Kadena, Kinnick might be back at it again
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – The memory gnaws at Kelli Wilson and Kadena’s softball team’s veterans.
One inning away from a 1-0 win over Nile C. Kinnick in the Far East Division I Tournament final last May, the Panthers saw their title hopes evaporate in a two-run Red Devil rally.
“We think about it every day, but not in the context that we lost by a run, but that it should have been ours and we want to bring it home,” said Wilson, the third-year Kadena coach.
It would have been Kadena’s second straight D-I title and third in four years, on top of the Panthers’ winning their 10th Okinawa series in 11 seasons.
Instead, Kinnick, after three straight DODDS Japan championships and two near-misses in the D-I tournament, finally broke through for that 2-1 triumph last May 23.
And the two teams seem to have the components to keep up their in-season success and perhaps meet again in the next D-I final on May 21.
“We should be competitive,” said Kinnick coach Katrina Kemper, who brings back, among other veterans, the difference-maker for the Red Devils last season, senior right-hander Kelly Osterbrink. She got the win in the D-I final.
Most of the infield returns, including senior Beverly Smithers at shortstop (she’ll also pitch) and junior Jane Smithers at second base. Kinnick must replace departed first baseman Elizabeth Farrelly. But replacing players is a rite of passage for any DODDS team, Kemper said, “but I have a very solid start.”
Likewise, Kadena will field a solid core of returners, including pitcher Peyton Lettkeman and second baseman Courtney Tomas, each a senior, along with sophomores Bailey Prince and Asia Abdul. Promising freshmen include Macalah Danielsen, who will pitch and play shortstop.
Several Panthers play year-round on the Lady Ambassadors club team and “will see significant playing time” for Kadena as well, Wilson said.
Seoul American, with its solid contingent of pitchers including senior Julia Ring, also might challenge, but the Falcons are limited to playing the three DODDS Korea Division II teams, coach Julian Harden said.
Among the Division II teams, Daegu’s Warriors appear primed for a run at a second straight Far East title, after rallying to beat E.J. King 15-10 in the final.
A core of five veterans, including seniors Christina Henry (pitcher, outfield), Rachel Wyche (catcher) and Kaylah Black (shortstop, outfield), have returned and are working to develop the team’s younger players, new coach Marti Gross said. “All of the players are improving and ready to compete” for the D-II and DODDS Korea titles, Gross said.
Cobras coach McKinzy Best returns seven seniors, including pitcher Deanna Austin, but his four senior starters are playing new positions, Best said. Zama, champion in 2012, must replace its entire pitching staff and most of its infield, coach Adele Collins said.