Army Unseats Marines for Softball Tourney Gold
By Sgt. Kap Kim, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT HOOD, Texas, Aug. 23, 2001 It was a tough battle, but the All-Army men's softball team never let up on its quest for gold during the Armed Forces Softball Tournament here Aug. 15-17.
The Army team went 8-1 in play, repeating what the defending champion Marine team did last year. The last time the Army captured gold was in 1995.
Army head coach Chief Warrant Officer John Watts of Yongsan, South Korea, and assistant coach Sgt. 1st Class Luis Ortiz of Fort Sam Houston, Texas, built their team on a strong foundation of veterans who were previous gold medalists.
Their arsenal of poised power hitters and fresh, young infielders included return players Sgt. 1st Class Albert Kemp of Alexandria, Va.; Sgt. 1st Class Jim Cabrera of Fort Hood; Sgt. Elmer Mason of Fort Knox, Ky.; and Sgt. Tyrone Avery, also from Hood. Rookies included Spc. Darren Poole of Camp Humphreys, South Korea, and Sgt. Jerry Surber of Fort Myer, Va.
"Those are the guys who brought us here," said Watts, in his first year as head coach. "It was a great team effort, and it took everybody."
The Army's road to victory was an empty four-lane highway except for an Air Force roadblock. On the first day, Army beat Navy, 26-14 and the Marines, 8-6. Air Force kept pace by edging the Marines, 14-12 and dumping Navy 26-11.
During evening games, the Marines beat Navy 18-6, while the Air Force handed Army its lone loss, a close 4-3. After that game, Watts, at a loss for words, said only that his team just couldn't hit that night.
Air Force head coach Jack Hayes, a retired senior master sergeant, credited his team's victory to a strong defense. He changed the lineup from the morning games and went with a rookie-heavy defense, which made up half the Air Force team. Airman Ryan Coe of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., earned the nickname "Vacuum" for game-saving Brooks- Robinson-like glove work at third base that helped lead Air Force to the win.
Air Force went into the second day undefeated, but Hayes' intuition led him to say simply that it ain't over till it's over. Events proved him right.
The Army came out rockin', beating Navy, 19-16, in the morning and the Marines in close combat, 9-7, in the afternoon. The soldiers came out at night and shot down Air Force's high with a 26-17 victory in pouring rain. The Army and the Air Force were tied with a 5-1 record.
Many of the diehard spectators at that point jumped on the Army bandwagon. The Navy and Marines at that point could spoil someone else's chances at winning the gold. They did just that.
During their last match up, the Marines downed Air Force, 18-9. That dropped the airmen's record to 5-2 and their shot at gold to slim -- but there.
Army's built a dominating momentum after the team's big win against Air Force that did not slow down for even one inning. Army beat Navy 18-10 in the morning. After that, the soldiers went back to their quarters to rest for what they thought would be the game that decided who would get the gold.
Meanwhile, the underdog Navy lineup put on a show and upset the heavily favored Air Force, 11-6. The Army's path to gold was clear and the Air Force could do nothing about it.
"That was a big loss ... that was the tournament," said Air Force second baseman Daniel Simpson, a staff sergeant from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. "I guess we just ran out of gas on the bats."
Hayes said the rookies who helped win the game against the Army the first night didn't have the experience to pull out of a slump that sent them through four straight losses.
Although Army cinched gold, the last match-up against the Air Force was important to both teams. Simpson said the last game was all about pride.
"You don't want to walk into a medal," Watts said. "You want to earn it."
So, the Army earned the win against the Air Force, 12-10. The Navy beat the Marines 26-19 in the other game.
The Army won the gold with an overall 8-1 record; the Air Force won the silver with a record of 5-4, the Navy 3-6, and the Marines with a record of 2-7.
The big story of the tournament was the all-out dominance of Army's giant, Kemp. Through one stretch, he launched eight homers in 10 at bats. He would finish the tournament with an impressive 12 home runs. Many spectators said it was his intimidation at the plate and his absolutely towering blasts that won the Army the gold. However, Kemp was quick to say that it was all a team effort.
An all-star lineup chosen after the tournament was:
P: Navy Petty Officer 1st class John Bernhard, Jacksonville, Fla.
C: Air Force Staff Sgt. Scott Harris, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.
1B: Navy Chief Petty Officer Bradley Hurst, Jacksonville, Fla.
2B: Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Simpson, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
3B: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Harold Koudelka, Norfolk, Va.
SS: Marine Corps Cpl. Robert Chute, Camp Pendleton, Calif. O: Army Sgt. 1st Class Lester Daniels, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
O: Army Sgt. 1st Class Jim Cabrera, Fort Hood, Texas.
O: Army Sgt. 1st Class Albert Kemp, Alexandria, Va.
O: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Parker, McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.
U: Marine Corps Sgt. Frederick Bryant, 4th Marine Division.
The service sports directors filled 15 players for a team to represent the armed forces at the National Championships Men's Majors in Lawton, Okla., Aug. 23-26. Players were chosen for their prowess and their availability.
Making the cut were Avery, Bernhard, Bryant, Cabrera, Chute, Daniels, Hurst, Mason, Parker, Simpson; Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony Patrick, Kadena Air Base, Japan; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Cox, Monterey, Calif.; Navy Chief Petty Officer Brian Neal, Everett, Wash.; Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Todd Tapper, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and Air Force Senior Airman Jeffrey Whitaker, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
(Army Sgt. Kap Kim is the sports editor of the Sentinel post newspaper at Fort Hood, Texas.)