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Softball NZ board probes ‘unacceptable’ early exit by Auckland players from national men’s final

Softball New Zealand’s board will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday night to discuss potential action after the “unacceptable ” early departures of some Auckland players from the national provincial men’s softball final.

“We are taking this extremely seriously, ” Softball New Zealand (SNZ) chair Hoani Lambert insisted on Wednesday.

Three Auckland on-diamond players – including Black Sox captain Cole Evans – and coach Nathan Nukunuku were forced to leave in the top of the seventh inning of Monday’s National Fastpitch Championship (NFC) final in Christchurch to catch flights home to Auckland.

Ballpark spectators and many watching the live telecast on Whakaata Māori television, were stunned at the exodus from a game that is men’s softball’s equivalent of rugby’s NPC final or cricket’s Plunket Shield title decider.

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Auckland were trailing 3-1 at the time of the departures. Nukunuku advised the umpires of the changes and then had to run from the ballpark to get a lift to the airport.

Auckland were forced to bring players off the bench and play them out of position, with a pitcher playing third base and a catcher at second base.

The game – which went on for another 20 minutes after the enforced substitutions – was won 9-1 by Wellington.

Auckland and Wellington players in action during the 2022 men's National Championship final.  Some Auckland players, including Cole Evans (pictured) had to leave early to get flights home.

Anthea Stringer / Canterbury Softball

Auckland and Wellington players in action during the 2022 men’s National Championship final. Some Auckland players, including Cole Evans (pictured) had to leave early to get flights home.

Many longtime softball supporters felt Auckland’s actions had brought the sport into disrepute and SNZ was also unimpressed.

Lambert said he was disappointed that “an unfortunate administrative error ” in booking flights“ far too early ” had put the players under pressure and left them in an invidious position.

“As a national sporting organization, what took place during the final of the men’s NFC was unacceptable, ” Lambert told Stuff.

“We have a commitment to our sponsors and to broadcasters, but more importantly we have a commitment to our players to make sure the administration is able to support them to be able to do their very best on the diamond.

“Having players, including the captain of our Black Sox, not being to complete a final is, in our view, unacceptable.”

Softball New Zealand chief executive Tony Giles is reporting to his board on Auckland's early NFC final exit.  (File photo).

Murray Wilson / Stuff

Softball New Zealand chief executive Tony Giles is reporting to his board on Auckland’s early NFC final exit. (File photo).

Lambert said the SNZ board would consider a report from chief executive Tony Giles to “clarify how what took place in the final manifested in what we saw on TV and on the diamond ”.

“The board will be making a decision from there. ”

Lambert said it was “not fair to expect our players to be forced to make a decision in the heat of the moment ” about whether to stay and complete the game or miss their flight.

He said the onus was on administrators, “in this case at a regional level”, to be “sufficiently professional that we are not placing players in this situation ”.

New Zealand softballers are amateur players, meaning Auckland’s players had to be home for work on Tuesday.

Lambert said he had been involved in softball a long time and could only recall one other case of an early dash from a major final when a Hutt Valley Cardinals team was fined for leaving a national interclub final before its finish.

Auckland Softball chief executive Gareth Teahan said on Tuesday he was “not interested in commenting other than to congratulate Wellington and Hutt Valley [the NFC women’s champions] on their wins ”.

“All communication is through Softball New Zealand in terms of the event. ”

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