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Three title wins in four days – it doesn’t get much better than that for a group of Mount Albert Grammar School softballers.
Isaac Munro, one of five players in the MAGS team that won their sixth straight NZSS Division 1 title who also made the tournament team, explains their recent winning week on the diamond:
“Last Friday we won the NZSS tournament in Lower Hutt and then we flew home and a lot of us joined our club Ramblers in winning the Auckland club U17 and U19 titles. On Monday night we beat Auckland Grammar School to win the Auckland secondary school final. We’re pretty happy with how things turned out!”
MAGS joined seven other Division 1 softball schools at the start of Summer Tournament Week as five-time defending national champions. How hard would it be for them to win a sixth?
They were unbeaten throughout the tournament and met Hastings Boys’ High School in the final.
“Last year we played Hastings in the final as well. Last year we lost our round-robin game and one of our semi-finals against them, but we had a second life and played them in the final and beat them. Then this year we beat them three times in a row,” says Isaac.
The penultimate day of the tournament on Thursday was almost rained off completely, but MAGS and Hastings managed to play their semi-final at night and MAGS came through 3-2, after beating them 4-1 in the round-robin the previous day. Hastings beat Rongotai College 2-1 in a sudden death knock-out on Friday morning and then MAGS beat Hastings 3-0 in the final that followed.
Isaac said the win was based on consistency and self-belief. “A couple of times we ended up having loaded bases against us and no outs but luckily we have two pitchers and we brought on the other pitcher and we came back and got three outs without letting any of them home.”
As well as Hastings, other teams MAGS were wary off were Rongotai College and Marlborough Boys’ College.
“We thought we would be facing tough games against those two teams and knew we had to play well. But we went in there and stepped up; especially against Marlborough we just played an excellent game of Softball.”
MAGS beat both Rongotai and Marlborough 8-1. In four of their round-robin games, the mercy rule was invoked because MAGS was so far in front.
The five players from MAGS that made the tournament team were Isaac, Taine Slaughter, Ryan Earley, Brock Evans and Floyd Nola, who was also the tournament MVP.
MAGS returned home to beat Auckland Grammar School 10-0 in the Auckland Championship final.
In between, the Ramblers U19 and U17 sides won their Auckland club title finals.
What is the secret to MAGS’ softball success?
“We have been a big family mentality and brotherhood, so we know our strengths and weaknesses well and which has allowed us to believe in each other when the going gets tough,” says Isaac.
“Most of us either train or play together for our Ramblers club U17 and U19 teams, and some of us have been playing together for 10 years, so we know each other’s games and what works in tight situations.”
The MAGS softball legacy kicked off six years ago when they won their first title.
“There were a couple of players, such as current Black Sox players Cole Evans and his brother Rhys, who all played club softball together at Ramblers, and they took the school to our first national tournament win and it has continued from there,” says Isaac.
“My brother was in these early winning teams and I remember watching him play and win finals, so I thought I wanted that too.”
In fact, the brotherly theme runs deep throughout the team.
Rhys and Cole’s younger brother Brock who is year 12 was captain of this year’s side, while others such as Ryan Earley’s brother Max is a past multiple winner of the schools title and some current players in the group now have younger brothers coming through. “It is handed down through the generations!”
This was Isaac’s third national title and there was one player in this year’s group who has won the last four.
Coach Stu Kinghorn was Coach of the Tournament at nationals and has been a major part of their success since 2013. Kinghorn is Cole, Rhys and Brock’s grandfather. He has just stepped down after winning again this year, allowing someone else to take the reins and hopefully guide the school to a seven-peat in 2019.
Cole and Rhys are now Black Sox players, while Floyd and Taine are in the NZ U19 team and Brock is in the NZ U17s.
Many of the players will be involved in winter sport teams coming up at MAGS.
MAGS head boy Isaac also plays water polo and will be returning to Wellington in a fortnight to contest the national schools water polo tournament.