CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Only four of coach Kevin Basso’s 15 players hold a regional softball tournament pedigree. So he could be forgiven if he considered next week’s Marine Forces Pacific regional a learning experience for his defending champion Marine Corps Base Camp Butler team.

But Basso said he believes signs indicate not only that his ballclub is past the pedestrian rebuilding stage but that it stands a good chance to make it back-to-back championships.

The biggest sign may have been the championship game of July’s Commanding General’s Cup tournament at Camp Hansen, where Camp Foster’s Headquarters and Services Battalion players downed by 18-9 Camp Kinser’s veteran-laden Marine Readiness Battalion team. Many of the HSB players comprise Basso’s Base team; the 3rd Marine Logistics Group will draw many on its regional-tournament team from the MRB squad the Base team beat.

“Absolutely, that was a big test,” Basso said of beating MRB. “Most of us haven’t played at the regional level.” Winning the Commanding General’s Cup “showed they can play and win at that level.”

That’s not to say the defending champions have any guarantees, Basso said. He’s well aware his youthful charges will face stern challenges from the 2005 runner-up, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, with its stable of seasoned open-level players; and from 3rd MLG, with such veteran talents as Richie Krause, Dave Harris and two-time All-Marine Eduardo Santiesteban.

“It’s going to take some work,” Basso said.

The four veterans on Basso’s team — Doc Arbini, Eli Roque, Mike Gregory and Lee Smith — are augmented by new talents. In the Commanding General’s Cup triumph, for instance, third baseman Justin Hays went 4-for-4 with five RBIs and outfielder Trever Carico batted 4-for-5 with five RBIs and made two sparkling catches.

That group will begin the regional tournament grind Monday afternoon, with three days of round-robin games followed by a double-elimination playoff. Basso said he plans to use the round-robin period to evaluate “how best to use all 15 of our players” in different situations.

“Thursday is when it really starts,” Basso said of the playoffs — perhaps recalling the hard road Base travelled to the 2005 title: coming out of the loser’s bracket and using huge one-inning rallies to upend Wing 22-13 and 18-10.

His new group “showed heart during the CG Cup,” Basso said. “It will take that kind of heart to do it here.”

Marine Forces Pacific Regional Softball Tournament

Dates: Aug. 21-25, 2006.

Site: Field 1, Foster Field Complex, Camp Foster, Okinawa.

Participating teams: Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, 3rd Marine Division/Expeditionary Force, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Logistics Group and U.S. Naval Hospital Camp Lester, Okinawa; Iwakuni Air Station, Japan.

Format: Single round-robin, six teams in one pool, 15 total games first three days. Double-elimination playoffs, all teams eligible, 10 games plus 11th if needed last two days.

Schedule: Round-robin games at 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 p.m. Monday-Wednesday. Seven playoff games every hour and 15 minutes starting at noon Thursday, and 2 and 3:15 p.m. Friday. Championship game at 7 p.m. Friday, with second “if necessary” game at 8:30 p.m. Awards ceremony 10 minutes after conclusion of championship game(s).

Rules: Amateur Softball Association rules.

Awards: Most Valuable Player, All-Tournament coach, 11-player All-Tournament team, 6 players selected to All-Marine men’s softball tryout camp Sept. 2-15 at Cherry Point Air Station, N.C., in advance of All-Armed Forces tournament Sept. 16-21 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

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