RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – These two schools need no introduction to each other.
Three days after an instant-classic boys soccer semifinal, two days after another riveting girls soccer title game and concurrent with the programs’ annual baseball championship showdown, the Patch Panthers and Ramstein Royals will play Saturday for the 2014 DODDS-Europe softball crown.
As if this spring’s power struggle weren’t enough, the game is a rematch of last year’s title game, won by Ramstein.
Their victory in the books, the Panther players watched from the outfield as the Royals joined them in the finals. It’s an understatement to say the teams can’t wait to get reacquainted.
"I am very excited to get another shot at them," Patch pitcher Colleen Fenton said. "I think our team this year is much stronger than our team last year,"
Ramstein senior Katherine Enyeart said she is looking forward to going one last round with the Panthers.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Enyeart said. "It probably won't sink in until (Saturday)."
Ramstein 9, Kaiserslautern 5: The spirited semifinal had all the drama of Thursday night’s boys soccer title game, complete with another bitter end for the Raiders.
Zania Sterling and Brooke Strasberger hit two-run home runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to blast open a tense tie game and send the two-time defending champions back for another title shot.
"I just stepped up, did my normal set up," Sterling said. "I thought it was going to hit the fence like it normally does, but it went over."
Strasberger followed up with a shot of her own to double the Royal advantage.
"I always strive for just a base hit," Strasberger said. "Nothing big."
Enyeart took it from there. The reigning Stars and Stripes softball Athlete of the Year struck out the Kaiserslautern side in the top of the seventh to secure the win.
"The ending of the games, I always have a better mindset," Enyeart said. "The pressure makes me push myself more than usual."
The pressure was plentiful on Friday. Raider Emma Frost scored on a passed ball to tie the game at five in the top of the fourth inning. Both teams tried to spark rallies in their next at bats, but were denied by top-notch pitching. Kaiserslautern's Tori Liggins struck out two Royals and squeezed a pop-up to shake off a Ramstein leadoff single; Enyeart notched a strikeout with a runner on third to escape a jam.
Patch 9, Vilseck 1: The Panthers gave up an early run but responded nine times over in eliminating the tough Falcons.
A booming home run by Breanna Rodriguez punctuated the Patch onslaught.
"I used my best friend's bat," Rodriguez said. "That brought luck to me."
Shannon Nam similarly sparked the Panther offense with a pair of doubles. Pitchers Fenton and Amber Marvin teamed up on pitching duties; Fenton went five innings with seven strikeouts, while Marvin struck out two over her two innings of work.
Saturday's clash represents the next installment in a classic softball rivalry between the two schools. Patch last won the European title in 2011, beating Ramstein in the final to break a three-year streak of Royal championships. Ramstein responded with titles in 2012 and 2013.
But Patch has been the more dominant group this spring, earning the tournament's top seed with a sparkling 12-0 regular season marked by weekly run-rule blowouts. The Panthers' body of work includes two wins over Ramstein by scores of 8-3 and 16-0.
But while Patch is ready to take its title back, the team isn't taking anything for granted. The Panthers are prepped for a battle.
"I think they might be a little tougher this time," Fenton said. "But I think we'll still come out on top."