CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — When things appeared darkest for 3rd Force Service Support Group, former All-Armed Forces outfielder Gary Chaney came to the rescue.
Chaney hit a three-run home run with two out in the bottom of the sixth inning, carrying 3rd Force past 1st Marine Aircraft Wing 8-7 in the second of two championship games in the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Softball Tournament. 3rd Force won the first game 15-7.
“I’d been hitting the ball hard both games, every time at bat,” said Chaney, who was 6-for-9 with two homers and four RBIs in the two games.
The four-time All-Marine and two-time All-Armed Forces outfielder told himself if the batter preceding him, Richie Krause, got on, which he did with a walk, “to be patient. If he [Wing pitcher, Todd Harding] gave me something to hit, to swing away. I always hit the ball hard.”
He hit it hard on a beeline toward right-center field, over the head of Wing outfielder Keith Gilchrist and over the collapsible fence, sending the 3rd Force dugout into hysterics.
3rd Force won the title for the second straight year, but Chaney felt this year’s title was more satisfying.
“I wouldn’t say we breezed last year, but we had a more veteran team,” said Chaney, 38, a gunnery sergeant from Hazel Park, Mich. “This year, we had just 13 players, and one got called back to work. Winning it how we won it, and with who we had, I’d say it was more satisfying.”
Chaney expressed hope that 3rd Force’s younger players could use his “never-give-up” example to further their careers, in the same way he says he looked up to All-Armed Forces luminaries of the past.
“It isn’t so much about me, but the younger guys. They’re the next generation” of great Marine ballplayers, Chaney said. “Hopefully, the guys will take something from me and make their own start.”
For coach John O’Brien, who retired Aug. 1 after spending eight years playing for and coaching Wing, the victory left him with mixed feelings.
“I hated to do it against my alma mater, but I had to do it,” he said.
O’Brien praised his charges, who lost to Wing 12-10 in the double-elimination winner’s bracket final earlier Friday and came back for the title the hard way.
“Great team. We had guys get hurt, get recalled to duty, but we came out here and everybody showed heart.”
So did Wing, which reached the final after losing both its playoff games last year. Only two of the 15 Wing players were considered post-level, including 12-time All-Armed Forces catcher Cherylton McRae.
“I’m very proud of them,” McRae said, citing youngsters Ike Howard, Carlos Cardoza, Michael Stein and Matt Frisvold, all playing in their first regional tournament. “I believe they gave everything they had. You just can’t win them all.”