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Naples hosts annual baseball, softball gathering

A signature event of the DODDS-Europe spring season arrives this weekend as all four of Italy’s baseball and softball-playing programs converge on Naples for a busy two days on the diamonds.

The annual extravaganza takes place once again at Carney Park, a U.S. military recreational site built atop an extinct volcano. The sprawling green space hosts cabins and camping areas, countless picnic tables and facilities for a number of outdoor activities.

But it’s the baseball and softball fields that are of particular interest for DODDS-Europe sports fans this weekend. The eight teams from the combined four schools – Aviano, Sigonella, Vicenza and host Naples – will play a combined 16 games over Friday and Saturday, in the process establishing the region’s early power structure.

The schedule starts off Friday morning at 9 a.m. with perhaps the most-anticipated game of the weekend, a Division II European championship-game rematch between Vicenza and the hometown Wildcats. Naples won last season’s last game by a sizeable 15-1 margin, but the runner-up Cougars return an experienced group led by pitcher/catcher Levi Martin and shortstop/pitcher Louis Veazey.

But Vicenza will have to catch up, as Naples isn’t coming back to the pack. The Wildcats return seven starters from their title team, including ace pitcher Zane Zimmerman and middle infielder Jonny Bray. And Naples is already off to a strong title defense, sweeping Sigonella in a pair of games last weekend.

The Jaguars will hunt their first win Friday in games against Vicenza and Aviano, both of which are making their season debuts.

Sigonella, the lone Division III program among its Division II neighbors, made some early noise on the softball diamond last weekend when it opened its season with an 11-9 upset of Naples.

The Wildcats retaliated the next day for a 16-9 win. But the Jaguars, in hanging 27 runs over two games on a projected top European championship contender, proved they have the offense to compete when Division II and III teams are lumped into a common bracket for the European championships. Junior Sydney Moore and senior Halei Barnes are at the heart of the squad’s explosive batting order.

The Wildcats, led by senior catcher Vicky Krause and hard-hitting senior Shanice Alexander, will face off against Vicenza and Aviano on Friday. Both the Wildcats and Saints are playing their season openers.

Saturday’s schedule is identical to Friday’s as each team rounds out its four-game weekend slate. The teams will have plenty of time to recuperate afterwards; all four schools will have close to a month off, resuming the Italian DODDS-Europe diamond schedule April 25.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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