One field, four teams, two titles
The elimination round did its work Friday in the 2019 DODEA-Europe baseball championship tournaments, leaving four finalists standing from the field of 14 teams that started the day with remaining title hopes.
The Ramstein Royals and Stuttgart Panthers will renew their vintage rivalry in the Division I European title game Saturday, the first time the division’s two historic powers have met in the final since 2014.
The Aviano Saints will face the Spangdahlem Sentinels to crown a fresh Division II/III champion Saturday.
Division IRamstein 4, Wiesbaden 3: The Royals and Warriors packed a lot of good baseball into their only meeting of the season.
Chris Guzaldo scored a walk-off run in the bottom of the seventh inning to settle a game that not only lived up to its pregame hype but immediately joined the annals of DODEA-Europe diamond classics.
“In baseball, sometimes you get to see great ballgames,” said Wiesbaden coach Steve Jewell, adding that his team was “inches away” from reversing the outcome. “I thought both teams played really well.”
The Royals battled back from an early 3-0 deficit, scoring a run in the third and two more in the fifth to force a tie. The game remained deadlocked entering the seventh and final regulation inning. Wiesbaden went scoreless in its half of the inning, giving the top of the Ramstein order the chance to manufacture the winning run.
They did exactly that. Guzaldo led off with a single, advanced to third and scored the winning run on a Warrior pitch that skidded to the backstop.
“I have to lead this team as the leadoff hitter, try to do something,” Guzaldo said.
He took a similarly proactive approach on his decisive sprint home.
“When I saw an opportunity, a curveball in the dirt, I just took off immediately,” Guzaldo said. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to get there, end the game.’”
The scheduled May 11 regular-season meeting between the German rivals was cancelled by inclement weather, heightening anticipation for a seemingly inevitable postseason clash that easily exceeded even those lofty expectations.
Stuttgart 7, Lakenheath 5: The Panthers scored six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to eliminate the defending champs.
Lakenheath pulled ahead 2-1 in the third inning and tacked on three insurance runs in the top of the fourth before Stuttgart stormed back to avoid the upset.
The Panthers advance to their first European title game since 2014. The program won its last title in 2012, when it was known as Patch.
The Lancers fell just short of their third consecutive trip to the European championship game, reaching the division’s final four despite a sub-.500 regular season. Lakenheath ended Ramstein’s half-decade title reign in the 2018 semifinals on its way to a European championship game victory over Kaiserslautern.
Division II/IIISpangdahlem 12, Hohenfels 8: The Sentinels kept their annual appointment in the small-school title game.
Spangdahlem bookended big innings to outpace the Tigers, plating five runs in the first and six in the fifth and final inning.
Hohenfels came to bat in the final inning, after the game’s time limit had been reached, and managed to score half of the eight runs it needed before succumbing.
After an unremarkable regular season, the Sentinels have risen to the challenge of the tournament, as they so often do.
Spangdahlem will play in its fourth straight Division II/III title game Saturday in hopes of breaking a three-year string of runner-up finishes.
“You come in with a different mindset. You come in like you’re in a corner and you want to fight back,” Spangdahlem sophomore Eddie DeJesus said. “You play 10 times better.”
Aviano 17, Sigonella 0: The Saints ousted the defending champions in all-around dominant fashion.
Nick Smith kept the Jaguar bats quiet with an efficient gem of a pitching outing. The Aviano ace retired nine of the 10 batters he faced in a three-inning no-hitter.
The Saints were equally dominant in their turns at bat, with all of their starters notching at least one of the team’s combined 14 hits. Smith again took a lead role, going 3-for-3 with four RBI, while Gabe Retamoza added two hits and three RBI.
The final will be a rematch of one of the most competitive games of Thursday’s preliminary round. Aviano edged Spangdahlem 8-7 in that tournament-opening morning meeting.