Admirals cruise to small-school championship
May 23, 2015
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Rota didn’t have a baseball team last year. This year it has a champion.
The Rota Admirals won the 2015 DODDS-Europe Division II/III championship on Saturday with a 12-5 defeat of the Ansbach Cougars. The Spain-based squad completed an unbeaten run through the three-day, 10-team tournament.
The triumph didn’t come as a surprise to the brash Admirals.
“We knew coming in that we were going to go the distance,” Rota coach Tony Damore said. “We had the confidence the whole time.”
The Admirals took control of the title game in the second inning. After plating a couple of runs on Ansbach errors, sluggers Zach Heisler and Estevan Gallardo teed off on a pair of RBI hits to further escalate the damage. Rota led 7-0 through two innings and pushed that lead to nine before the Cougars scored their first run in the bottom of the fourth.
But a resurgent Ansbach batting order and suddenly sloppy glove work from the Admirals kept the Cougars in range. Heisler posted a crucial strikeout with two runners on base to escape a fifth inning that was becoming problematic for Rota. The Admirals blanked the Cougars in the sixth to secure the win.
That burst of offense became a hallmark over the course of the Admirals’ brief but memorable DODDS-Europe season.
“This is how we’ve honestly been all tournament,” Heisler said. “We just explode one inning.”
The championship marks a dramatic return to DODDS-Europe play for the Admirals. The arrivals of senior Gallardo and freshman Heisler helped stabilize the program after its dormant 2014, and recruiting efforts filled out the roster for the 2015 season.
The makeshift squad coalesced quickly. Rota went 3-1 on its only weekend of DODDS-Europe regular season play and entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed. A 4-0 run through pool play put the Admirals in the semifinals, and a hard-fought 7-4 semifinal defeat of AFNORTH on Saturday morning put them in the afternoon title game.
“It gives us a lot of respect as a school,” Gallardo said. “I think we represented ourselves well.”
A new Division II/III champion was guaranteed prior to the season, when two-time reigning champion Naples and 2012 champion SHAPE leveled up to Division I along with annual contender Vicenza. The move created a vacancy atop the division that 10 teams auditioned to fill over the three-day tournament.
Ansbach was the heir apparent; its fourth-place finish behind Naples, Vicenza and SHAPE last year made it the top returning team in Division II/III. The Cougars made good on that status with a 4-2 record in regular season divisional play, good enough to earn the tournament’s top seed.
But the Cougars were tested in the tournament, and not just by Rota. They lost their opener to AFNORTH 7-5 and finished tied in their pool with AFNORTH and Sigonella, advancing to the semifinals on the strength of run differential between the three teams. But Ansbach won its semifinal emphatically, blasting Bitburg 12-2 on Saturday morning to earn its long-awaited title shot.
Coach Tara Duplessie was proud to lead Ansbach’s deepest-ever tournament run in either softball or baseball, especially after the Cougars opened their time in Kaiserslautern Military Community with an early Thursday loss.
“It was an incredible experience for the boys to come from what seemed like an almost impossible situation,” Duplessie said.