The New Zealand Under-15s side are tipped to win the Oceania tournament next month. This team was the first New Zealand side to win a tournament in the USA.
Coach Riki Paewai believes this side has the makings to win New Zealand's first title.
“Our growth in the games been massive over the past 3 or 4 years. We've got a lot of boys coming to the game that has a lot of talent, a lot of athleticism. We're starting to learn the game better.”
The Junior Diamondblacks are looking to build on momentum created by the Carl Ripken tournament side.
“That wasn't an easy tournament either. Those were kids who have been playing since they were four or five years old. It's good for those kids to understand what it takes to win,” says Paewai.
The tournament gets underway on January 18th and will be hosted by New Zealand at Lloyd Elsmore Park in Auckland. New Zealand is expected to ease past Guam, Fiji, and New Caledonia. But, Australia, on the other hand, poses a different threat.
“I think with the staff that we got, the roster that we've got this time around, we've got a very good chance. Plus, the tournaments changing from 9 innings to 7 innings, so that plays into our favour,” says Paewai who grew up playing Baseball in Australia.
These players will also play in front of friends and family, which is a rarity for international fixtures in New Zealand.
Porirua City Bombers teammates Rikihana Love and Noah-Sea Nui are relishing the opportunity to play alongside fellow representatives.
Says Rikihana, “I enjoy playing the game, and playing with these guys who are skilled NZ reps.”
“It will be pretty special putting on the New Zealand gear on again,” says Noah-Sea.
New Zealand will have warm-up games next week against a touring American side, with the final squad to be named on January 6th.