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Things learned, observed in Far East high school spring sports tournament week

It wasn’t the huge record-setting binge that I predicted; I’d thought that 19 of 30 Far East High School Track and Field Meet records were either possible, on life support or dead on arrival. But we did have 12 meet records and one Pacific record fall.

Leading the way was Nile C. Kinnick’s girls 1,600-meter relay, a record that seems to fall like a domino every year. Led by senior Val James and accompanied by sophomores Rhyssa Hizon and Shakita Samuels and freshman Aya Stewart, the Red Devils clocked 4 minutes, 3.38 seconds, beating the old record by more than three seconds.

One thing I did notice in the two-day Far East meet was folks kind of took the attitude that if they set meet or Pacific records, that’s OK, but getting points for the team was the top priority. That’s not to say people held anything back or in reserve; everybody went all out. But especially if that athlete had an event later that day and held a huge lead in his or her event, they would ensure that the team points came first.

Another thing to note. As the meet gets older and older, as is the case with the Mike Petty Memorial meet (10th year), Kanto Plain finals (40th year) and Okinawa district finals (24th year), you’ll see fewer records broken as a rule. The Okinawa district meet was an exception to that; 13 records fell, including one Pacific record. But that was partly because this was a special group of athletes; we won’t see anything close to that next year. And as the Far East meet sees its fifth year next year, the fewer records we’ll see.
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A modest proposal: Keep the Far East meet at Yokota for the foreseeable future. It’s a great facility and you have locals, Beau Veazey of Yokota Middle School and Bruce Carrick of Christian Academy Japan, doing the fully automated timing.
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Few softball teams have come to the Far East Divisions I and II Tournaments that could hit for average from top to bottom of the order like Daegu High, which won its first D-II tournament title with a 15-10 finals win over E.J. King on May 22. Most teams have anywhere from three to five batters who hit consistently.

But Daegu’s Rachel and Rheagan Wyche, Reyna and Ella Labarrete, Aaliyha Scott, Christina Henry, Kaitlyn Nott, Cynthya Walker and Kristen Clippinger combined to go 61-for-110, .555, with 27 walks and 66 runs scored. Of that group, only Walker, at 5-for-12, batted below .500.
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All spring long, I’d kept hearing how good a job she was doing and what a great addition she was to the Nile C. Kinnick softball team.

Having seen her pitch, I can say with conviction: Junior right-hander Kelly Osterbrink is the real deal. During the Red Devils’ 2-1 come-from-behind victory over defending champion Kadena in the May 22 Division I finals, I stood behind the backstop watching her pitch. In three innings, I saw a girl who could put every last pitch exactly where she wanted to, as her coach Katrina Kemper told me prior to the tournament.

Osterbrink made just one mistake, leaving a pitch up over the plate and it got crushed for a hit. The rest of the time, it was about location, location and location as well as velocity. And she’ll be back next season. Bad news for the rest of the Far East.
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Tenley Getschman wasn’t even supposed to play softball. The Kinnick freshman was earmarked to play soccer but at the last minute changed her mind and became the Red Devils’ starting third baseman. It was Getschman’s hit that plated Sierra Lee with the game-winning run in the seventh in Kinnick’s comeback win over Kadena.
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Talk about bearing immediate fruit. A Kadena boys soccer team that had played just two games a month into the season brought former head coach Michael Callahan back from the sidelines as a volunteer coach under team sponsor Nelson Youngblood midway through April. Callahan had won a Far East D-I tournament title in 2006, the last year he coached the Panthers, and he ended his first season back the same way he finished 2006, as Kadena blanked defending champion Christian Academy Japan 1-0.
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They were teammates at Robertson High School in Tampa, Fla., but coaching against each other in the Far East D-II boys soccer final on May 23, Sung Plourde coaching Osan American and Mark Lange Matthew C. Perry. And their sons, Daniel Plourde and Gaku Lange, were dueling it out on the pitch. The Langes prevailed, as the Samurai won their third D-II Tournament title 3-1 over the Cougars. That third star featured six clean sheets and only one goal allowed by Perry, which entered the season minus three players, Yuta Fleming, Alex Barker and Tyelor Apple, who’d scored 64 goals last season.
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It’s rare that a player will share a Far East tournament’s Golden Boot award once, but American School In Japan striker Katey Helwick, who had eight goals in the Girls D-I Tournament to match Guam High’s Kayla Kinney, is believed to be the first since Far East tournaments began in 1998 to share the Golden Boot twice in consecutive Far Easts.
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Could you just imagine what Yokota’s girls would have done with an offense that could match the stinginess of the Panthers’ defense and goalkeeping? Sarah Cronin, Katelyn Sult and the Panthers pitched what seemed to be 100 shutouts at opponents this season, keeping them in every match they played. But they scored 43 goals in 23 matches, less than two goals per match; by comparison, their Kanto Plain rival Nile C. Kinnick scored 82 goals in 26 matches, more than three per match. ASIJ, which won the tournament, scored 56 goals in 19 matches, almost three per match. Put Kaile Johnson or Katey Helwick in Yokota’s front row? It might have meant a championship for the Panthers.
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More bad news for the rest of the Far East: Johnson and her Kinnick teammate Athena Peerson will return next season. It should be another Red Devil of a season.
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Gotta love the fan support that Kubasaki’s girls had in their 2-0 finals loss to ASIJ. While Mustang Nation had a bunch of parents and other supporters, the Dragons were pretty much on the fan equivalent of a desert island … until the Camp Hansen Wolfpack team from the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League ended its practice nearby and moved over to Yokosuka’s Berkey Field to cheer for their Okinawa-based high school team.

