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Unbeaten teams face challenges soon

DODDS-Europe has reached the midpoint of its baseball season. Here’s a look at the five teams that survived the first month of the season undefeated, and their chances of staying that way.

Ramstein: The defending Division I champion Royals (4-0) have scored in double digits in three of their four victories and plated nine runs in the other. The defense has been equally effective, yielding a combined 10 runs over two games to a solid Vilseck club.

This weekend brings another Division I test from visiting Lakenheath. Though an even 2-2 on the season, the Lancers gave Kaiserslautern a hard time last weekend and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Kaiserslautern: The Raiders (6-0) are tied with Naples for the most wins in DODDS-Europe entering the weekend. The first four wins came easily as Kaiserslautern whipped lower-division opponents Baumholder and Alconbury, but the Raiders showed some grit with 7-5 and 9-3 wins over Lakenheath last weekend.

Kaiserslautern will be rewarded for its strong start with an idle weekend ahead of a busy schedule May 2-3, which includes doubleheaders against SHAPE and AFNORTH.

Naples: The reigning Division II/III champions have been seriously tested only once in their 6-0 start. The team that gave them that trouble will get another shot at the upset on Saturday.

The Wildcats edged Vicenza 6-5 on March 29, salvaging a win when Josh Wieder sprinted home from third on a passed ball in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Naples travels to the Cougars’ den on Saturday for the next round of the rivalry. Long geographically-based foes, the two teams escalated their feud last year in to the European championship game, which Naples won decisively. With burgeoning confidence, Vicenza should be ready to build on their March near-upset and chart a course towards another Division II title shot. It will be up to Naples to reassert the status quo.

SHAPE: The 2012 Division II/III champions are sitting at 2-0, technically undefeated but also untested after two routs of Baumholder. That’s about to change.

The Spartans face regional and divisional rival Alconbury on Saturday in their first DODDS-Europe action since March 22, the season’s opening day. But their schedule really heats up after that. SHAPE departs for a rigorous road trip to Germany to open May, playing doubleheaders against above-mentioned unbeatens Kaiserslautern and Ramstein. A third Division I team, Lakenheath, awaits the following weekend. The Spartans are sure to come out the other side if not undefeated, at least well-seasoned for a postseason run.

Hohenfels: Like SHAPE, these Tigers look great on paper with two wins. But those wins were narrow 8-7 and 11-6 victories over winless Baumholder, and the level of competition is about to spike. Hohenfels plays Wiesbaden on Saturday and Patch on May 3.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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