Vilseck looks to knock Royals off throne
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 25, 2018
The Vilseck Falcons soared to the top of their pool Friday, joining the defending champion Ramstein Royals and Sigonella Jaguars as the dominant teams of the 2018 DODEA-Europe softball championship tournaments.
Vilseck will face the Lakenheath Lancers in one of two Division I semifinals set for Saturday afternoon. Reigning champion Ramstein will take on the archrival Kaiserslautern Raiders in the other elimination game.
Incumbent small-school champion Sigonella demonstrated its continued mastery of Division II/III in clinching a spot in Saturday’s final. The Jaguars will face the Hohenfels Tigers, who they defeated 20-1 on Friday, for the title.
The Division II/III championship game is set for 2:45 p.m. at Ramstein Air Base, followed by the Division I final at 4:30 p.m.
Vilseck 12, Kaiserslautern 6: The fourth-seeded Falcons couldn’t hide their elation after knocking off the tournament’s homestanding top seed and winning their pool in the process.
“This is so exciting,” beaming Vilseck sophomore Cooper Lazo said as the Falcons busily gathered their gear from the dugout to make room for the following game.
The Falcons crushed Vicenza 19-2 and edged fifth seed Stuttgart 9-8 on Thursday before upsetting the favored Raiders in their only game Friday. Lazo had two hits and two RBIs against Kaiserslautern, while fellow sophomore Grace Pedersen started the Falcons off strong with a three-run double in the first inning.
Friday’s performance was the latest peak for a young Vilseck team that has steadily improved in advance of its impressive playoff run.
““This is definitely the best we’ve played this season. At the beginning of the season we were making tons of errors, but now we’re good,” Lazo said. “As soon as we get confident hitting the ball and fielding the ball, we do awesome.”
The Raiders avoided elimination later Friday, besting Vicenza 14-0 in a game rescheduled from Thursday due to weather.
Ramstein 7, Wiesbaden 4: The reigning champion Royals were cruising towards another undefeated season when the team hit what coach Thomas Wright called a “rough patch” over the final two weekends, including a doubleheader split with Lakenheath and a sweep at the hands of archrival Kaiserslautern.
“I think we had to regroup, reflect and come together as a team,” Wright said.
So far this week, the Royals have returned to championship form. Ramstein locked up its pool’s top semifinal seed with a steady defeat of the Warriors in its lone game Friday.
Lakenheath 8, Naples 3: The third-seeded Lancers punched their elimination-round ticket with a defeat of the seventh-seeded Wildcats.
Lakenheath has been a persistent contender all spring, posting an 11-3 regular-season record that included the above-mentioned split with Ramstein and impressive sweeps of Vilseck and Stuttgart.
The Lancers narrowly missed an upset of the Royals on Thursday in a 9-8 loss, but bounced back with wins over Wiesbaden on Thursday and Naples on Friday.
Winning games isn’t easy, particularly at the European tournament. But it’s not the only challenge the tournament presents.
“It’s the anticipation,” Rota senior Grace Lagger said. “And waiting to see who’s going to make it.”
Lagger spoke as the Admirals prepared for their second game of a long Friday. They beat the Spangdahlem Sentinels 14-12 in a key early-morning matchup before falling to the overwhelming defending champion Sigonella Jaguars 12-4 in the afternoon.
Once on the field, teams like Rota focused on implementing all the lessons of the spring season in hopes of putting together a title run.
“We really wanted to make it far in the competition because we know we have the capability,” Lagger said. “Usually it’s us beating ourselves, so here we really wanted to lift ourselves up.”
The Jaguars became the first team to clinch a spot in Saturday’s small-school championship game. The defending small-school champs have yet to be even remotely challenged in the tournament, dating back to their 37-2 rout of Alconbury early Thursday morning.
Hohenfels recovered from its loss to Sigonella with a 16-3 defeat of Alconbury later Friday.