The cheers and chants! Especially when Dragons goalkeeper Harleigh Lewis would drop kick goal kicks, which the Wolfpack met with a loud: “Awwwww, boom!” Though Kubasaki didn’t win, I’m sure the Dragons appreciated the attention.
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Did the stars align for Osan American’s girls soccer team or what?

We all thought (except maybe the Cougars themselves) that they were in full-blown rebuild mode, given that most of the veteran leadership responsible for three straight Far East D-II titles and a finals appearance last year was gone, via graduation and transfers.

So who comes along but some young but skilled talent in Andrea Carandang, Janel Fagaragan, Evie Garrido and the team’s scoring machine, freshman Ebony Madrid, who not only helped pace the Cougars to their fourth Far East title in five years and Pacific-record eighth overall, but overtook Kinnick’s Johnson on the final day of Far Easts for the Pacific’s goal-scoring lead, 40-39.

It will be Madrid’s only season in teal and black (she transfers to Ramstein) and coach David Hamilton will resume the helm of the boys team next year. But what a fun season it was for them.
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Great to have ASIJ and St. Mary’s International back in the Far East D-I Baseball Tournament.
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That Kubasaki-ASIJ D-I baseball semifinal on May 24 was as good as it gets. Two great pitchers, Mustangs junior right-hander Justin Novak and Dragons sophomore righty Renton Poole. A combined five hits and three walks (none by Poole) by the two teams. Kubasaki wins it 1-0, after ASIJ had beaten the Dragons by the same score on the same field March 15, in what in effect became a preview of the Far East final. Well, semifinal. OK, so the final was pretty much decided in that game, given Kubasaki’s 19-1 curb-stomping of the Titans in the championship game the next day.
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Much was said in this space in the aftermath of the D-II baseball semifinal, when Zama American beat Osan American 6-3 in a game in which Trojans freshman Keiyl Sasano was ejected when he lowered a shoulder into the Cougars catcher in a play at the plate.

What did Sasano have to say on the subject? I communicated with him via Facebook, where he told me he felt he let his teammates down, but plans to come back next year 100 percent and more.

Stand-up guy, taking responsibility for his actions. And resolving to return with a belly full of motivational fire. Then again, I expect nothing less from a very competitive family with a great deal of Far East tournament pedigree; mother and and sister, each named Keily, are former All-Far East tournament volleyball players. Keiyl has been playing youth baseball, on post and off, for years. I can’t wait to see him play next year.
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As to the handling of the ejection’s aftermath by the tournament’s director, Glenn Preston, and DODDS Pacific athletics coordinator Don Hobbs, it was handled absolutely, totally, 100-percent correctly. By DODDS Pacific’s PIAIP Manual, Page 7, Paragraph 2, Section C, a player who is ejected must sit out the rest of that game plus the next one. There is no such thing as a "disqualification," nor can the umpire rule that an ejected player is eligible to return for the next game, as was ruled on the field. The PIAIP Manual makes that call, not the umpire.

Just so happens the next one was the championship game, which Sasano was supposed to pitch and Robert D. Edgren won 4-3 to claim its second straight D-II title. The ruling on the field was that Sasano was “disqualified” from the Osan game but eligible to return for the final. By strict definition, that is not the umpire’s call to make. Hobbs and Preston get an A on this one.
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Once again, demonstrates that rules, bylaws, the NFHS rulebook and the PIAIP Manual must be required reading for all officials associations. They must be completely understood by school athletics directors at their bi-monthly video conferences with Hobbs, communicated to the coaches so they completely understand the rules, and communicated to the umpires associations and written into the respective association’s bylaws.
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The more thought I give to it, the more I believe that Okinawa should not host Far East spring sports tournaments. The main reason: Weather. The annual rainy season, which can trigger rains of biblical proportion at a second’s notice, can force even soccer tournaments to be suspended, as was the case with the D-I boys soccer. And it forced tournament organizers to scramble to reschedule matches, even on the turf field of Ryukyu Middle School, where vast puddles of standing water made playing out of the conversation. The closing ceremony occurred at 10 p.m. May 23. Give Okinawa more events in the fall and winter to make up the shortfall. But understand, if you schedule a Far East on Okinawa in May, you’re rolling the dice. And more times than none, snake-eyes will be the outcome.

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Ornauer on AFN

 

Stars and Stripes reporter Dave Ornauer talks about the Pacific sports scene on AFN Radio. (Click on right arrow to play file.)

 

May 30: Recapping ASIJ's and Zama's Far East baseball championships that capped the Pacific high school sports school year..

May 23: A look back at the Far East track championships and a look ahead at the ongoing baseball finals..

May 9:High school track's postseason begins in Japan and the regular season comes to a close in soccer..