Nick's a big hit

By ADAM HICKS

NICK SHAILES will have to back up his 'world's best hitter' title if the Australian team is to come out on top in Canberra.

The McLeans Ridges softballer is a key player for the Australian team which is competing in the Pacific Evo Drive Series this weekend against Japan and world number one New Zealand.

"It's about bragging rights and psychological advantage heading into the World Series (next year)," Shailes said.

"New Zealand has been the best in the world for the past 10 years."

In one of the less publicised, but fiercest of trans-Tasman rivalries, New Zealand dominates Australia.

"The Australians have only ever beaten NZ three times," Shailes said.

Two of those wins came in a four-game series in Canberra last year where Shailes became the home-team hero.

Going into the last game of the series, the Kiwis were up two games to one.

"They were up 2(runs)-1 going into the top of the seventh innings," Shailes said.

"We got two runners on base and I came up with a 2-2 (balls-strikes) count and put one straight over the centre fielder."

That hit gave Australia the win and levelled the series 2-2.

It was the start of a big year for Shailes who went on to play a season with the Townline club, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the United States, which saw him named at shortstop in the World All-Star team and crowned the world's best hitter after achieving the highest batting average at the Softball Congress World Tournament.

"It's just sort of an accolade," the 22-year-old said.

"We (the world team) don't play; it's just where they name the best of the best in the world.

"That's possibly the biggest honour we can get in our sport."

It is a massive achievement for the man who started swinging at Albert Park as a four-year-old with Dodgers.

"I love it; I live it," Shailes said.

"When I'm on the diamond, that's me out there. I don't know how to explain it.

"When I'm out on the field it just feels comfortable. That's where I'm supposed to be.

"I have just played it so much, I'm pretty much at peace on the diamond."

It is similar to finding peace in the middle of a hurricane.

"I'm facing guys who are throwing up to 148km/h from 43 feet," he said.

"A 120km/h pitch is the equivalent to a 160km/h fast ball in baseball because they throw it from 60 feet."

But he denies it is a softer alternative to the pegging game.

"Hell, no!" he said.

"I find it (the softball) harder to hit. In baseball the ball is always coming down off the mound.

"But in softball it can go any way: curve ball, rise balls they're possibly the hardest to hit drop balls, change-ups."



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