EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Johnson City, Tenn., has been both a near-championship stage and a house of horrors for the All-Armed Forces men’s softball team.

After a second-place finish in the Amateur Softball Association Class A nationals in 1999, the All-Armed Forces team bowed out with a 1-2 mark in the 2002 event.

Coach Scotty Cobb of the Marine Corps hopes that with the help of five Pacific-based players, the All-Armed Forces team can rebound and capture the title, as its women’s counterpart has done for two years running.

“We have a great mix of talent from all the services, both young and veterans,” said Cobb, whose 14-player squad departs Thursday for Johnson City after a series of workouts and practice games at Eglin.

Since its runner-up finish in 1999, the All-Armed Forces team has gone a combined 4-6 in three Class A national tournaments.

Cobb is optimistic that will change this weekend.

Leading the way is 13-time All- Marine and 12-time All-Armed Forces catcher Cherylton McRae, assigned to Okinawa’s 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. The Marines took second in the All-Armed Forces tournament.

“You know how many times he’s been here. That speaks for itself,” Cobb said. “His ability and leadership on the field. He hits the ball just about as hard as I’ve seen anybody hit. That carries on through the rest of the team.”

Dexter Avery, a multiple All-Army and All-Armed Forces outfielder stationed at Camp Carroll, South Korea, is a gem on a squad Cobb says is “loaded” with good outfielders. Avery helped Army win the All-Armed Forces tournament last week for the second time in three years.

Along with the veterans is a sprinkling of youth, such as Jon Goff, a third baseman from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

“He’s a pleasant surprise for us,” Cobb said. “He stepped up and played well in the All-Armed Forces. Good all-around play. He’s got a good glove and his hitting was probably the No. 1 thing.”

McRae and Goff play for Okinawa-based powerhouse Pacific Force, which has won 37 of the past 57 Pacific interservice Grand Slam tournaments dating back to 1989.

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