RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Amid fits of hail and heavy rain Friday, the 2013 DODDS-Europe baseball championships moved into the lightning round.
Inclement weather shoved a handful of Thursday’s scheduled games onto Friday’s already-full slate. With the two overflowing brackets sharing two adjacent fields, DODDS-Europe officials condensed each preliminary game Friday into a one-hour time limit, at which point the current inning would represent the last.
The rule change heightened the risk factor for the field’s favored teams and made for some thrilling final frames.
Patch 3, Lakenheath 2: The margin for error was just a bit too slim for the upset-minded Lancers.
Panther standout Ruben Rodriguez sprinted home on a costly third-inning throwing error to rescue the defending champions from a pool-play defeat.
Garrett Becker and Jack Smith also crossed home for Patch, and Smith hurled a complete-game victory. Sophomore Ben Ciero and junior Matt Norman scored runs for the Lancers.
While every team took the field under the same unfortunate circumstances, the shorter games and muddy fields increased the games’ unpredictability. Not that the defending champion Panthers minded.
“We’ve got our lineup, and you’ve got to step out on the field and you’ve got to play with the rules you’re given,” Patch coach Drake Marbury said. “In the end, you can’t make any excuses. It’s whoever goes out and plays the game and makes the plays at the end.”
From a player’s perspective, Smith described a strange brew of patience and urgency required to play in the shadow of the 60-minute limit.
“You’ve got to pick your pitch,” the senior said. “But in the back of your head you’ve got to know that there’s a time limit and you’ve got to come out here and score runs quick.”
The Panthers will play Wiesbaden on Saturday morning in search of a return trip to the European title game. Lakenheath also advanced to the semifinals as its pool’s second-place finisher, and will face Ramstein.
Patch 10, Heidelberg 3: The Panthers had an easier time with the Lions in what proved to be the final game in Heidelberg baseball history.
Vilseck 1, Ramstein 0: The Falcons shocked the homestanding and previously unbeaten Royals in an upset.
Caleb Miller plated Tanner Fox in the second inning for the game’s only run, while Ramstein couldn’t muster any sustained offense.
“It was a blast,” Vilseck All-Europe sophomore John Bohnemann said.
Vilseck 3, Kaiserslautern 1: The crucial pool-play matchup packed all the drama you’d expect from a game with season-altering consequences.
The Falcons scored twice in the second inning in a rally sparked by a double from Hirohito Kambayashi. Kaiserslautern’s Lukas Amrhein led the counteroffensive with a leadoff double deep into left field; he crossed the plate moments later on a hit by freshman Chris Jimenez.
But the Raiders left Jimenez standing on third, stranded another runner on third an inning later and squandered a bases-loaded, one-out situation to end the game in the fourth.
Ramstein 12, Wiesbaden 1: With a loss unexpectedly on their books, the Royals staved off disaster with a rout of the Warriors.
Hoping to pad its run differential in the event of a tie, Ramstein struck for five first-inning runs and piled on six more in the third and final frame.
Zach DeCosta went 2-for-3 wiith a double and an RBI for Ramstein. Freshman pitcher Jon Oswald yielded two hits in a complete-game victory.
Wiesbaden 6, Kaiserslautern 4: The Warriors clinched a semifinal berth, while the Raiders saw another rally fizzle.
Serving as both slugger and closer, junior Justin Jones smashed a three-run home run to pace the Warriors at the plate and escaped a final-inning jam to finally subdue a feisty Kaiserslautern team in futile pursuit of a postseason victory.
After pulling a pair of base hits into left field, Jones took hold of a low-and-outside pitch and sent it into the thicket of trees hugging the right field fence. Then he took to the mound and eventually scraped together the needed outs.
“My heart was beating pretty fast,” Jones said. “I tried to calm down, but it was a lot of excitement.”
Wiesbaden’s win forced a three-way pool-play tie with Ramstein and Vilseck, the latter the odd team out after the tiebreaker despite its morning heroics against the hometown Royals.
Naples 10, SHAPE 0: Undefeated in the regular season and playoffs, the Wildcats tore into the defending champions and cruised into Saturday’s title game with a semifinal rout behind a shutout effort from pitcher Joseph Pitts.
After spending the season playing exclusively in Italy, questions lingered concerning Naples’ ability to compete with the expanded competition it would encounter at Europeans.
“We don’t get to play the competition that we’d like to play, that these guys offer,” Naples coach Jack Marlow said, gesturing to the diverse assembly of coaches and players gathered around the two neighboring fields.
Consider those questions answered and dismissed. The Wildcats beat Germany’s Bitburg and Ansbach and Belgium’s SHAPE over the tournament’s first two days to take its season’s victims list international.
Now Naples waits to learn its championship-game opponent.
The other Division II/III semifinal game was postponed to Saturday morning due to encroaching darkness. Rota, a Division III contender who ousted favored Division II power Ansbach earlier Friday, will face Vicenza for the right to stare down the Wildcats.