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The 2013 DODDS-Europe softball championships will take place Thursday through Saturday at sites around the Kaiserslautern Military Community in Germany, culminating in three European championship games Saturday at Ramstein High School. Here’s a look at the field, based on the season’s results and input from participating coaches:

Division I Ramstein seized the European championship in 2012 with a spirited title-game win over Vilseck. It will take an equal effort to wrest control away from the Royals.

Powered by a core of returning All-Europe standouts and an influx of fresh talent, the Royals recorded a perfect 14-0 regular season and didn’t reveal any vulnerabilities until the final week.

On May 11, the Royals saw their season-long shutout snapped when SHAPE plated two runs; on May 18, Division II power AFNORTH nearly pulled off the season’s biggest upset before Ramstein escaped with a 4-3 win in eight innings.

Whether those glimpses of mortality will translate to a competitive Division I bracket this week remains to be seen.

Vilseck lost two All-Europe pitchers from 2012’s runner-up team, but cruised through its regular season behind new ace pitcher Kayla Clamage. The Falcons have plenty of vengeance-tinged motivation to beat Ramstein. Patch appears to be improved from last year’s semifinalist squad; last year’s other semifinalist, Kaiserslautern, remains a dangerous team.

Ramstein didn’t encounter Vilseck or Patch in the regular season, making the inevitable showdowns at Europeans all the more interesting.

Division II If it wasn’t already, AFNORTH established itself as a D-II favorite with its performance against Ramstein on May 18. The Lions, one of the few programs at any level to enjoy success against Ramstein in recent seasons, were one game-saving Royals defensive play from crossing the winning run against the reigning Division I champs.

Those that have been paying attention to AFNORTH’s body of work were likely not surprised. The Lions swept Division I team Kaiserslautern a week prior; in 2012, the team reached the European championship game. Evidence suggests they have a good chance to get there again in 2013.

If they get there, the Lions might find a familiar foe awaiting them. Reigning champion Naples turned in a solid 10-2 season in its tough Italian region and figures to mount a fierce title defense.

But an in-country rival is threatening to overtake the Wildcats. Vicenza is responsible for both of Naples’ losses; Naples, meanwhile, can take credit for the two blemishes on the Cougars’ 8-2 mark.

That Italian feud will be resolved now in Germany, where AFNORTH and an underrated Hohenfels team will jump into the fray. The result, as typical for the crowded Division II field, might be the most compelling bracket of any of the week’s European championships.

Division III DODDS-Europe’s most volatile division has outdone itself this year. For every reason to believe in a team’s championship hopes, there is an equally convincing reason to doubt them.

Rota is the defending champion, and returns a title-worthy team this postseason. But the Admirals have played just three DODDS games, making for an uninstructive sample size.

Baumholder dropped from Division II to III prior to this season and has played, at times, like the block’s new bully. But the Bucs have also lost three games to Division II and III schools, so they are far from a prohibitive favorite.

Alconbury finished a close runner-up in 2012 and has come back breathing figurative fire. The Dragons’ six wins even included an upset of Division II contender AFNORTH. But a winless swing through Division I to end the season sends Alconbury to the postseason on a six-game losing streak.

That’s not the kind of momentum a team wants to carry into the playoffs. But as history has repeatedly shown, momentum can switch abruptly at the European tournament.

Twitter: @broomestripes

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