RAMSTEIN, Germany – The first day of the 2014 DODDS European Baseball finals is in the books, and to nobody’s surprise, the powerhouse teams came prepared to win it all.
The Naples Wildcats and the SHAPE Spartans, seeded No. 1 and 2 respectively, both went 2-0 in the first round of the tournament. The Wildcats dominated their games, smashing the Baumholder Buccaneers 14-1 and the AFNORTH Lions, 12-2. Pitcher Sam Murdock struck out eight batters in his four innings pitched and contributed heavily on offense, walloping a home run against the Bucs.
Starting shortstop Robert Dromerhauser also had a home run against the Bucs, along with 2 RBIs and a one-man double play. While the first-year shortstop said he’s proud of his performance, what he’s really focused on is helping the Wildcats win it all on Saturday.
“I’m new, so I just want to prove that I’m their shortstop for the next couple of years,” he said. “This is a great team with a lot of talent. I’m just happy to help with whatever the team needs to be successful.”
Of course, success is a relative term. The Spartans were also successful in day one of their quest to become champions, but their road to victory was a bit rockier. It didn’t start off that way, as the Spartans easily handled the Sigonella Jaguars 6-3. Freshman pitching sensation Chris Cheadle pitched every inning, and seemed to get better the longer the game progressed.
Cheadle threw 98 pitches in five innings and said he’d be ready to pitch again on Friday, if the rules allowed it.
Coach Chilly Ewing agreed that he’d probably be able to do it, saying that Cheadle is one of the guys they can always count on to get it done.
“He’s been pitching for a while, so we really weren’t worried about him,” Ewing added. “Once the game was as close as it was, we knew were keeping him in. We didn’t even look back.”
Ewing’s words ended up being somewhat prophetic, as their next game was much closer. The Bahrain Falcons flew to 7-3 lead over the Spartans, on the back of the sole female player in the tournament, Madison Belknap. Belknap had two doubles and 3 RBIs in the game, including the RBI that would ultimately be the last run the Falcons would score.
After a short rain delay, the Spartans took to the field and capitalized on some costly fielding errors to bring the game to a 7-7 tie. Both teams needed the win, Bahrain to assuage the sting of their earlier loss against Alconbury and SHAPE needed to assert their position as contenders for the throne. Spartan infielder Taylor Ator stepped in and made sure it was his team that came away with the victory, smashing a line drive to left field that drove in the winning run and sealing his team’s 2-0 start in the tournament.
“For a long while I hadn’t been able to connect with much of anything,” he admitted. “But I worked hard with the coaches on my mechanics and it paid off today. This team is great at fighting back.”
The Spartans may have battled through their share of adversity Thursday, but their comeback paled in comparison to what the Hohenfels Tigers accomplished against the Bitburg Barons.
At one point during their afternoon game, the Tigers were down 10-5 and the Barons were close enough to victory to taste it. Bitburg coach Wayne Phillips cautioned his players about the dangers of overconfidence, but some sloppy infield play on their part allowed the Tigers to come back in the final inning of the game. Still, the Barons held on and were just one out away from heading to the locker room victorious.
Unfortunately for them, Tiger first baseman Nathan Weinzetl had other plans. The sophomore infielder crushed a line drive down the middle, bringing in the final three runs and ending the game with the Tigers on top, 11-10.
“I wasn’t going to let us being down get to me,” Weinzetl said. “Toward the end, I got a little nervous, but I knew my team would step up. We have a lot of potential and I knew we could do it.”
Like all of the players out there, Weinzetl said he’s looking forward to what the next two days will bring for his team. Saturday, the champion will be crowned and the 2014 season put to bed. Every team is looking forward to the next couple of days, but Spartan coach Ewing offered up this bit of wisdom to his players that every team could learn from.
“Teams that look ahead normally fall behind,” he said. “So we’re going to go out there and take it one game at a time.”