3rd Force takes title in Marine regional
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Vengeance was sweet Friday for Okinawa’s 3rd Force Service Support Group in the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Softball Tournament.
Third Force pounded Marine Corps Base Hawaii 18-5 in the final, winning its first regional title since 1992 and wiping out the bitter memory of a two-game loss to Hawaii in the 2001 finals.
“It feels outstanding,” said 3rd Force coach Benji Hammond, who also guided the 2001 team, which went unbeaten all week until the championship round.
This time, 3rd Force finished what it started, winning all nine games it played.
Hammond, Rich Krause, Tim Callahan and Gary Chaney each had two RBIs on Friday for 3rd Force.
“When we started firing on all cylinders, it didn’t matter who we played,” said Hammond, whose team featured six former All-Marine selections. “We were the team to beat.”
It was Hammond’s last regional tournament after a six-year stay on Okinawa, which ends in November.
“There’s no better feeling than to win the gold, especially against a team that double-dipped us two years ago,” he said.
That went double for pitcher Lee Burkett, who in 10 previous regional appearances, dating back to the 1980s, had finished second twice.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “You work, you plug and you just hope. Finally, I got the gold. It was a good team effort.”
Callahan, who finished the tournament 19-for-28 with 25 RBIs, hit his tournament-high eighth homer, a three-run blast in the first inning.
3rd Force added six runs in the second. Burkett hit a two-run triple, followed by a two-run inside-the-park homer by Mo Finley. Keith Lewis’ two-run single highlighted an eight-run fifth for FSSG.
Callahan and Lewis both finished 3-for-4. Lewis had three RBIs and Burkett also drove in three runs. Former All-Marine volleyball player and coach Bryan Rupp, 3rd Force’s first baseman went 3-for-4 with two doubles.
Hawaii pitcher Jerry Knight broke up the shutout with an RBI single in the fifth. On the previous play, right fielder Elvin Ortega fielded a bloop hit and fired to shortstop Callahan, who relayed to third baseman Jeff Meadows to nail a sliding Jim Murray.
Then in the sixth, another Hawaii rally was snuffed out by Krause, the second baseman who dove and snagged Murray’s liner.
“Those guys hit and fielded the ball,” said Knight, who went 4-for-4 with two RBIs, including a run-scoring single in Hawaii’s four-run seventh. “They played very well.”
3rd Force’s triumph was also Callahan’s last hurrah. He collected golds while playing for Marine Corps Base Camp Butler in 2000 and 2002, but he’s transferring to Fort Jackson, S.C.
“It’s all about team,” said Callahan, a leading candidate for tournament MVP, which will be announced Saturday. “This was a great way to go out.”