Pictures by Osamu Takezaki and Kaede Moriyama (Japan Softball Association)
Singapore having booked one of the two World Cup berth and host Japan all lined to confirm the other berth tomorrow morning, both teams are poised to be battling for the coveted Asia Cup in their final preliminary round match tomorrow in the U18 Men Softball Asia Cup 2023 tournament at the Kochi Softball Fields at Kochi Athletic Recreation Park, Haruno.
With fixtures having to be postponed from the first day on Thursday because of rain which made the two pitches unplayable, it had cramped up the fixtures with some teams having to play three games a day.
Under the circumstances, Tournament Director and Softball Asia president, Datuk Low Beng Choo, has decided that there will be no bronze and gold medal play off tomorrow for the top four teams at the end of the preliminary round to ease the hectic schedule, but not compromising on fair play and schedule suiting for all teams.
“Instead we will be using the final placings after the preliminary round tomorrow, as the final standing of teams in the tournament here and also determine the two World Cup qualifiers (top two teams) and the medal winners for the top three spots,” said Datuk Low.
With Singapore having assured themselves of one of the top two spots with their second victory of the day against India (11-0) this afternoon, after having defeated Chinese Taipei 11-6 in the postponed match in the morning, Japan look set to join them with two matches in hand tomorrow, after they too remain unbeaten after their 11-0 victory over India today and an opening day 15-0 victory over Hong Kong.
One of Japan’s opponents tomorrow is Singapore, and the fixtures have been revised for that match to be the last match of the preliminary round, which would serve as a ‘final’ too.
Japan’s earlier opponent in the morning tomorrow is Chinese Taipei, who lost against Singapore (11-6) and beat Hong Kong ( 20-0).
Chinese Taipei have two matches tomorrow against Japan and India.
Chinese Taipei could turn out to be the spoilers of Japan’s dream to finish among the top two but highly unlikely.
Hong Kong on the other hand, have lost three games – against Singapore 0-22; against Japan 0-15; and Chinese Taipei 0-20 – and play India in their final game tomorrow which will determine who ends up as the wooden spoonist.
India have lost two matches (against Japan 0-11 and 0-11 against Singapore) and besides Hong Kong, have Chinese Taipei to deal with.
Indications are that Chinese Taipei will finish third placed and Hong Kong and India battling for fourth and fifth placing in their preliminary round final match tomorrow.
However, if there any upsets like Chinese Taipei beating Japan, it could be give rise to a battle for supremacy between Japan, Singapore and Chinese Taipei depending on their individual results.
The groundsmen this morning did an excellent job to get the field in great condition for play and with sun bright and sunny, it was certainly an additional bonus, as the postponed match between Singapore and Chinese Taipei after 57 minutes and the bottom of second inning, with the former leading 5-1, was resumed.
While Singapore who continued from where they left off in the postponed match took dominance, they somewhat lost their focus and allowed Chinese Taipei to drag the game to seven innings, before winning 11-6.
Singapore coach Muhammad Farhan Harahap agreed that his team made difficult on themselves against Chinese Taipei when they lost focus midway in the game.
“It could have been an easier victory, and we cannot afford to lose concentration in upcoming matches,” said Farhan.
But at the end of the day, it was joy for Singapore when they booked one of the berths for the World Cup in Mexico when they defeated India 11-0 in their afternoon match.
“Our first priority was to book the World Cup berth and glad we have achieved it,” said a relieved Farhan.
“With that pressure off our backs to qualify for the World Cup, we will now go for broke to wrest the Asia Cup to cap a fine performance. We have nothing to lose.
“But it is not going to be an easy match, as Japan are a formidable side. I expect it to be a close match and hopefully we will emerge, winners.”
Farhan was also happy that he has ‘happy problem’ on his hands.
Singapore’s ace player in their opening match against Hong Kong was pitcher, Taiki Kang, but against Chinese Taipei, it was Looi Zi Jenn who was equally impressive and commanding.
“Actually Looi is our better pitcher. But Taiki too has done well. I have an healthy problem on my hands on whom to decide to start against Japan,” said Farhan.
Actually, Singapore has named four pitchers on their team registration list, while the other two are Lim Yi Fan and Wang Ephraim Yi.
Japan’s team manager and coach Yukihiro Tanaka, on the hand, admitted to the challenge ahead against Singapore in their match tomorrow.
“But we don’t want to think so far ahead on the match against Singapore, because we have a match before that against Chinese Taipei,” said Tanaka after the match against India.
“Chinese Taipei have been improving with each match and we cannot treat them lightly. We need to get past them, before we can think of Singapore,” said the modest Tanaka.
“In any case, the match against Singapore will be a close encounter and we will have work at our best. Singapore is a well balanced and good team,” Tanaka acknowledged.
Tanaka also said that men’s softball in the region is fast improving and countries must pay heed to it and step up on the development to keep pace.
“The U18 tournament is a great tournament in the development of the game for the future of this sport. This age-group competition gives players of this age to get tough competition and exposure.”
Am interesting end to the tournament is on the cards tomorrow.
Even the wet weather failed to dampen the spirit of this tournament, which overcame the obstacles to be managed well and as it concludes tomorrow, the Men’s Asia Cup will begin on Sunday and end on June 27 at the same venue.
TODAY’S (FRIDAY) RESULTS:
Singapore 11 Chinese Taipei 6 (halted and postponed match at bottom second inning yesterday – Spore 5 Chinese Taipei 1) – Pitch A
Japan 11 India 0 (Postponed match) – Pitch B
Hong Kong 0 Chinese Taipei 20 – Pitch A
India 0 Singapore 11 – Pitch B
Singapore 22 Hong Kong 0
India v Chinese Taipei (match postponed because of late arrival of India)
Japan 15 Hong Kong 0
Chinese Taipei 1 Singapore 5 (match halted after 57 minutes and postponed to today)
Japan v India (match postponed to today)
FINAL DAY (TOMORROW) FIXTURES
9.00am Japan v Chinese Taipei – Pitch A
9.00am Hong Kong v India – Pitch B
12.00am India v Chinese Taipei- Pitch A (Postponed match from Thursday)
14.30pm Japan v Singapore – Pitch A