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Who can beat American School In Japan? And how?

Those questions are on the lips of many a coach and player on the seven other teams headed to Yokota for next week’s Far East High School Division I Baseball Tournament.

Bessie Noll, Justin Novak, Mizuki Shumsky and the Mustangs captured the 2011 tournament title. They weren’t invited back last year due to what organizers later said was an “unfortunate oversight.” And ASIJ has bulldozed its way to 13 wins in 14 games so far this season.

So just how is it possible that the Mustangs, who have beaten most of their foes by double-digit margins, could have been held to one run against Kubasaki in March, and actually lose a game, 4-3 to Yokota last month?

“They have a helluva squad. You have to bring your ‘A’ game,” said coach Steven Ferch of Yokota, one of a handful of teams with a realistic chance of an upset of the Mustangs. “You have to play errorless baseball, and hit the ball at the right time with people on base, take advantage of opportunities.”

Kubasaki lost to ASIJ 1-0 on March 15 at Yokota Park. “You have to throw strikes and play solid defense,” Dragons coach Randy Toor said. “If you can keep them to zero or one or two runs and make something happen offensively … It has to be a low-scoring game with good defense.”

Both Yokota and Kubasaki have the pitching to at least slow down ASIJ and shut down other foes, opposing coaches and observers say. The Panthers throw such arms as Kei DePontbriand, Nate Sax and Robert D. Edgren transfer Leo Austin at foes, while Kubasaki counters with Angelo Bourdony, Renton Poole and Tommy Warren.

Seoul American, last year’s D-I champion, lost most of its pitching to graduation and finished second to Osan American in DODDS Korea this season.

Pool-play games, split between ASIJ’s Mustang Valley campus and Yokota Park on the base’s east side, start Thursday. That’s followed by single-elimination play Friday and Saturday at Yokota Park.

The D-I Tournament was originally scheduled to be hosted by Zama American played May 20-22 at Bandy Field on Naval Air Facility Atsugi. But that was assuming that Camp Zama’s Rambler Field, host site for the Division II tournament, would be ready in time for Far East, which it wasn’t.

Yokota, already hosting the Far East track and field meet May 20-21, offered to take the D-I baseball, provided the tournament could be moved to later in the week, and DODDS Pacific OK’d the move.

Austin’s transfer was a severe blow to an Edgren team that enters the D-II Tournament as defending champion.

But the Eagles still bring to the mound talents like Tristan Jefferson and Cameron Ray. Osan offers Tyler Harding and Kenny Mack Stewart, while Zama features senior Michael Torres and freshmen Keanu Cruz and Keiyl Sasano.

“That’s going to be interesting,” Ferch said of the battle between the three D-II favorites. Matthew C. Perry and E.J. King are the other entrants. Daegu, citing injuries, withdrew two weeks ago.

“Zama has some good pitching. Edgren is solid defensively and they have some good sticks. They always played us tough. They have a good shot.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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