RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- The team to beat in DODDS-Europe softball remains just that.
The defending Division I champion Ramstein Royals crushed one of the teams projected to challenge for their crown Saturday, routing the visiting Vilseck Falcons 15-1 on opening day of the spring diamond season. The Royals completed the sweep with a closer 8-2 win in the second game of the doubleheader.
Vilseck hung with the Royals for all of one inning of Saturday's opener before Ramstein asserted itself. The Falcons mounted a major threat in the first inning, but Ramstein ace Katherine Enyeart hurled the second of her seven strikeouts on the day to end the trouble on a two-out full count with Vilseck runners on first and third.
The Royals edged ahead in the bottom of the first as Savannah Brooks scored the first of her four runs on the day. Enyeart coaxed Vilseck into a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the second. With the lead in their favor and their nervous energy expended, the increasingly confident Royals went to work, scoring five runs each in the second and third innings and four more in the fourth.
Vilseck, meanwhile, placed several runners on base, and ushered one of them home when Elana Montanez hustled in from third on an RBI groundout by Hiromi Kambayashi. But a fruitless frame in the top of the fifth doomed the Falcons to a mercy-rule defeat.
While they carry the aura of a fully-formed championship squad, the Royals harbor a secret. The team is packed with new underclassmen - 10 of the roster's 20 players are freshmen. And the new arrivals aren't just there to lob rhythmic chants from the bench: Sarah Wilhite is the team's new leadoff hitter, while sophomore Zania Sterling, a transfer from Oklahoma, landed square in the middle of the order as cleanup hitter.
"We've been working really hard on our hitting, trying to get everybody so they're ready to attack the ball," Ramstein head coach Kathleen Kleha said. "We did a good job coming out of the box."
Wilhite went 1-for-3 with two runs scored in her debut. A recent star in Ramstein's vaunted youth program, the outfielder chased away anxiety - "It's a little bit scary, but it's okay," Wilhite said - to make an immediate contribution at her new level.
"Katherine has been helping everybody on the team get through it. She made it easier for everybody," Wilhite said, referring to the senior All-Europe standout and reigning Stars and Stripes softball Athlete of the Year. "Everybody on the team has a lot of support."
That team spirit was tested in the nightcap as Montanez took the mound for the Falcons and mowed down 13 Royals. But Ramstein made enough contact, led by Sterling's 2-for-3 effort, to secure the win and the sweep. Bailey Loomis collected the pitching win for the Royals.
Ramstein will take on a regional Division II foe next in a trip to Bitburg. Vilseck's brutal early slate continues next weekend with a visit from Patch.