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They’ve been in this position before, champions of DODDS Japan and the Kanto Plain. But all those honors paved the way for disappointment at the Far East High School Division I Softball Tournament.

Coach Katrina Kemper and Nile C. Kinnick hope to capture that elusive D-I title at next week’s Far East tournament at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, and bury the memories of their third-place finishes once and for all.

“We have four players who are going on their third time at Far East. That helps,” Kemper said of veteran pitcher Grace Huezo and infielders Gabby Huezo, Beverly Smithers and Elizabeth Farley, the latter two All-Far East selections last year. “We’re hoping the experience factor will help.”

There were a couple of additions via the PCS plane, including junior pitcher Kelly Osterbrink, who helped the Red Devils achieve an unbeaten DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain season. “That helps,” Kemper said.

“We’re a year older and a year wiser. And we want this one pretty badly. That’s been our goal from Day 1, getting to May and taking care of business like we should have done last year.”

To get to the pinnacle, they’ll likely find Kadena, champions last year and in 2010 and runners-up in 2011.

The Panthers took a major step toward a title repeat by regaining the Okinawa championship with a two-game sweep of 2012 Far East runner-up Kubasaki. They wrapped up that title 9-5 on Tuesday as Morgan Beecher and Maria Vaughan each had multiple extra-base hits.

But those two games magnified a problem that’s bugged Kadena much of the season: Their pitchers combined to walk 20 batters. The Panthers have only lost two games this season, and coach Kelli Wilson says she knows where the problems lie.

“When we’ve been beat, we walk the batters, we hit the batters and we make the errors,” she said. “We’re beating ourselves.”

Wilson says she’s not so much focused on stopping Kinnick and Kubasaki, which beat Kadena twice in nine tries this season, but rather minding her own store. “We have to stay focused on what we do and what talent we have. When you worry about other teams, you get distracted from what you have,” she said.

“The kids know what to do. They just have to do it.”

Across the board, Kubasaki, Kadena and Kinnick have been hitting the ball better than they did last year. That’s also the case with reigning Division II champion Zama American, which has had its way with Japan D-II opponents. Their main threats will likely be Daegu and E.J. King.

One big plus for the Trojans: “Everybody’s healthy,” Zama coach Adele Collins said. “We’re going to do very well.”

The Trojans feature plenty of arms, freshman right-hander Joelena Ragunton, senior lefty Silvia Dykstra and sophomore righty Brooklinn McElhinney, the reigning Far East D-II Most Valuable Player. But hitters such as Nicole Oquendo (six home runs) and Sheridane Salcido, have also carried the day.

“They both have been sending the ball. Nicole’s really come through this season and I hope it continues at Far East,” Collins said. “We’ve practiced a lot of hitting. I’m confident we will be able to defend our championship.”

The D-II tournament runs Monday-Wednesday at Atsugi’s MacArthur and King Fields.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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