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NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan – It was as difficult a route as any Kadena team has taken, but pitcher Lauren Youngs and the Panthers are back on top of the Far East High School Division I Girls Softball Tournament world.

Youngs pitched a complete game and the Panthers got key hits from youngsters Nia Rodriguez and Jazmin Braswell to edge Kubasaki 3-2 in the second game Thursday’s all-Okinawa final at Atsugi’s MacArthur Field. Kubasaki outlasted Kadena 20-14 to force the second deciding game.

“It feels amazing,” said coach Kelli Wilson, in her first year of coaching a Panthers team that had long been associated with championships until stumbling in last year’s Far East final, losing 14-10 to Seoul American.

Difficulties surrounded the Panthers in the 2012 campaign. They lost the first two regular-season games to Kubasaki, snapping a 23-game winning streak dating back to the 2008 Okinawa Activities Council district finals.

And for the first time in that best-of-three series history, Kubasaki came out on the winning end.

Still, Wilson said she and the Panthers weren’t wavered by the rough road they hoed.

“They worked really hard,” Wilson said. “We told them that if they work hard and do what we said, we’d be here and we’d be taking it home.”

If anything, Wilson said, the stern challenge that Kubasaki gave the Panthers only made each other better and Okinawa softball stronger, demonstrated by the teams appearing in the D-I title games.

“We each made each other better. Okinawa teams are the strongest in the Pacific and we hope to stay that way,” Wilson said.

It’s a young Kadena team that will lose both Youngs, named the tournament’s most outstanding player, and four-year right-hander Kelly Kaneshiro. But there’s plenty of youth on the Panthers, including corner infielder Braswell and outfielder Rodriguez, “and they’ll be back next year,” Wilson said.

The two-game final served as sort of a microcosm for the regular season, Wilson said. “We weren’t there in the first game. We were in the second.”

Tournament organizers Richard Rodgers and Ed Fogell provided information for this report.

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