Smith’s throw, Meinhart’s bat lift Legion back atop Firecracker
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Things looked mighty good for Club Red. The defending Firecracker Shootout softball tournament men’s champion had bases loaded with two out, one run already in to cut its deficit to 7-3 and the tying run at the plate in Chad Thomas.
Then, Jaime Smith happened. Thomas singled in one run, but Smith, American Legion’s left fielder, grabbed the ball and fired a strike to catcher Jerry Wright to nail a sliding Lawrence Occomy at home plate for the third out, squelching the possibly rally.
It proved to be the seminal moment of Saturday’s men’s final, in which Legion hung on to win 7-4 and capture their first Firecracker title since 2010, dethroning the same Club Red team that beat them last year.
“That was a great play, especially in a two- to three-run game like that,” coach John O’Brien said after Legion won the Firecracker for the third time in five years and took its 15th title in a Pacificwide major, second all-time to defunct Pacific Force’s 39.
But this was hardly the dominant performance that Legion had put up throughout the tournament. After outscoring nine opponents 158-33 and scoring in double figures in all those games, Legion was held to single digits for the first time in the tournament by Club Red.
“We were scoring double digits all tournament long. Today, we did just enough to win,” O’Brien said. Club Red coach Larry Borum said Foster Field 1’s layout, pointing directly southwest into the teeth of winds that gusted to almost 20 mph, was partly to blame. Club Red was held to seven hits, while only four of Legion’s 11 starters had multiple hits.
“The wind is a neutralizer for both sides when you bring the big boys out here,” Borum said. “You can’t do what the team is built to do. In conditions like these, playing small ball and defense will win.” Club Red struck for a run on Brandon Richardson’s single in the first inning, but Legion tied it on Moose Harrod’s RBI single, then went ahead to stay on back-to-back two-run singles by Tommy Meinhart and Smith to make it 5-1 in the second.
“For an All-Marine bowler, not bad,” O’Brien said of Meinhart, who took second in doubles and fourth overall in the All-Armed Forces bowling tournament in May at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Meinhart was 3-for-3 with a triple, Smith went 2-for-4 and Derrick Battle 2-for-2 with an RBI double and a sacrifice fly for Legion. Robert Putney was the only Club Red player with more than one hit and drove in a run.