The 24 players selected for DODDS’ first All-Europe baseball team might well have left lasting marks in their sport.

Of the 12 selected for the first team, five batted .400 or better, four surpassed .500 and two, senior Jimmy Drago of SHAPE and junior Matt McDonald of Ramstein, hit safely better than 60 percent of the time — Drago hit .618 and McDonald, a pitcher, went 20-for-32 for a school-system best .625.

On the mound, eight of the 12 first-team selectees who pitched were just as productive.

Need a strikeout?

Ratios approached almost two per inning, with AFNORTH junior E.J. Ruiz and SHAPE’s Drago fanning more than two per frame. Ruiz whiffed 58 in just 27 innings for Small Schools champion AFNORTH; Drago rang up 26 batters in his 12 innings.

Approaching those figures were Bitburg senior Tyler Tucker, who fanned 60 in 33 innings, Vicenza junior Jack Buffington, who struck out 51 in 27 1/3 innings, and McDonald, who whiffed 30 in the 13 innings he pitched before moving to DH at tournament time with a shoulder injury.

Ruiz, an All-Europe quarterback and wrestling champion, led the system in ERA at 1.56 and for good measure batted .533. He proved to be an iron man, too, striking out 19 Vicenza batters in seven innings in the Small Schools title game, played one hour after he caught and played shortstop against Sigonella in the semifinals.

"This type of performance was par for the course for E.J. throughout the year," AFNORTH coach Jack Clark wrote in nomination of Ruiz.

All the first-teamers made the grade defensively, too, according to their coaches.

Buffington, a catcher and third baseman when not anchoring the Vicenza staff with a 1.96 ERA, had just three errors or passed balls all season according to his coach, Mike Wilson. Drago booted just three chances during his stints at short and second base, reported SHAPE coach Kenneth Goff, while Tucker made just five errors in 66 chances at shortstop and catcher. His .974 fielding percentage cemented his leadership position with a young Bitburg club, according to coach Matt Lawhun.

"As the only senior on a team made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores," Lawhun wrote, "Tyler embraced the leadership role. He was another coach on the field…."

Even if their numbers are erased in future seasons, the 2009 All-Europeans will retain forever the distinction of being the first.

"The first time for anything," Patch second-teamer Quinton Austin said, "is really special."

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