Stuttgart wins first baseball title in a decade
Stars and Stripes May 20, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Almost one year to the day on Saturday, the Stuttgart baseball team left the field at Southside Fitness Center dejected.
That loss to Ramstein stung so much the Panthers used it as motivation heading into the season, determined not to experience a final loss so one-sided.
They got a chance to avenge that defeat in the 2023 Division I DODEA European baseball championship. Stuttgart pulled a complete role reversal, beating the Royals 15-5 to take the crown back to Swabia for the first time since 2012.
“To win with that much authority, it really makes a statement as to how far this team has come,” Stuttgart coach Justin Ray said.
The Panthers (18-0-1) showed they learned their lesson from last year’s 15-run loss by pouncing on the Royals (15-2-1) for six runs in the top of the first as Stuttgart batted around.
The outburst was impressive as it came with two outs. No. 3 batter Caiden Ray drew a walk off Ramstein starter Rueben Todman, and third baseman Ryan Santana followed with a double down the left-field line to drive in his senior teammate. Two walks, a hit batter and a couple of Ramstein errors strung along the inning before lead-off batter Tyler Blalock returned to the plate and drove in Aidan Henley for the final run.
“The most crucial part to this league is to get out quick and get those bats going,” Justin Ray said. “It was our downfall in this game last year. The boys played their hearts out, and all our bats came alive.”
That wasn’t the last time the Panthers batted around the lineup Saturday – and the second came at a crucial point, too.
The Royals clawed their way back to a 7-4 deficit after Ramstein first baseman Caden Nims crossed the plate on a Christian Roy grounder to shortstop Blalock. The Stuttgart coach brought together his players between innings to motivate them to avoid what happened in this season’s earlier matchups. On the opening weekend, the Panthers jumped out to early leads, only for Ramstein to come back to tie the one game and eventually take the lead in the other before Stuttgart managed to squeak out the win.
The Panthers got the message. They amassed eight runs, as the first five batters reached base safely and eventually came home. They hammered two extra-base hits – a two-run homer over the right-center field wall by Santana on an 0-1 pitch off Ramstein reliever Liam Delp and a double to right-center field by Caiden Ray.
It turned a close game into a rout, and the Panthers didn’t look back.
“Three up was not where we wanted it to be,” Justin Ray said. “We wanted it to be 10 up, 11 up, 12 up to really put the pressure on Ramstein. Our boys rose to the occasion. Everyone in the lineup put the bat on the ball at some point.”
Santana had himself a game. Along with his two extra-base hits, the junior third baseman added four RBI and scored twice himself.
Santana also stepped onto the mound in the bottom of the fourth inning to shut the door on Ramstein. He settled down after Delp hit a single to center and scored off a pair of errors by striking out the final three batters.
It was a full-circle moment for him, too, as he hurt his shoulder after facing a few batters during the opening-season doubleheader at Ramstein.
Still, his bat proved to be the most crucial on Saturday.
“I’m better hitting with runners in scoring position. I know how to hit situationally around the runners,” the tournament MVP said. “The first at-bat, I was hunting that fastball. I saw that fastball in, and I just pulled it.
“The home run, I saw it high. It just clicked.”
Ramstein did have some success at the plate before Stuttgart’s fourth-inning outburst.
Nims hit a ball into left-center field off Caiden Ray that scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the first, and Rueben Todman eventually scored after a lead-off double in the second when No. 9 hitter Jaxon Lundell drove him home with a single.
Nims was at the heart of it again in the third, doubling before scoring to make it a three-run game.
It wasn’t enough in the end. Ramstein coach Alfredo Rios said his squad rued not stopping that Panther first inning, but he credited his team for making another deep tournament run and losing just two games all year.
“Stuttgart came out roaring,” Rios said. “They just came out and played harder than we did.
“We had a great season. We had fun. These guys became a family, and they didn’t even realize it until a few weeks ago. It was a tough way to finish the season, but everything getting here was on a high note.”