Contenders or pretenders? Teams to find out soon
The DODDS-Europe diamonds are about to get rough.
With spring break over, baseball and softball teams across the continent are gearing up for an intense, and hopefully unbroken, string of games over the next five weeks. The outcomes will separate the contenders from the rest of the field ahead of the European tournament, set for May 21-23 at the Kaiserslautern Military Community.
But for now, only this weekend’s games matter. And the weekend is packed with interesting matchups.
On the baseball side, the defending Division I champion Ramstein Royals will undergo what projects as a rigorous road test at rising power Vilseck on Saturday.
The Falcons are an unremarkable 0-2 on the young season, but that’s the result of a competitive doubleheader sweep at the hands of Ramstein’s annual title-game adversary Patch. Another respectable showing against one of DODDS-Europe’s established juggernauts would further boost Vilseck’s rising profile; a split with or sweep of the Royals would launch them squarely onto the championship short list.
That’s the same status targeted by fellow Division I squads Kaiserslautern and Wiesbaden. The two played to a doubleheader standstill Wednesday in the first DODDS-Europe competition after spring break, and are poised for more valuable reps this weekend. The Raiders host Patch, while Wiesbaden welcomes Division II/III opponent AFNORTH.
Similar intrigue surrounds the return of DODDS-Europe softball. Undefeated Division I frontrunners Lakenheath and Ramstein are both in action against Baumholder and Vilseck, respectively.
In Kaiserslautern, meanwhile, the rising Raiders have a chance to extend a Division I winning streak at the expense of visiting defending champion Patch. Kaiserslautern has been impressive early, with sweeps of SHAPE and Wiesbaden bookending an 8-4 and 9-7 sweep against Ramstein. The Panthers, meanwhile, are a young and inexperienced team with only a doubleheader split with Vilseck on their ledger.
Elsewhere in Germany, Bitburg will swing through Bavaria for Friday and Saturday visits to Ansbach and Hohenfels, respectively, a set that should help define the Division II/III power rankings going forward.
For all that northern action, however, the scene in the south of Europe is just as active, if more consolidated. All four Italian teams, including Division I squads Naples and Vicenza and Division II/III programs Aviano and Sigonella, will meet in Naples for their annual two-day meet. Since inclement weather washed out the bulk of the games between German and Italian teams scheduled before spring break, this intracountry classic is as important as ever to the eventual postseason fortunes of its participants.