by Robert Baldwin
Hollywood would do it this way.
A group of fresh-faced kids from across the USA and their first-year coach come together to play two last pressure-packed games to remain undefeated and win the continental title. They face the two best pitchers in the league in back-to-back games and have their backs pinned to the wall before miraculously scoring in their last at bat to pull victory from the jaws of certain defeat, nearly causing coronaries among the raucous and emotionally drained fans. It would make a great movie! But it’s not a movie. It is just all in a day’s work for the Ramstein baseball team. In fact, the dramatic finishes are more the norm than the exception.
That was the scenario last week as the Ramstein Royals squeaked out victories over Wiesbaden and ace pitcher Austin Deckinga and Stuttgart ace Jack Harris to stay undefeated and win the 1A European Baseball Tournament on their home field.
The word around the league is that Ramstein always pulls it out, wins at the end, and gets all the breaks. The statement about the breaks may be sour grapes, but the first part is somewhat true.
In the semifinal game, Wiesbaden’s Deckinga had the Royals scuffling with a combination of a hard fastball and a sharp breaking ball. The Royals were down until the last at bat when Ramstein eked it out when Deckinga bounced a curveball past his catcher, allowing the winning run to score to advance to the finals. In the previous tournament games, the Royals had outscored their opponents 44-1.
The final game pitted usual rivals Ramstein and Stuttgart at the Southside Fitness Center ball park on the Ramstein base. Fastballer Harris pitched for Stuttgart and freshman Ethan Smith was on the bump for the Royals. Earlier in the year, Harris was as dominant against the Royals hitters as anyone, striking out eight of nine hitters on the opening weekend. This time, he was not as dominant but he still kept the Royals bats in check. In his four innings of work, the Royals had some chances to score, but Stuttgart took a 3-0 lead into the fourth inning.
Head Coach Ozwaldo Garcia Carillo started Smith for the second straight day. After Peter Boxkemper led off with a single in the third, Garcia Carillo brought in his steady and solid senior do-everything Tieran Schoffner to take over on the mound. Besides a fourth inning home run to center by Tyler Savage to make it 3-0, Shoffner pitched brilliantly, keeping his cool and steadying the young Royals defensively. What went through his mind after that shot?
“Absolutely nothing. Come back and get the next hitter,” he said. The exact words any coach wants to hear from his senior pitcher in a crucial situation.
In the Royals half of the fourth, the Panther defense struggled after making a few errors.
Trailing 3-0, Euro Tournament Most Valuable Player Nathan Kranz opened the fourth by flying to the fence in right field.
“I just missed it,” Kranz said after the game. “It was this close,” he said, putting his thumb and pointer finger about an inch apart.
Makani Stenger singled in the hole between short and third on a play the Stuttgart third baseman had a chance to make. Kaden Romleski followed with another hit towards third that was mishandled, runners at first and second, one out. Smith squirted a squibber down the line at third that was gloved and thrown by the third baseman. But he threw high to first, Smith was safe. On the play Stenger tried to score and was thrown out at the plate, runners at first and second two outs.
Nathan Patel was plunked in the back by a Harris fastball to load the bases for freshman C.J. Delp. He grounded to third but the throw was mishandled by the first baseman. Delp was safe and Romleski scored 3-1, bases loaded, two outs. The first baseman leaped to control the throw and came down on Delp. The game was halted for about ten minutes as they tended to Delp, but he stayed in the game.
With Chris Guzaldo in the batter’s box, Harris unleashed his first wild pitch back to the backstop. Run scored, runners at second and third, two outs, 3-2 Stuttgart.
“I just overthrew that one,” Harris said about the wild pitch. “I just tried to get too much on it.”
Harris got Guzaldo to hit the ball innocuously to second base, a routine grounder. But the player kicked it, Guzaldo was safe, runner scored and it was tied at three, runners at first and third. It was also Harris’ last pitch due to the tournament pitch count rule. In came Wesley Congolese, who threw almost as hard as Harris.
All season long, Coach Garcia Carillo has been preaching the benefits of playing aggressive baseball. With a strike on Murphy, he sent Guzaldo to second. The catcher threw down, Guzaldo was safe and Delp scored the go ahead run from third base in the double steal. Murphy popped up to end the inning, Royals 4, Stuttgart 3 after four innings.
In the fifth, Stuttgart added a run to tie it on an E-5, a gap single and a chalk hugging double down the line in right for a run. Shoffner fanned the third out and it was 4-4.
In the fifth, Congolese struck out Shoffner looking and Kranz swinging and, following a Stenger single to left, Romleski grounded out to short. Tie score after five.
Murphy relieved and shut down Stuttgart in the sixth.
In the Ramstein sixth, which was the last inning because of the time limit, Smith led off with a single and immediately stole second base. Patel struck out, Delp hit to the shortstop who threw out Smith trying to advance to third on the grounder. Two outs, Delp on first. Guzaldo stroked a clutch single, runners first and second. The Royals then pulled off another double steal, runners on second and third.
Congolese wanted a first pitch strike. Murphy, the freshman, got the fastball belt high over the heart of the plate and he drilled it into left center field bringing in Delp for the 5-4 walk off Royals victory and the cap on an undefeated championship season.