KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Every year but one – 2012 – since softball became a high-school sport on Okinawa in 2003, Kadena has won the best-of-three postseason district finals over Kubasaki.
But while the Panthers won the regular-season series over the Dragons, the season was a lot more competitive than the record shows. Sure, the Panthers won three games, two by blowout scores.
But the Dragons won the second game of the season series 5-4 and rallied from down 7-0 for a 7-7 tie in the fourth game that was ultimately suspended by darkness.
“Kubasaki is getting better,” said Jazmin Braswell, the Panthers’ senior third baseman. She’s played three of the last four seasons and has watched the Dragons improve. “It’s kind of like we’re at the same level right now.”
Game 1 of the best-of-three series this weekend finds Kadena visiting Kubasaki at Camp Foster Field 2 at 5 p.m. Friday. Games 2 and 3, the latter if needed, are slated for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday at Ryukyu Middle School’s Habu Field.
Weather looks OK for both days, partly cloudy on Friday and cloudy on Saturday with a 20- to 30-percent chance of rain.
It’s said that winning baseball or softball teams are strong up the middle, and both Kadena and Kubasaki are strong at those key positions:
¬¬-- The Dragons are stocked with catchers in Mercedes Abadia and Isa Munoz. When sophomore right-hander Reaven East is on, she’s tough to hit. Freshman Destiny Velarde and junior Jessica Ramirez man the keystone spots and senior Allie Powers plays a steady center field.
-- Two-time All-Far East selection Asia Abdul is behind the plate for the Panthers, while Macalah Danielsen and Savannah Sparrow are interchangeable at pitcher and shortstop. Brianna Alexander fills the shoes vacated by Bailey Prince at second base and Alexis Sparrow plays solid center-field defense.
“They’re always hyped and talking and they’ve gotten better at hitting,” Braswell said. “Better players, better hitting, their shortstop and second base are very strong. It will be a competitive series.”
For the Dragons’ part, Velarde, a veteran of traveling teams in California, says: “We still have a lot to work on, but I think we have a really good chance this year.”
The key, Velarde says, is to play as if it’s just another team and to not worry that it’s the always powerful Kadena. “Our mentality, to come out and know that we have a really good team,” Velarde said.