The Black Sox's campaign for an eighth world title has ended at the penultimate step after a close loss to rivals Japan at the Men's Softball World Championships in Prague this morning.
The Black Sox were undone 2-1 by Japan in the semi-finals in a game that evolved into a pitcher's duel between young Auckland chucker Daniel Chapman and Reo Koyama.
Both pitchers went the entire game and took eight strikeouts each but suffered shaky starts.
Nathan Nukunuku welcomed Koyama to the match with a solo home run in the first innings to give the Black Sox a lead but the game was tied up an innings later by Japan's third baseman Takuto Tsutsui dealt the same blow to Chapman. It was Nukunuku's third home run of the tournament.
From there, the sides traded two scoreless innings before Japan's patience at the plate paid off in the bottom of the fifth.
With two outs, left fielder Yusuke Morita started the rally with a single up the middle and stole second on the following pitch.
With first base open, the Black Sox opted to intentionally walk danger hitter Hikaru Matsuda to bring up catcher Tsukasa Oishi.
Oishi fell behind in the at-bat 0-2, but managed to bring it back to a full count before singling through to left field to bring in Morita and give Japan a lead they would hold on to for the rest of the match.
Koyama kept the Kiwi bats silent throughout the entire match with Nukunuku the only batter to pick up hits in the contest - his home run and a single in the top of the fifth.
Nukunuku was also one of five Black Sox to earn a walk off Koyama.
In contrast, Chapman finished up with four hits but only three walks.
This morning was the fifth time this year the Black Sox had fallen to Japan this year after the side lost to them in Auckland at the Challenge Cup, in a warm-up tournament before the world champs and in pool play earlier this week.
The loss means the Black Sox will miss the final for the first time in 11 tournaments, having contested the gold medal match 10 consecutive times since 1984.
The result also means Japan will face Argentina in the final after they crushed Canada 7-0 in the other semi-final. It's Japan's first trip to the final since 2000 when they lost to the Black Sox.
The Black Sox and Canada will square off for bronze at 2:30am tomorrow.