Australia’s Junior Steelers are about to head to Canada with the aim of securing World Championship glory.
The 17-player team leaves on Saturday for the XII WBSC Junior Men’s Softball World Championship, which will be held from July 7-15 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
As is common with Australia teams heading to the northern hemisphere for international competition, the Junior Steelers will be competing out of season. But they have done everything they can to erase that disadvantage.
Head Coach Laing Harrow says many players have been competing in local tournaments to fine-tune their skills ahead of the trip.
“We’ve had a few guys playing tournaments over the past couple of weekends,” he says.
“There was the Brisbane Classic, and also over in WA they had a tournament there so the boys have been playing some games, which is good. And they all came through with no injuries, so that’s always a positive.”
At a training camp in Canberra in April, the coaching staff identified which areas each player needed to work on to improve.”We had a good camp in Canberra and we identified our strengths and weaknesses,” Harrow says.
“We gave some feedback to the players about what they could go home and work on. Some of these winter conditions can be pretty tough to train in, but I’m sure they guys will have a found a way to put the work in.”
From Monday to Thursday next week the Junior Steelers will play eight games against local teams in and around Milverton, Ontario.
And before heading to Prince Albert, they will compete in the Hill United Chiefs Invitational, a tournament in Six Nations, Ontario, that features some of the world’s best men’s softball players.
The invitational event will be a mixture of international and local teams and will be followed by a double-header against New Zealand’s Junior National team.
The nature of a junior world championship means it is difficult to predict which other teams will be tough, as the personnel changes each year. But from experience, Harrow knows that Canada and New Zealand will be among the toughest teams to beat.
“Argentina just finished up a tournament in South America and I’m sure they’re going to be better for it,” he says.
“Japan we know are always hard to beat and always have quality teams.
“It’s hard to predict, because there will have a been a huge turnover of players from the last Worlds. You might have a couple of players that are backing up but it’s not like with the men, where you’re very aware of strengths and weaknesses.”
And to reduce the threat of a surprise team beating the Junior Steelers in the tournament, Harrow’s coaching staff will be scouting potential opponents from day one.
“That’s where Tony Mackie, our video analyst, comes into us, giving us an opportunity to get some information that otherwise we wouldn’t have,” he says.
“Early in the tournament we pinpoint which games we need to see, either getting Tony to video them or if the coaching staff can put some eyes on it ourselves, we’ll definitely do that.”
But Harrow says if his players perform to play their own game to the best of their ability, they will be successful. “We’ll be working on areas that we need to work on. We want to be playing our best by the end of the week.”
The World Baseball Softball Confederation came up with a 54-game schedule for the 13 teams competing in the World Championship. The teams have been drawn into two groups (see above) and will begin the global battle with a round robin.
The fifth-ranked Junior Steelers’ first game is against 16th-ranked India on July 7.
The top four nations from each group will advance to the playoffs.
Two teams, Guatemala and Hong Kong, will be making their World Championship debuts.
At the 2016 World Championship, Japan dethroned two-time defending champions Argentina. New Zealand won the silver medal, with Australia finishing sixth.
2018 Australian Under 19 Men’s Team
|Josh Bond (NSW)||Bradley Kilpatrick (NSW)||Layton Reid (Qld)|
|Jacob Donaldson (NSW)||Ryan King (NSW)||Keenan Smith (Qld)|
|Jarred Garland (NSW)||Shaun Lanaghan (NSW)||Dawson Summers (WA)|
|Matthew Harrow (ACT)||Michael Ludkin (Qld)||Jeremy Waters (Qld)|
|Blake Jackson (NSW)||Bolton Nussbaum (ACT)||Jett Wright (WA)|
|Riley James (Qld)||Christopher Plain (NSW)|
Head Coach: Laing Harrow
Assistant Coach: Darrin Hebditch
Assistant Coach: Adam Rindfleish
Team Manager: Mike Titheradge
Video Analyst: Tony Mackie
Physiotherapist: Bernie Simai
Statistician: Jim Giles
Umpire: Trevor Murphy