Kinnick rallies past Seoul for crown
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – After a four-year absence, Faith Hughes and Kala Mahan helped put Nile C. Kinnick softball back atop the Far East Division I Tournament heap.
Hughes drilled a leadoff triple to the left-center field gap to lead off the seventh and Mahan drove her in with a bloop single to center, giving the Red Devils a 14-13 edging of Seoul American in Wednesday’s championship game.
The victory capped an improbable run that saw Gary Wilson and Dan Joley take over the team at midseason for Katrina Kemper, who stepped down for personal reasons. The Devils responded by capturing the DODEA-Japan and Kanto Plain crowns and their first D-I title since 2013.
“I’m just amazed,” Wilson said. “The kids were awesome. They played for each other, they played together, they played as a family from start to finish, they didn’t get down on each other over mistakes, they were fighters to the end.”
In a battle of freshman pitchers, Mariah Wimberly got the win, her second of the day following the Red Devils’ eliminating Kubasaki 5-2 in the semifinals. Kendall Winn, a transfer from Virginia, took the loss.
The championship, Wilson said, was a microcosm of the Red Devils’ season, in which they lost just one game, but time and again had to survive close calls in just about every event they played.
“It’s a great thing for the girls, especially the seniors, to get the banner on the last possible day.”
Seoul American led 2-1 after one inning, then the Red Devils scored nine unanswered runs to lead 10-2. The Falcons chipped away at the lead, finally tying it 13-13 in the top of the seventh, setting the stage for Hughes’ and Mahan’s heroics.
The tournament nearly suffered the same fate as the DODEA-Europe finals last May at Ramstein, Germany, where Aviano and Stuttgart were awarded titles as rain forced the finals to be postponed.
Tuesday’s play was washed out by day-long downpours, and rain continued even into mid-morning Wednesday. The last three round-robin games were canceled and teams were seeded according to records after the seven games played Monday.
Seoul American, in its last season under coach Julian Harden - who is retiring - reached the final by ousting American School In Japan 13-9.
In Wednesday’s first game, Kubasaki dethroned three-time defending champion Kadena 20-16.
In his swan song, Harden said he was “extremely proud” of his players “to come from where we were at the start of the season” when he only had 14 players show for tryouts.
“I can’t say enough about them. In this game, they showed a lot of heart. A lot of heart and character on both sides.”