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Bitburg's Austin Schmidt and the Barons, seeded No. 4 in Division II-Division III play, hope to defend their title in this DODDS-Europe baseball championships, which begin Thursday.

Bitburg's Austin Schmidt and the Barons, seeded No. 4 in Division II-Division III play, hope to defend their title in this DODDS-Europe baseball championships, which begin Thursday. (David Hodge/Stars and Stripes)

Unbeatens Patch and Ramstein on Monday drew the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, for this week’s European Division I baseball tournament, while once-beaten Naples was named No. 1 in the combined Division II-III event. Both tournaments are to be conducted Thursday-Saturday on two diamonds at Ramstein Air Base and one at Kaiserslautern.

Neither of the big-schools top-seeds comes as a surprise. In the three-year history of the event, Ramstein won the inaugural edition in 2009, and Patch posted back-to-back, one-run victories over Ramstein in the 2010 and 2011 title games.

Don’t, however, let the 14-0 regular season Ramstein rang up this year, nor Patch’s 12-0 run, divert your attention from the other six teams in the tournament, advise two of the coaches involved.

“I think this year’s Division I tournament could be the closest it has been,” emailed Wiesbaden coach Steve Jewell on Monday, “with all seven teams having a outside shot at making the finals and winning it all.”

Echoed Ramstein coach Glenn Porter: “Division I is as even as ever. Each team has an outstanding pitcher for Europeans.”

Porter undoubtedly was including Alex Weaver, the senior All-European for third-seeded Heidelberg (10-2) in his list along with Wiesbaden’s Gary Miskovsky and Justin Jones and Vilseck strikeout artists John Bohneman (30 in 22 innings) and Tanner Fox (22 in 18 innings). But Weaver’s fellow All-Europeans, seniors Dylan Measells of Patch and Jon Grotelueschen of Ramstein, can call on title-game experience the others can’t match.

Measells, the 2011 Stars and Stripes player of the year, is 3-0 as a starter this year and has allowed just three hits. Grotelueschen also is unbeaten and commands an 88-mph fastball.

The two locked up an epic battle of pitching grit last May, with Measells digging deeply enough to emerge with a 7-6 victory. It’s most likely with that game in mind that Porter cited offense as the key to this year’s tourney.

“I believe it all comes down to who hits the ball in the next few days,” he wrote.

If he’s right, both his Royals and Patch can bring plenty of bats to bear.

Measells is batting .790, and Ramstein’s Justin Pendergrass .700.

The numbers go down gradually from there – for Ramstein, for example, Caleb Guerrido’s hitting .611, Rylee Moore .583 and Dustin Labit .500. Patch can match those numbers in All-Europe catcher Jack Smith (.616) and All-Europe third baseman Ryan Tannenbaum, who’s hit five home runs.

Summarized Jewell, “Everything still goes through Patch and Ramstein, but if one or two of the other teams get hot, they could spoil the party.”

The Division II-III event, which inherited two defending champions in Bitburg and 2011 D-III champ Rota, is 10 teams strong, and it, too, appears to be an event with two teams a cut above the others.

Top-seeded Naples blazed through the D-II-heavy South Region season at 11-1 and No. 2 SHAPE went 2-0 against D-I No. 4 Kaiserslautern, and boasts quality starters in Clay Coon (5-1) and Nick Westrick (4-2).

No. 4 Bitburg, which mainly goes as well as pitcher-first baseman Austin Schmidt and pitcher-shortstop Matt Flood do, is capable of breaking through, as is No. 3 Aviano, the only team to defeat Naples this season.

Play begins at 8:30 a.m. Thursday and runs through Saturday with the championships games, which will be streamed live at, at noon. There is no admission charge.

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