The Junior Black Sox have lost a seesaw contest with Japan in their first playoff game at the Junior Men's World Softball Championships this afternoon.
The NZ under 19s side clashed with Japan after finishing second in their pool, wrapping up that section of play with a convincing 10-0 win over Guatemala yesterday.
However, today's contest proved much more difficult as Japan carved out an early lead with a run scored in each of the first two innings off Nelson pitcher Joshua Kelly.
The Junior Black Sox responded in the third though with great batting discipline with Sheldon Waller starting the innings off with a walk.
Waller advanced to second after Reilly Makea earned his own free pass to first bass off Shoto Onodera before AJ Hart delivered the goods with a two-out double to deep left field to score Waller.
Japan clawed that run back an innings later but once again, the Junior Black Sox responded as Makea launched a solo home run to deep left field. The in-form slugger leads the entire tournament in home runs after hitting his third today.
But again, Japan delivered a reply to leave the score at 4-2 after five innings.
Despite the deficit, the NZ side again clawed their way back into the contest thanks to a rare RBI walk by Jared Gillard that was then followed up by a troublesome single from Ryschan Thompson.
Thompson's bloop shot dropped in between shortstop and leftfield to score Alec Carson, levelling the score at 4-4 after Shoto recovered to strike out the next two batters and leave the bases loaded.
That would come back to haunt the Junior Black Sox as Japan took the lead once and for all with two runs in the bottom of the sixth innings, 6-4.
Shoto wrapped the game with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to end any chances of a comeback.
His opposite, Kelly, threw the entire contest for the Kiwis, taking four strikeouts in six innings of work while only giving up one walk and a hit-by-pitch, however the Japanese bats delivered nine hits.
As a result, the Junior Black Sox now face a tougher road to the final with their first match against Mexico taking place tomorrow at 6am NZT.
They will need to win that game along with two more straight in order to make the Final.