NAVAL AIR STATION PENSACOLA, Fla. - A young All-Army men's team could not overcome the All-Air Force mystique and settled for silver at the 2010 Armed Forces Softball Championships Sept. 19-23.

"The Air Force is like the New York Yankees of softball," All-Army coach Command Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Victor Rivera said Wednesday after his team squandered a 9-0 lead during a 19-10 loss to All-Air Force that all but secured the gold for the Airmen. "The Army is more dominant in some other sports like boxing and wrestling, but in softball, for some reason, the Air Force has been the mark of success."

"It's just like playing the Yankees, man, it's the mystique," echoed seven-time All-Army third baseman Sgt. Michael Dochwat Jr. of Fort Shafter, Hawaii. "You try to mimic them."

"They don't worry," added Sgt. 1st Class Ralph Hodgdon of Fort Benning, Ga. "When they get down, they just play."

All-Army entered the tournament with nine "rookies" or first-time Armed Forces competitors. They freely swung the bats and confidently flashed their leather and young legs against All-Navy and All-Marines. When it came time to face All-Air Force, however, they tensed up.

"When we play the Marines Corps and the Navy, we play relaxed," Rivera explained. "When we play the Air Force, we let the emotions run too high. You want to do so well against them, you squeeze the bat a little tighter and you want to work on defense a little harder.

"It's like going into combat. You train before you get there, but you can't let your emotions take over or you cannot get to the end. It's no different here. You have to be able to keep your emotions in check."

Dochwat, who led the tourney with a .704 batting average, and Hodgdon both went 4-for-4 with a home run as All-Army opened the tournament Sunday with a 22-7 rout of All-Marine Corps. Master Sgt. Lester Daniels of Fort Gordon, Ga., had two homers, and Sgt. Kenny Turlington of Fort Meade, Md., Sgt. 1st Class Clayton Shaw of Fort Campbell, Ky., Staff Sgt. Danny Rogers of Camp Walker, Korea, and Master Sgt. Christopher Stevens of Okinawa, Japan, all went 3-for-4.

Daniels, who led the tournament with nine home runs, blasted two during All-Army's 10-6 victory over All-Navy on Sunday night. Hodgdon and Dochwat both went 2-for-3 and added a homer.

Daniels, 39, helped All-Army win Armed Forces crowns in 2001 and 2003 before taking a six-year hiatus to support troops in the field. In fact, every Soldier on the All-Army team has deployed at least once. Daniels missed two tournaments while deployed in Iraq and spent the past four years serving as a first sergeant. He spent this tourney trying to top his 11 homers of 2003.

"I'm trying to hit it out every time," admitted Daniels, a 6-foot, 225-pound "gym rat" who attributes his power to a combination of bat speed and strength.

All-Air Force batted around and scored eight runs in the sixth inning of their 18-12 victory over All-Army in the noon game Monday. Daniels went 3-for-3 and stroked his fifth homer of the tourney. Hodgdon was 2-for-3 with a homer.

"We just put too much focus on the Air Force," Daniels said. "This tourney has been a roller-coaster ride. We definitely have a lot of potential. We just have to put it together consistently."

Shaw went 2-for-4 with a homer and Dochwat and Sgt. 1st Class Enrique Mendieta of Fort Eustis, Texas, both went 2-for-3 as All-Army bounced back for a 14-5 victory over All-Navy in the Monday nightcap. All-Army scored four runs in the second inning on a homer by Staff Sgt. Brandon Sonnenburg of Camp Casey, Korea, and a two-run double by Sgt. Melvin DeRolf Jr. of Fort Gordon, Ga. They added six runs in the fifth on singles by Stevens, Turlington, Shaw, Daniels Dochwat and a walk by Hodgdon.

Tuesday morning, All-Air Force pounded All-Army, 20-5. Hodgdon went 3-for-3 with a homer and Dochwat was 3-for-3 with three singles. Daniels was 1-for-3 with his sixth homer of the tourney, but All-Air Force scored seven runs in the fifth and added five in the seventh for its second win over the Soldiers.

"As a collective group, we just tighten up against Air Force," Hodgdon said. "We worry about making mistakes instead of just playing and having fun."

Daniels went 3-for-3 and homered again Tuesday night as All-Army rolled to a 25-2 rout of All-Marine Corps. Dochwat and Mendieta each had two hits, including a homer, and substitutes Sonnenburg, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Watkins of Fort Carson, Colo., and Sgt. Martin Hunt of Fort Meade, Md., added two hits apiece.

Still hoping for a little help from their All-Navy and All-Marine friends, the Soldiers fell to All-Air Force for the third time on Wednesday morning. Hodgdon went 3-for-4 with a homer. Daniels was 2-for-4 with two homers, and Dochwat went 2-for-4 with a homer. All-Army, however, was 0-for-11 from its sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the lineup.

"They just hit, and we had two plays we didn't turn double plays on that we should've. It happens. We just didn't get it done," said Hodgdon, 40, a veteran of the 1998 and 2008-10 All-Army teams. "When we lost that game to Air Force, that was pretty emotional for me with it being my last year of playing. You want to go out on top."

Silver medalist All-Army (6-3) finished with a 3-0 victory over All-Navy (2-7) on Thursday. All-Marine Corps (3-6) closed the tourney with a 23-22 victory in eight innings over gold medalist All-Air Force (7-2).

"We'll be back next year to win our gold back," Daniels said.

Daniels, Dochwat and Hodgdon were named to the All-Tournament Team. They were joined on the U.S. All-Armed Forces Team by Rogers, DeRolf, Shaw, Stevens and Staff Sgt. Lee Diaz of Tampa. That squad will compete Sept. 30-Oct. 4 at the 2010 Amateur Softball Association National Championships in Oklahoma City.

Hodgdon, a veteran of four deployments who plans to retire in November, will skip the trip to Oklahoma City to take his sons to the Florida-Alabama football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he hopes to watch the Crimson Tide roll over the Gators.

"I went last year as an Armed Forces member and we went 2-2 and finished seventh," said Hodgdon, who batted a tournament-high .860 at nationals. "I made first-team All-America and I turned that down this year to be with my Family.

"I teach Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning. Prior to going to All-Army Camp, I was out in the woods for two weeks, so I really haven't seen my Family in a month and a half, so they're ready for me to be home."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16