjoyed their win, they recognized it was hard to be on the losing side of the final – a place they were all too familiar with two years ago.
“We know how it feels when you lose a final and we respect that,” said Laula. “Just a huge rock off our back... it was just a nice feeling to be on the other side of the final.”