Royals' title streak now at five in a row
RAMSTEIN, Germany -- The 2017 DODEA-Europe baseball season was defined by hints of Ramstein’s demise. But it will take its place in the record books as yet another Royal triumph.
The Royals won their fifth straight DODEA-Europe Division I baseball championship Saturday at Ramstein Southside Fitness Center with an 8-6 defeat of the Lakenheath Lancers. The title game came a few hours after the Royals edged the Wiesbaden Warriors 4-3 in an equally dramatic morning semifinal.
Lakenheath scored three runs in the top of the fifth inning to pull within a run. After the Royals responded with three runs in the bottom half of the frame, Lakenheath plated two more runs in the top of the sixth and final inning and then loaded the bases, including the potential go-ahead run at first. But Ramstein reliever Aaron Schlosser earned the two needed outs against the heart of the Lancer order to secure the win.
That dramatic finish was a fitting end to a season in which Ramstein faced, and ultimately overcame, more adversity than it had experienced at any point in its five-year reign.
Ramstein head coach Tom Yost said his team used those struggles, and the ongoing conversation surrounding them, as motivation. And as Yost predicted would happen midway through the season, this team eventually found its way.
“I’m excited and happy because the season didn’t go our way that much,” Yost said. “Good things happen when a group of guys love each other and play ball hard and play ball right.”
Stanley Cruz, who earned the win on the mound for the Royals, said the team grew closer over the course of the season, a process that just happened to coincide with the Royals’ rise from the middle of the Division I pack back to its familiar spot in Saturday winner’s circle.
“As the season went on, we started to meld together. Everybody started to form chemistry. We all became brothers, pretty much,” Cruz said. “I think that’s what really led to our success.”
Ramstein senior Kyle Glenn has been a member of four straight Royal championship teams. While this season was different than previous undefeated campaigns, Glenn said the Royals’ effort was a constant.
“Nothing changed with our work ethic,” Glenn said. “The boys always pulled through.”
Glenn produced two hits, two runs and an RBI to lead the Royal offense, while Tieran Shoffner had a two-run double and Andy Short added two hits and an RBI. Cruz pitched into the sixth, allowing one earned run on four hits, and drove in a run at the plate.
J.P. Krussick had two hits and two runs scored to pace the Lancers.
Despite Saturday’s disappointing result, Lakenheath coach Dustin Rowland considers the season a success.
“We had a couple of goals at the very beginning of the season: to be one of the last two teams playing at the end, and to have the opportunity to win a championship and send off our season with a win,” Rowland said, adding that his group “battled back” from every challenge it faced this season. “Bases loaded with two chances and the tying run on, can’t ask for more.”
With the win over the Lancers on Saturday, the Royals have now beaten four different championship-game opponents over their five-year title run, including Stuttgart in 2013 and 2014, Vilseck in 2015 and Kaiserslautern in 2016. But the continuation of the Royal dynasty looked far from certain all spring.
Ramstein’s troubles started in its first game of the season as Wiesbaden ended the school’s 47-game winning streak with a 4-1 win over the homestanding Royals. Ramstein went on to also split doubleheaders with Stuttgart, Lakenheath, and Bitburg in a season that was good enough for the tournament’s third seed but fell short of the dominant standard set by previous Royal rosters.
The hard road continued in the postseason as the Royals took a 4-3 loss to Stuttgart in pool play, sending Ramstein into a semifinal matchup with Wiesbaden. A strong five-inning start by Shoffner and a key fifth-inning hit by Nathan Kranz allowed the Royals to keep their annual title-game appointment.
Fourth-seeded Lakenheath, meanwhile, defined the survive-and-advance mentality of tournament play by proceeding through the bracket on thin margins throughout. The Lancers rallied from an opening 12-1 loss to Wiesbaden to blank Kaiserslautern 3-0 later Thursday. Lakenheath took another pool loss Friday, a 4-3 defeat against Naples, but edged Kaiserslautern and Naples on run differential to claim the pool’s second semifinal berth. A one-run defeat of the second-seeded Panthers in Saturday’s early semifinal brought the Lancers all the way to the final game of the season.