Diamonds in the rough

by Thomas Warner
contributing writer

Kaiserslautern wins DODEA softball championship

Kaiserslautern Lady Raider players and coaches with their championship plaque after the win over Lakenheath.

The area prep softball scene was extremely competitive but 2018 was extra special for Kaiserslautern as they won the school’s first-ever DODEA Division I title. The Lady Raiders were pushed and pulled in all directions by firm competition, finally outlasting Lakenheath in the championship game to secure the Euros tournament title.
Kaiserslautern (16-4) lost just once at Europeans but was challenged in a big way by Ramstein in the semifinals, then Lakenheath at the end. Both games required comebacks by the Lady Raiders and they relied as heavily on defense as they did on offense. Lakenheath’s freshmen-charged lineup scored seven times in the fourth inning but KHS would not be denied it’s grand prize.
“I am extremely proud of everyone on our roster for not giving up when the score looked bad, not letting errors get them down, not ever stopping to believe that we could win it all,” said second-year KHS head coach Jesse Costa. “It was amazing because it was the first time Kaiserslautern had won a softball title, but it was also amazing how we did it and what we went through on the way to getting it.”
Hoisting the DODEA first-place plaque wouldn’t have been possible without the push generated by Kaiserslautern’s senior foursome of Victoria Jackson, Chloe Whisennand, Ally Alamos, and Europeans most valuable player Phoenix Whisennand. That group provided the most hits and showed a consistent ability to play multiple positions throughout the campaign. The Whisennand twins pitched, played outfield, caught, and played infield. Jackson was most always found at third base and posted a .450 batting average throughout the regular season and final tournament.
“I only pitch because I have to … my natural position is shortstop,” said Alamos, who went back and forth between the two positions during her senior year of 2018. Alamos combined with Phoenix Whisennand and Abigail Young to lead the pitching charge during the late season and the Europeans but it wasn’t until the final inning of the final game that the championship was secure.

Coaches Jesse Costa, Jose Velazquez and Dina Swaim got the cold water victory treatment after the award ceremony.

Ramstein and Lakenheath both had leads on the Lady Raiders in the last frames of the semifinal and finals games. Each time, Kaiserslautern reserves joined with starters to muster some sort of rally. The Lady Raiders scored three runs in the fifth inning versus Ramstein to tie the game, winning on an RBI-hit from Alamos. “Before that hit, my heart was beating really fast and I needed to calm down. I went to my left side and relied on ball placement with my left hand … base hits will win games, not home runs,” Alamos said.
Later that day, trailing 8-4 in the final inning of the title game, the Lady Raiders rallied when Kyra Watson singled to go with hits from Phoenix Whisennand, Hien Hunyh, and Alamos that helped tie the score and force extra innings.
Two innings later, with freshman Olivia Warren already aboard, it was hits by Erin Nuckols, Hunyh, and Chloe Whisennand that won the game. “It was scary … I’ll admit I was nervous about it, but I wanted to come through. We’ve been fighting for four years for this and now we’re actually champions,” Whisennand said.
None of it might have mattered were it not for sophomore catcher Mariana Conklin’s huge seventh-inning catch of a pop foul ball to give her team a chance in their final at-bat. Conklin batted .580 on the year and scored a total of three times during the last two games.
“Lakenheath had already scored one run to go back ahead and I wasn’t going to let that ball fall,” said Conklin, who also caught a key foul ball late in the semifinal game against Ramstein. “I had dropped one earlier in the season and I didn’t want it to happen in a game that was this important.”
It would be hard to pinpoint the most important plays in the Lady Raiders’ season because there were so many, especially at the Euros tournament when every Division I team was scrambling to make the semifinal playoff stage. Phoenix Whisennand and Alamos combined to pitch well in the finals, after Whisennand threw the entire time in a 4-3 win over Ramstein. Tenth-grader Abigail Young made hardly any mistakes at first base and Warren was steady at second. The Lady Raider outfield of Hunyh, Chloe Whisennand and Nuckols was able to quickly bring balls back into play or make big catches and very few raps got past Alamos or Jackson on the left side of the infield.

Erin Nuckols was one of several freshmen or sophomore players who contributed to the team’s success in 2018.

“I was so nervous at times in those two games (vs. Ramstein and Lakenheath) but we had made comebacks in other games this season and now, finally, it’s just so awesome to have finished on top,” said Phoenix Whisennand, who batted above .600 for the year and reached base about 70 percent of the time. “As older players we wanted to show leadership because this was basically a really young team. It was awesome to play out there every game with my sister.”
Costa and assistant coaches Jose Velazquez and Dina Swaim will have big spots to fill not only due to graduation but knowing scattered players will PCS with their families. It will take the entire offseason to see who on the current roster develops and who moves into this area to join the program in 2019.
“I won’t forget this season because this was our goal, to win Euros,” said Jackson. “It is up to experienced players show new ones how to be successful, how to practice the right way, how to stay positive … I think we did that.”
Alamos agreed, pointing to the underclassmen who came up big for the Lady Raiders in 2018. “You saw so many people find a way to bring something to help us win,” said Alamos, who will continue playing stateside at a college in San Antonio. “This wasn’t just a few people carrying the load.”
A new high school building will open this fall and the KHS team dodged multiple other ongoing construction projects taking place around Vogelweh, Pulaski and Kapaun installations. The softball team has earned a new banner to add to the KHS awards collection.
“We had great fans support and our coaches were fantastic,” said Chloe Whissenand. “I will miss this school and playing ball here. We were sort of down after losing to Vilseck (on day two of Euros) but we got to go out as winners and we always played hard no matter if we won or lost … we were committed to do that. I’m glad I got the chance to play here.”

Europeans All-Tournament

Phoenix Whisennand (KHS) – MVP
Mariana Conklin (KHS)
Savannah Sparrow (Ramstein)
Abby Walker (Ramstein)
Kayla Silden (Vilseck)
Cooper Lazo (Vilseck)
Mia Rawlins (Naples)
Kira Wright (Stuttgart)
Bethany Williams (Vicenza)
Allison Ulrich (Wiesbaden)

Kaiserslautern High 2018 Softball Champions

Erin Nuckols
Phoenix Whisennand
Ally Alamos
Chloe Whisennand
Hien Huynh
Kaela Bedford
Victoria Jackson
Abigail Young
Maya Henderson
Sheridan Reagan
Madison Baller
Olivia Warren
Kyra Watson
Jessika Moore
Mariana Conklin