PacificFar East softball
Softball teams feature a mound of talent
Stars and Stripes April 23, 2023
IWAKUNI, Japan – Whether weathered veterans or underclassmen, players on DODEA-Pacific softball teams generally have some experience under their belts.
Take Matthew C. Perry, for example. The Samurai have three freshmen and two sophomores, most of whom played for Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni’s youth sports program. Others on the team are either returning or transferred from locations in the States where they played ball.
“It’s a combination of returning players and getting four or five off of youth sports,” coach Brad Cramer said. “They’re not new to the game. They have a year or two of experience behind them.”
The returning Samurai are primarily infielders, seniors Maddie Medina (first base), Sera Shimakura (second) and Chelsea Campbell (third) and junior Towa Albsmeyer at shortstop.
They also have five pitchers, three of them regulars, freshman Yanisa Santiago, sophomore Ella Mhay Dizon and junior Liliana Bradley.
And that, perhaps, is key to winning a three-day tournament in which teams are guaranteed at least seven games. “It’ll come down to who still has a pitcher that can throw,” said coach Susan Ungos of Korea champion Osan.
Cramer’s Samurai went 14-4-2 during the regular season and hopes to win its first Far East Division II tournament title this week at Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
Both the Division II and Division I tournaments, the latter being played at Camp Humphreys, are scheduled for Monday through Wednesday, featuring pool or round-robin play followed by single-elimination playoffs with consolation games.
The big test for the Samurai, Cramer said, is how they’ll do against teams they haven’t seen much of, such as Osan, Yokota and Robert D. Edgren. Most of their games were against E.J. King.
“I’m actually looking forward to playing Osan and Yokota,” Cramer said. “We’ve worn ourselves out, tired of playing King and they playing us.”
Yokota (14-5-1) relies on its collection of speedsters who amassed 190 stolen bases this season. Leadoff batter Erica Haas batted .478, led the team with six extra-base hits and had 34 steals. Charlotte Rhyne hit .462 and had a team-leading 33 RBIs.
The Cougars (5-1) were led by staff ace Shaylee Ungos, 4-0 with 18 strikeouts in 13 innings. Hanna Rutland batted .533 with nine RBIs, sharing the team lead with Ungos, and five steals, while Max Collera (.625) had a team-high nine steals.
Whether the Cougars have the more and better arms, “we’ll find out … since we don’t play the Japan teams during the regular season,” Susan Ungos said. “We’ll have to rely on our bats as our strength.”
The Division I race could come down to which staff ace stands the tallest, Brinn Hardt of Guam High, Kadena’s Julia Petruff or Kubasaki’s Taryn Lockhart.
Hardt, a transfer from North Carolina, has led the Panthers to a 4-0 start, both on the mound and at the plate. She’s allowed one earned run and struck out 20 in 13 innings, while batting .727 with 11 RBIs.
“She’s phenomenal, has great movement on her pitches and she’s really humble,” Panthers coach Amanda Mansel said.
Fellow sophomore Becca Rapier, a catcher and transfer from Virginia, is batting .714 with 11 RBIs and a team-high 10 steals. And this after playing baseball for the Panthers and making second-team all-island.
Kadena’s Panthers (9-2) were led by staff ace Petruff, who struck out 27 batters in 19 innings with a 2.58 ERA. She also batted .476 with 11 stolen bases.
Lia Connolly paced the team with a .640 batting average, a team-high nine extra-base hits and shared the team lead of 12 RBIs with catcher Emaleigh Appleton. Second baseman Nao Grove batted .630 and had a team-high 14 steals.
The D-I teams, too, are happy they’ll be facing different opposition after limited opportunities during the season, coaches said.
“I’m glad it’s not just between us (Kadena and Kubasaki),” Panthers coach Jessia Geffre said. “It’s a fun and exciting situation for the girls as well as the coaches.”