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DODDS-Europe softball

Defending champs have mixed luck on opening day

Hohenfels freshman Elexianna Artiaga steals home from Naples catcher Aundrea Hall during the first day of pool play in the DODDS-Europe softball championships in Kaiserslautern, Germany on May 22, 2014. Naples beat Hohenfels 11-4.

A defending champion fell early and another one nearly did before pulling out a thrilling final inning win on Thursday during an action-packed first day of the 2014 DODDS-Europe softball championship tournament.

Some of the key games included:

Division I

Vilseck 6, Ramstein 5: In perhaps the biggest upset of the day, the fifth-seed Falcons lit up the scoreboard early and hung on to beat the defending Division I champions and second-seed Royals in both teams’ first matchup of the day.

Leading the Falcons on offense were senior outfielder Brittany Watkins, who went 2-for-3 with a double and a triple and one run batted in. Sophomore Kaylee Luginbuhl also was 2-for-3 and scored one run.

“Our girls came out strong against Ramstein,” said Vilseck coach Ashley Smith. “They wanted it and, you know, that’s what shone through today.”
Senior Kayla Clamage and freshman Elana Montonez split pitching duties for the Falcons.

Lakenheath 5, Vilseck 3: After the electric win against Ramstein, the Falcons fell flat against a stingy defense put up by the Lancers, the fourth seed.

The game was tied two all until the bottom of the fourth, an inning that saw Lakenheath send three runners to the plate.

The scoring drive began with a base hit from junior Arianna Lemieux. When sophomore Nikka Jiao then belted out a double, Lemieux rounded the bases and barreled home.

She was called safe after colliding with Vilseck catcher Janin Powers in a cloud of dust, putting the Lancers up 3-2.

After senior Alex Rodriguez next reached on a bunt, junior Jade Julien knocked in the inning’s final two runs with another base hit.

The Lancers were impressive on offense from the get go. Freshman catcher Meghan Bibb started things off with a first-inning home run that sailed over the left-field fence.

But Lakenheath’s defense, which completed three double plays and made few errors, was especially key to the win, the Lakenheath coaches said.

“I’m just really pleased and proud of my girls,” head coach Gregg Thomas said. “They played like a team.”

The loss may have popped the Falcons’ emotional high from beating Ramstein, but the Vilseck players said they weren’t deflated.

“We fell off a little bit but we’re not done yet,” Watkins said.

Kaiserslautern 9, Wiesbaden 3:  The third-seeded Red Raiders scored four times in the first inning – including runs that came after a lead-off walk and an overthrown ball to first base after a bunt.

Another run in the second made it 5-0 against the Warriors, the tourney’s sixth seed. The Warriors then settled down some and strung together a few stretches of solid play, holding the Raiders scoreless over the next two innings while putting two runs of their own on the board in the top of the fourth to make it 5-2.

But the Raiders’ bats proved to be hotter, though Kaiserslautern head coach John Culbreth might say they were just lukewarm.  “We hit just enough to win,” he said, noting Kaiserslautern put up 14 hits but stranded 10 runners.

Sophomore Tori Liggins, who pitched two innings and went 3-for-5 with three runs batted in, said her team’s defense was the difference in the game.

“I felt like we had great defense this game, but our hitting could have been a little better,” she said. “We weren’t very focused. We had a lot of pop-ups.”

Junior Megann Schultz also pitched and was a key contributor on offense, going 4-for-5 with two runs batted in.

Division II

Naples 11, Hohenfels 4: The Wildcats have their eye on the prize – the prize being the championship they were denied last year, after winning it for four consecutive years.

Despite being without injured All-Europe catcher Victoria Krause, third-seeded Naples cruised to an easy victory against fourth-seed Hohenfels.

“Our bats came to life” early on in the game, said senior Davina Gutierrez, who played first base for the Wildcats on Thursday.

Gutierrez and sophomores Abby Lynch and Anna Gaughen led the Wildcats with three hits apiece.

Gutierrez also drove in two runners and scored once, while Lynch and Gaughen each crossed the plate twice.

Junior Erin Dromerhauser contributed two RBIs and one run scored. DeDe Jones, a sophomore, pitched six innings for the Wildcats, throwing 56 strikes and 37 balls.

Alconbury 9, AFNORTH 7:  Early on, it looked as if fifth-seed AFNORTH might upset the Dragons, last year’s Division III champions and second seed this year.

By the top of the fourth inning, AFNORTH had jumped out to a 7-2 lead due to some key hits, smart base running and solid pitching by Lions sophomore Erica Balkculm.

But then suddenly it was 7-7.

Alconbury sent a parade of hitters to the plate in the bottom of the inning and chipped away at AFNORTH’s lead. The inning lasted so long that by the time it was over, only four minutes was left in regulation – 90 minutes in pool play – meaning the game would end after both teams batted in the fifth.

After AFNORTH failed to score during its turn at the plate in the fifth, Alconbury had one more crack at the win.

Balkculm struck out the first batter. Freshman Aleah Cole worked the count to 3-2 before drilling an infield single. Pinch runner Ashlynn Stayton swapped places at first with Cole and promptly made it to third base on two steals.

After sophomore Adeline Stadnyk drew a walk, senior Caitlin Cash was up next. With runners at the corners and the count 3-2, she stroked the ball into left field, scoring Stadnyk and freshman Gabriela Johnson - pinch running for Stadnyk - to give Alconbury a thrilling win.

“My hands are still shaking,” a jubilant Cash said immediately after the game. “I was really nervous … I had one chance. I just pulled back and swung. Thank goodness it went out.”

Svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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