Six teams left to battle for two titles
Six teams remain alive for DODEA-Europe baseball championships as the season heads into its final act Saturday.
The Stuttgart Panthers will face the Lakenheath Lancers and the Ramstein Royals will take on the Wiesbaden Warriors in Division I semifinals on Saturday morning, with the winner of each advancing to the European championship game at 3:30 p.m. CET.
Meanwhile, the Bitburg Barons and Sigonella Jaguars earned the right to play for the Division II/III championship with victories in Friday evening semifinal games. The small-school championship game is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Both title games will be played at Ramstein Southside Fitness Center.
Division IRamstein 16, SHAPE 0: The reigning champion Royals blasted their way into the semifinals with a mercy-rule rout of the seventh-seeded Spartans.
The win, and the hit parade that fueled it, were therapeutic for a team stung by a walk-off 4-3 loss to Stuttgart earlier in the day.
“It was big for the team,” Reed Marshall said. “We really wanted to just put it on someone, get used to winning again.”
The third-seeded Royals did that in all facets. Marshall yielded just two hits and struck out four Spartans across three shutout innings, while Aaron Schlosser led the offense with a pair of hits and four RBI.
Stuttgart 9, Vilseck 0: The Panthers won all of their games in the preliminary round of the tournament. They’re also winning the game within the games.
Second-seeded Stuttgart will enter Saturday with an enviable amount of available pitchers at its disposal. The team’s coaches said the Panthers’ five top hurlers are eligible to throw tomorrow, having successfully navigated the tournament’s strict rules governing pitch counts.
That deep staff forms an effective complement to an offense that has been among the most productive in the tournament. The Panthers scored 30 combined runs in their four pool victories.
Stuttgart will test that formula against an unfamiliar opponent in Lakenheath; the teams haven’t played this year.
Wiesbaden 11, Kaiserslautern 7: The fifth-seeded Warriors completed an undefeated run through pool play with the latest in a string of strong offensive performances. Wiesbaden has scored 29 runs in its three tournament games entering the semifinals.
Damian Pinion has wielded perhaps the most powerful stick in the Warrior lineup. After blasting one over the fence on Thursday, Pinion notched three RBI against the Raiders on Friday to send the Warriors on to Saturday.
“I’m just seeing the ball well right now. It’s looking big every time it’s coming in the zone,” Pinion said. “I’m just swinging like I know how to.”
Naples 4, Lakenheath 3: Win, and go home. That’s not how it usually works.
But that was the unfortunate situation the top-seeded Naples Wildcats faced Friday. Naples edged the Lancers in a well-played, one-run game to complete its preliminary schedule. But the outcome landed the Wildcats, Lancers and Kaiserslautern Raiders in a three-way tie for the pool’s second semifinal spot. The Lancers advanced on a tiebreaker based on run differential.
“You don’t ever feel good about a loss,” Lakenheath coach Dustin Rowland said. “In this case it’s a little different.”
Fourth-seeded Lakenheath saved its championship hopes late Thursday with a 3-0 defeat of Kaiserslautern, its only win in pool play. The Raiders, last year’s European runner-up, were hoping to scrape into the elimination round again after being saddled with the eighth seed for a second straight spring.
Division II/IIISigonella 11, Ansbach 7: The Jaguars entered Friday with a lot of different scenarios still in play. Fortunately for them, the best case won out.
A 6-5 loss to AFNORTH on Thursday placed the Jaguars at risk of elimination. But the top seeds responded with a 14-3 rout of Hohenfels early Friday. That proved good enough to advance to the evening semifinal, where they survived a worthy test from a sixth-seeded Cougars squad quickly running out of available arms.
Senior Carson Morrison has spent four years with the Jaguars without getting as far as they are now. That history weighed heavily on Morrison’s mind as Sigonella prepared for a fateful day on the diamond.
“I was really nervous,” Morrison said. “This morning, going into it, I was thinking about all those years.”
This playoff run is even more poignant for Morrison given that he missed half of the season due to injury. His return to the lineup has had effects both intangible and extremely tangible, like the seven RBI he produced across the Jaguars’ two wins Friday.
“I’m happy I’m back out here with my team,” Morrison said. “They needed me and I needed them.”
Bitburg 7, AFNORTH 4: The third-seeded Barons entered the semifinals as the only Division II/III team to survive preliminary play without a loss. They kept the winning streak alive late Friday, outlasting the Lions to earn their second straight title shot.
Bitburg’s 3-0 run through pool play included a redemptive 16-1 rout of Rota, the team that beat the Barons in last year’s championship game, on Friday morning. That outcome helped usher the two-time defending champion Admirals out of the tournament and guarantee a new champion, a role the Barons would love to fill.
Fourth-seeded AFNORTH split its games Thursday and was idle until its semifinal game Friday evening, a quirk of the small three-team pool it was slotted into. That pool ended in an all-way tie between Sigonella, Hohenfels and AFNORTH, with the Jaguars and Lions advancing on run differential.