Air Force Claims Third Armed Forces Softball Title in Four Years
By Staff Sgt. Ryan Hansen, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., Sep. 13, 2005 The leader of the all-Air Force men's softball team knew it was going to take more than talent alone to claim the 2005 armed forces men's softball championship.
All-Army second baseman Roanld Perry tags out Tony Hawkins of the all-Marine team during their first matchup of the 2005 Armed Forces Men's Softball Championships, held Sept. 7 through 9 at Foster Stadium on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The Army defeated the Marines 14-1 in the game. Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Hansen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But after claiming the title with a 7-2 record during the three-day round-robin tournament held here Sept. 7 through 9 at Foster Stadium, the four-time head coach now believes it may have come down to a little astrology.
"The stars and moon were lined up in the right direction for us this time, and we were real fortunate," said Steve Shortland, all-Air Force men's softball team head coach, a retired master sergeant at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. "This tournament was such a nail biter."
The tournament championship is the Air Force's second straight title and its third in four years.
"Our big thing is team, team, team," Shortland said. "We had veterans producing, rookies producing, and we used them all in different situations throughout the tournament. Everything really paid off for us."
The all-Marine Corps team grabbed second place with a 6-3 record, while the all-Army team snagged third with a 4-5 record. Coming in fourth was the all-Navy team with a 1-8 record.
"This is the first time for me coaching at this level, and the team went 0-9 last year, so we had fun all the way through," said Dathan Edwards, all-Marine Corps head coach, a first sergeant at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. "I think we were underestimated a bit, but we fed off of that and played hard."
On paper it may appear as though the Air Force had an easy run to the championship. But they actually dropped their opening game of the tournament to the Navy, 7-6.
"It seemed like everybody was really gunning for us," said Steven Folds, all-Air Force second baseman, a captain at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. "But that game definitely served as a wake-up call."
From there, the Air Force rebounded with a 14-7 win over the Army, generally considered one of the top teams in the tournament.
"There's a lot of parity and these teams are truly indicative of what their services offer," Shortland said. "The competition is great."
The Air Force continued its rebound by hammering the Marines 25-3 in the nightcap, ending day one at 2-1.
"We just needed to get our focus down and realize what we needed to do," said Sherwin Lockridge, all-Air Force shortstop, an airman first class from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. "The veterans really told us what to expect, and they led us in the right direction."
The Air Force team continued its roll on day two of the tournament, defeating the Army in their second matchup, 12-5. But a hard dose of reality came in the afternoon, courtesy of the Marines, in a 6-5 loss.
"The first loss should have been an eye opener, but after we won a few games we may have gotten a little complacent," Shortland said. "But scores will humble you, and for us, it worked."
At that point the Air Force, Army and Marines were all 3-2, with the Navy at 1-4. The tournament championship was still up for grabs, and Shortland had to get the team focused.
"I just reminded them that they have to play this tourney one game at a time and not take any team for granted," he said. "To win you have to bring your 'A' game every time."
The team listened and sunk the Navy 11-3 that evening, while the Marines defeated the Army 8-6. Those two wins set up a showdown between the two 4-2 teams the next morning.
"We still controlled our own destiny, and all we had to do was win out," said Christopher Markey, all-Air Force utility player, a technical sergeant at Osan Air Base, Korea. "We didn't want to have to have help from anyone else; we just wanted to win the games we needed to win and take control."
Take control is exactly what the Air Force team did, handily defeating the Marines, 13-4.
"We were really stoked going into that game," Edwards said. "We had a good shot, and our guys never gave up, and I'm really proud of them."
"We pulled together when we needed to," said James Flagg, all-Air Force outfielder, a first lieutenant from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. "That was a key game, and we had to have it."
A win against the Navy in the afternoon would clinch the title for the Air Force. However, the sailors wouldn't go down without a fight, losing a close 9-8 ball game.
"Softball is a game of inches," said Earlie West, all-Navy head coach, a chief petty officer on the USS Peleliu. "A line drive here or there, and our destiny may have changed a bit."
"I told the team that on my death certificate, when I die, it will read cause of death - 2005 Armed Forces Tournament," Shortland said. "But I wouldn't trade it for the world."
With the title decided, the Air Force came out relaxedfor the final game with the Army. They took an early lead, but found themselves down in the bottom of the seventh. Flagg nailed a three-run, walk-off home run to win the game, 15-12.
"Everyone would like to walk through a tournament, but the added drama does make it sweet," Markey said. "We had to work, work, work and pick each other up. It was a total team effort."
"It's been incredible and a great experience for me," Folds said. "We came together as a team in a short period of time and it was great."
Shortland said a few rule changes evened the field out and made for a great tournament.
"We had a new system this year where we couldn't use our own equipment," he said. "We had to use the bats purchased by the armed services folks, and that really changed the tournament."
"There was a level playing field this year, no doubt about it," said Victor Rivera-Collazo, all-Army head coach, a sergeant major at Fort Drum, N.Y. "The changes really evened it out between all of the teams."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Hansen is assigned to Air Armament Center public affairs.)