Air Force wins gold, Army silver in Armed Forces Softball
September 29, 2011
NAVAL AIR STATION PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Thirteen-time All-Army softball player Dexter Avery said he "hadn't been in one of those, ever -- no, not like that."
All-Air Force manager Steve "Pup" Shortland, a veteran of 13 Armed Forces Softball Championships, seconded that sentiment after his squad rallied from 10 runs down with six outs remaining in regulation for a 20-19 victory.
"This is by far the strangest, weirdest game I've ever seen, just based on the plays and everything that happened -- the ups and the downs," Shortland said after All-Air Force won the gold medal with back-to-back homers with two outs in the bottom of the eighth.
"But as far as exciting," Shortland said, "it's also the most exciting game I've ever been in."
With two outs in the eighth inning of the final game of the 2011 Armed Forces Softball Championships, All-Army was clinging to a three-run lead, 19-16, against All-Air Force.
Staff Sgt. Michael Quinby of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, doubled off the fence in left-center, leaving runners at second and third for batter Kiel Kauffeld of Misawa Air Base, Japan.
"I couldn't imagine, if I was a betting man, to put it on those two rookies to come through," said All-Army catcher Sgt. 1st Class Michael Dochwat, 37, of Barbers Point, Hawaii. "I just didn't think with the build-up, the pressure of two guys on and two outs in the eighth inning at Armed Forces in the gold-medal game, that he would actually be capable of doing that."
Kauffeld, who had only three hits in the tournament, homered to right-center, making it 19-19. And Wyoming Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Travis Wollison followed with a walk-off shot to left-center to end the tournament.
"I tip my hat off to him, as well as the rookie Travis, who hit the homer to win it," Dochwat said.
For All-Army pitcher Sgt. Melvin DeRolf, the final inning on the mound was almost unbearable.
"I got a little emotional because last year was my first year coming to Armed Forces, and my dad was here," said DeRolf, 40, of Fort Gordon, Ga. "He died in January, and I was wearing his number. Four was always my pops' number and I wanted to win it so badly for him. With two outs out there, I was just kind of talking to him while pitching, and I threw one outside and that guy hit it pretty good to right-center field for a home run."
DeRolf delivered the pitch he wanted, low and away to Kauffeld, which made the result even harder to take.
"It was curving away on the outside corner, and he hit it," said DeRolf, who plans to retire from the Army on Oct. 3. "That just let the wind out of my sails. As soon as he hit it, I knew it had a chance. I didn't even want to watch where it landed. But I did. I was hoping [Spc. George] Finney could spider-monkey that fence and catch it, but he didn't."
Then Wollison delivered the game-winner.
"That was another pitch going low and away and he hit it out to left-center -- a great piece of hitting by Travis," DeRolf said.
"My heart's still thumping," Shortland said. "Think I'm going to have to make an appointment with a cardiologist come Monday."
All-Army led 8-0 after three innings and 16-10 after six, thanks in part to a grand slam by Cpl. Marshall Woods of Fort Bragg, N.C., a two-run homer by pitcher DeRolf of Fort Gordon, Ga., and a solo shot by Staff Sgt. Maikeld Quarles of Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.
All-Air Force's six-run rally in the seventh, highlighted by a two-run homer off the bat of Tech Sgt. Josh Wiggs of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., sent the game into extra innings.
All-Army scored three runs in the eighth, highlighted by a solo homer by Sgt. 1st Class Raul Terrones of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Ark., and a double by DeRolf.
All-Air Force (7-2) took the gold medal, followed by silver medalist All-Army (6-3), All-Marine Corps (4-5) and All-Navy (1-8).
All-Army manager Victor Rivera, a retired command sergeant major, said those weak of heart needed to avoid most of his team's nine games in the triple round robin tournament played Sept. 18 through 22.
All-Army was involved in several heart-thumping games, including three one-run setbacks via their opponents' final at-bat and two extra-inning tilts.
"Out of the 10 years that I've been here, this was the most emotional, most competitive tournament I've been in," said Dochwat, an eight-time All-Army player. "Usually, it's either us or the Air Force, but this year was a toss-up. It was real special.
"We had them down by 10, but we just couldn't close it out. When you think you have them down, that's when they seem to rise to the occasion. Maybe that's what made the game so special."
In the first of three meetings with All-Air Force, Avery went 5-for-5 with three homers, a double, and scored four runs to lead All-Army to a 31-27 victory.
Sgt. Kenny Turlington of Baltimore was 4-for-6 with two homers. Dochwat was 5-for-5 with two doubles. Quarles was 4-for-4 with a homer and four runs. And Spc. George Finney of Camp Casey, Korea, batting in the ninth spot, went 5-for-5 and scored three times.
The next night, in what many thought would be the "gold medal showdown," All-Air Force defeated All-Army, 20-19, on solo homers in the seventh by Wollison and Staff Sgt. Thomas Melton of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
In that game, Avery went 4-for-5 with a homer and a double. Diaz was 3-for-4 and scored three runs for All-Army, which got a homer from Terrones.
One day later, the Marines rallied from an 18-8 hole to defeat All-Air Force, 19-18, giving All-Army another opportunity to win the gold. Last at-bat heroics were commonplace during one of the most evenly matched Armed Forces Championships in recent memory.
"We were losing 19-2 to Navy and came back and won, but we also lost two games in the same fashion," Rivera said. "My blood pressure was good this year, but the stress was constant. You can feel it go through your veins."
Avery, who batted .694 with team-highs of 14 homers and 35 RBI, said settling for second place at the Armed Forces Championships is a tough option.
"Physically, mentally, out there with guys competing up to their utmost ability," Avery explained. "You never think the number 10 hitter is going to hit the ball out of the park for a three-run bump to tie the game up. And then you've got the leadoff batter coming up, and he hits the ball out of the park.
"The biggest part that bothers me every year is you have 11 months to go before you can redeem yourself. That's the part that sticks with you the longest and makes you work the hardest."
Although most of these players compete on high levels at home, they contend that no tournament compares with the Armed Forces Championships.
"Every game is high-energy," Avery said. "If you come out with low energy, teams will jump on top of you and get all over you because everybody who comes here is giving their all every minute.
"I've played the big ball, and most of the guys come to the tournament just to hit," said Avery, 41, who helped Team USA defeat Team Canada in the 2009 Border Battle. "You might have one or two players that are there to play defense, but in this tournament everybody is trying to get you out every time you hit. They're diving everywhere, flying everywhere, running into fences -- just giving 100 percent at all times."
"I play three times harder here than I do all year long," said Turlington, 29, who was selected to the All-Tournament Team. "You just put everything that you've got into these games."
"And the biggest part about it is you're playing for your branch," added Avery, who has four Armed Forces championships and 10 All-Tournament Team selections on his resume. "Everybody has that pride for their branch, and coming in second is not good enough."
"Out of all the silvers that I've took, this one hurts the worst," Dochwat said. "Extra innings, gold medal game, and we get beat by the 9-10-1 hitters of the Air Force, who were all rookies … But the Army will be back."
"We'll see what happens next year," Avery concluded.