Seoul American's unlikely run ends with crown
CAMP CARROLL, South Korea – Just when everything seemed lost for Seoul American’s baseball team, its senior leaders stepped to the fore and gave a team thought to be rebuilding an improbable Far East Division I Tournament title.
Chris Horton got the win in relief and helped himself with a walk-off single that plated Chung Winchip in the eighth inning as the Falcons rallied to beat Kadena 8-7 in Thursday’s final at Carroll Field.
Most observers had Okinawa’s teams, Kadena and Kubasaki, meeting for the title, but Seoul American surprised the tournament by ousting the Dragons 8-2 in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“We had to replace seven of nine starters, we had just two seniors, Horton and Winchip,” said first-year coach Joel McDonald. “Two McDonald brothers (freshmen twins Alex and Blake)... they came through when they needed to. Horton and Winchip ... they’ve been in the program four years. The young kids stepped up sooner than we planned.”
Thursday’s rally was a matter of “getting runners on base and getting them around,” McDonald said.
With the Panthers leading 5-2, Ryan Bittner gave the Falcons life with a solo homer in the fifth. It was still 7-3 Kadena in the bottom of the seventh when Horton began the comeback with a triple.
Aaron Miyagi’s single drove in Horton, then the Falcons used a pair of walks, a hit and a passed ball to knot it 7-7, setting the stage for Horton’s eighth-inning heroics. All four runs in the seventh came with two outs.
It was a bitter defeat for a Kadena team that has come up just short in the Far East tournament all three years it’s been held. Kadena lost 8-4 to Kubasaki in the 2010 final and 14-11 in eight innings to American School In Japan a season ago.
“Young kids tend to tense up,” Panthers first-year coach Kent Grubbs said. “We thought we were peaking at the right time, we were hitting, we were playing good defense. We made some huge improvements this year. Young kids recover quickly.”
Student-reporters Hazel Sison and Paul Jackson and tournament organizer Jay Langlois provided information for this report.