Austin, Yokota refused to be rattled in title run
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – This season ended much the same way for Yokota softball as it did last year; a successful few months of more wins than losses that resulted in raising the ultimate prize of the Far East Division II Tournament championship banner.
Also like last season, the team’s and tournament’s Most Valuable Player brings home the Stars and Stripes Pacific high school softball Athlete of the Year award.
For the second straight year, Kaia Austin, a junior shortstop, earned those honors after leading her Panthers to an 18-7 overall record. The 5-foot-3 shortstop batted .600 with 12 extra-base hits, 25 RBIs and 20 stolen bases during the team’s championship season and took home MVP awards at the DODEA-Japan and Far East tournaments.
The architecture of that individual campaign may have begun months earlier, though -- during a summer camp at Arizona State University in Tempe.
“It was a nice, big slice of humble pie seeing how good all of the players in the States are,” Austin said. “But they helped me refine a lot of my technique and defense.”
The knowledge she brought back to Tokyo was instrumental in this season’s success. Though the Panthers were defending champions heading into this season, much of last year’s squad graduated, transferred or was injured. That left the door open for inexperienced players and even a few starters who had never played an inning of competitive softball in their lives.
“Like everything, it came down to fundamentals and that was the biggest challenge for us early in the year,” Austin said. “Our middle infield play was improved from last year and (senior left-hander) Anysia [Torres]’s pitching and (senior) Sally [Lambie]’s work behind the plate was still strong, but we had a lot of work to do in everything.”
By the time spring break came around, the team began to gel and evolve into an efficient machine by Far East. The Panthers went 11-2 over the season’s final month, including five wins in five games during the Far East tournament hosted by Yokota.
But the machine sputtered a bit during the championship game against Robert D. Edgren.
“Even though we were struggling and [Edgren pitcher Brittany Crown] was so dominant on the mound, we were also holding them down with defense and our own dominant pitcher,” Austin said. “I mean, you only need to score one more time than they do, and I think the confidence we were able to build all season in the fundamentals really came through when we really needed to calm down and just focus.”
They did score just enough, carrying a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning and hanging on for a 3-2 victory.
Despite watching many of their top hitters strike out through the first few innings, the Panthers’ will never broke. Austin continued to field balls smoothly and throw out runners.
“Everything I achieved this season is because of my teammates,” Austin said. “They worked so hard that I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I worked even harder to get better. I couldn’t be happier than I am with my team.”
Stars and Stripes’ Pacific softball All-Far East team
Kaia Austin, Anysia Torres, Yokota; Brianna Wilson, Rheagan Wyche, Kadena; Brittany Crown, Edgren; Allie Rogers, American School In Japan; Destiny Velarde, Kubasaki; AnaMalae Tia, Daegu; Alexis Harrod, Seoul American