The international careers of some of the country’s top softballers are likely to be over following a “devastating” result at this month’s World Championships in Surrey.
The Aussie Spirit, who headed to Canada with realistic sights on a podium finish, ended the tournament in 10th place, the team’s worst result in World Championship history.
Coach Fabian Barlow, who admitted his own career would be in jeopardy following the performance, said the numerous weaknesses evident across the tour must be immediately addressed.
“There will need to be personnel changes and that was explained to the players as well,” he said.
“It wouldn’t seem very smart to roll the same group out there and expect change.
“We need some variation in our offence, we need some speed, we need some youth. We just need to upskill ourselves in certain areas.”
Could left-handers be the answer?
In particular, Barlow was left ruing the Spirit’s absence of left-handed slappers. He said the clear progress of the South American nations, aided by some smart recruitment from the American college system, highlighted this void.
“There’s some very good pitching on these (South American) teams that previously didn’t have world-class pitching,” he said.
“They’ve brought in a lot of left-handed slappers with speed who can also hit for power. That’s something we don’t have.
“We were just sending too many right-handed hitters up who were all looking to achieve the same thing but also making the same mistakes.”
Outfielder Janice Blackman, who was a late call-up to the Aussie squad, was an exception to the rule. Naturally right-handed, the 20-year-old spun around about three years ago to take advantage of her speed. She was Australia’s second-best hitter in Canada and has also been praised for her mental game, another area where her teammates struggled.
“If the program wants to move forward we need to be really honest in our appraisal of how we handled (challenging) situations,” said Barlow.
“It’s as much of a mental thing for our group as it was some physical skills breaking down.
“You don’t lose your technique in the middle of a tournament. You lose your mental resilience and handling situations with composure.
“That’s one of the strengths we saw in Janice (and that’s) the thing about youth – they don’t know, they just turn up and play.”
Barlow also applauded his captain, Stacey Porter, describing the two-time Olympian as “outstanding”.
The World Softball Championships - as it happened
The Spirit started their World Championship campaign with a surprise 2-0 loss to Mexico, which set the team on a path towards the ‘pool of death’ with the Philippines and softball powerhouses the USA and China.
Australia went down 5-3 in a thriller against the United States before a 2-0 loss to China consigned the reigning bronze medalists to the minor placings.
“Walking into the park for that Italy game (to play for minor rankings) was about as hard a day at the ballpark I’ve had and certainly the players have had,” recalled Barlow.
“Knowing what we weren’t playing for as much as knowing what we were playing for was just really difficult.”
Australia defeated Italy and Chinese Taipei (both 1-0) before going down 4-1 to Puerto Rico in the playoff for ninth.
The USA won the title 7-3 over Japan. The hosts claimed bronze.
Barlow was reluctant to blame a lack of funding for Australia’s poor result, although he did nominate the scarcity of international competition between major tournaments and insufficient depth on home soil as critical factors.
“We just need to increase depth and competition in our own program instead of waiting until we get on the international stage,” he said.
“Sometimes we end up creating these great trainers but not great players because they’re not out there on the international stage enough.”
What's next for the Aussie Spirit?
The Spirit head to Takasaki for the Japan Cup next month in what will be a timely test of Barlow’s call for more youth. The team was selected before the World Championships and boasts five new faces including three in their early 20s.
Australia will play three exhibition games before meeting Japan, the USA and Chinese Taipei in a round robin tournament.
“Probably best thing we can do is get straight back on that diamond and play again,” Barlow said.
For a full list of World Championship results, standings and game statistics, visit surrey2016.com