Defending European softball champions Ramstein, Bitburg and Rota won’t surrender their crowns this weekend without a fight, their coaches say.

“This is the best hitting team I’ve ever had,” said Ramstein’s Kent Grosshuesch, whose team beat Lakenheath in a 5-3 thriller last May to win its second Division I European softball crown. “We had a couple of bad games this season, but our pitching is great, too.”

Grosshuesch said he expects his main challenge to come from Lakenheath, as always, and possibly Heidelberg. Ramstein and Lakenheath have won all five titles since the tournament started — Ramstein the first and the last events, and Lakenheath the three in between.

Like Ramstein, four-time defending Division II champion Bitburg also uncharacteristicly dropped two league games this season, but according to coach Hope Matthews, her team is on a roll going into the tournament.

“They look great,” Matthews said. “Ashley Kazimer pitched a no-hitter [last Saturday]. We’re excited.”

Bitburg’s two conference losses this season came in doubleheader splits with AFNORTH and D-II regular season champion Patch. Both figure to be in the title hunt this weekend.

And Rota’s Heather Bohon said her Division III champs welcome the chance to play some new faces at Ramstein.

“The girls are ready,” Bohon said. “We’re happy to play someone besides the base team.”

Rota likely will run into a familiar face in Alconbury, which won this year’s regular season title. The Lady Admirals demolished the Dragons 20-8 in last season’s title game.

The tournaments kick off Thursday, with games set for 9 a.m. on several fields in the Ramstein area.

A look at the teams:

(Listed in order of seeding; 2004 overall, conference records in parentheses)

Division I

1. Lakenheath (9-3, 7-1, 2004 regular season champions) — John Gilmore’s team boasts pitching in senior Amanda Hood (6-1, 37 strikeouts in 31 innings), a .500-plus batter to boot.

2. Ramstein (12-2, 8-2, 2003 European champions) — Grosshuesch’s team has standouts in pitcher-outfielder Jenn Morton, pitcher-shortstop Victoria Apodaca and first baseman Heather Steele, and a big stick in outfielder TaTreka Polite.

3. Heidelberg (10-6, 7-3) — Coach Al Simoncic fields a powerful battery in pitcher Hannah Havenar and catcher Carissa Beach, along with batting heft in Alissa Dawson and Cassandra Pope.

4. Wiesbaden (4-8, 2-6) — Candie Lopez’s club suits up .600-plus batters in pitcher Melissa Mueller, catcher-shortstop Kim Kirk and first baseman Kristen Kodalin.

5. Würzburg (3-7, 2-6) — Juanita Johnson’s team gets its offense from base-stealer Keisha Brooks, its defense from centerfielder Liz Holmes and its pitching from Kordia Holmes.

6. Kaiserslautern (1-11, 0-8) — First-year pitcher Erica Ward picked up the lone victory for K-town coach Robert Careless.

Division II

1. Patch (10-2, 7-1, 2004 regular season champions) — Lame duck coach Billy Henry leans on unbeaten freshman fireballer Kasy’e Lalau and Lauren Sanchez for pitching and Kelly De Santo, Elisa Nieves and Sanchez for run support.

2. Bitburg (8-4, 4-2, defending European champion) — Hope Matthews has found All-Europe quality pitching in Ashley Kazimer and Krystle Vasquez and returns Kaitlyn Phillips and Amy Hughen for offense.

3. AFNORTH (6-8, 5-3) — Patty Hittinger’s team has as formidable top three batters as any team in the league — Aubri West, Victoria Webber and Laura Rivera, and more power in catcher Crystal Roberts.

4. Mannheim (3-9, 2-6) — Adrian Crawford’s herd, who won the initial D-II European title under Karen Seadore, call on Tasha Standing Bear and Krystal Salazar for pitching. Shnita Camps, Tia Williams and Yolanda Rodriguez supply the hitting.

5. Hanau (1-7, 0-4) — Basketball ace Tiffany Loyal does the pitching and Latoya Elder and Chassity Pellegrino the batting for Kathy McBurney’s team, first in school history.

Division III

1.Alconbury (7-1-1, 5-0-1, 2004 regular season champion) — Reva Ballard (5-1-1, 59 strikeouts) also wields a .660 bat for Don Ballard’s Dragons, whose tie came in a time-limit-ended game against London Central. Alconbury boasts a .700 hitter with seven homers in Carley Bascom and another .660 stick in Megan Archer.

2. London Central (10-3-1, 4-1-1) — Duke Eidt’s club, which opened the season with a pair of road victories over D-II contender AFNORTH, relies on pitching from Ashley Willis and the bat of first baseman Mary Beth Tittle.

3. Rota (0-0) — Coach Heather Bohon has had to replace many of last year’s stars, but returns pitcher Corinne Hall and catcher Cate Quigley.

4. Baumholder (3-8, 3-3) — Steve Coats has a .606 batter with power, catcher Shawntae Hall. “She’s the heart of the team,” said Coats, whose No. 1 pitcher is freshman Jessica Madison.

5. Giessen (2-8, 0-6) — Jim Lloyd’s team rises and falls on the bats of returning third baseman Amber Singleton and catcher Amber Moore.

6. Lajes (0-0) — Coach Ricky Matthews brings a team of 11 freshmen and four juniors to the tournament. Junior Stephanie Stamper and freshman Courtney Wilson anchor the pitching staff.

7. Incirlik (0-0) — Catcher Tina Valdez and pitchers Stephanie Cosper and Eda Smith lead Incirlik’s first team to make the trip to Europeans in four years for coach Mike Brown.

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