By Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public AffairsSeptember 25, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. (Sept. 24, 2012) -- A new pitcher and a rookie slugger helped the All-Army men end Air Force's mini-dynasty at the 2012 Armed Forces Softball Championships played Sept. 16-20 at the Cannoneer Complex.
Outfielder Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Fuss, a 33-year-old rookie from Fort Polk, La., batted a team-high .771 with 13 home runs and 26 RBI as the Soldiers went 7-2 and won two of three games against the three-time defending champion Airmen (7-2).
All-Army won the tournament by virtue of a head-to-head tie-breaker with All-Air Force. All-Marine Corps and All-Navy both went 2-7 in the triple-round -robin tournament.
Sgt. 1st Class Clayton Shaw, 32, of Fort Campbell, Ky., moved from the outfield to pitch the All-Army team to seven victories. He hit .611 with six homers and 18 RBI, including a three-run walk-off homer that clinched the gold medal with a 26-10 win over All-Marine Corps on Wednesday night.
All-Army co-captains Sgt. 1st Class Dexter Avery (.719, 13 HR, 28 RBI) of Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and Sgt. 1st Class Michael Dochwat (.719, 10 HR, 24 RBI) of Fort Shafter, Hawaii, were reliable as ever, as was veteran infielder Sgt. 1st Class Lee Diaz of Fort Huachuca.
"It's amazing," Diaz said of Avery, a 14-time All-Army and 11-time All-Armed Forces performer. "Every year, it seems like he's hitting them farther and farther, and he's getting older and older."
The older Soldiers, however, needed someone to push them past the Airmen.
"It isn't the veterans that win gold medals, because they are supposed to do what they are supposed to do," said Dochwat, 38, a nine-time All-Army performer and three-time Armed Forces gold medalist. "It's those rookies and one-year guys who set the tone and get you the gold."
All of the aforementioned All-Army players were named to the All-Armed Forces Team -- along with Sgt. Leonardo Aviles (.731) of Joint Base San Antonio, Texas -- that will compete in the 2012 Amateur Softball Association National Championships, set for Sept. 28-30 in Oklahoma City.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Victor Rivera of Fort Drum, N.Y., and Sgt. 1st Class Scott Feterl of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., will serve as All-Armed Forces manager and assistant coach. Cpl. Gayle Ferguson of Fort Benning, Ga., will be the team trainer.
The Soldiers won the crown for the first time since 2008, making Avery the first five-time Armed Forces gold-medal winner in the history of All-Army Softball.
Diaz has struck gold four times, and Rivera as many times as a manager -- feats unmatched by any Soldiers besides Avery, 42, who says his 6-foot-2, 240-pound body can play a couple more seasons of All-Army ball.
"People don't see him after the games when he's icing and doing shock treatment on his back," Diaz said of Avery. "He's in pain after the games. But when we're playing at this level of competition and you're representing your branch, it's like you go numb for seven innings."
Dochwat got All-Army going Sunday by going 4-for-4 with three home runs and Fuss went 4-for-4 with a homer in the Soldiers' 16-10 opening victory over All-Air Force.
"If we took the first one, I knew we wouldn't see each other again until like Game 6, so it allowed us to apply some pressure to them to keep on winning," Dochwat said. "That was our goal: to ultimately put the pressure on them. We don't have a good record against them in gold-medal games."
Fuss was recommended for the program last year by Fort Lee Recreation Director Eddie Parker, a living legend in Army softball circles.
"I'm probably one of the older rookies," said Fuss, 33, a native of Orange, Texas. "I've just been in those units that are high-tempo, going to the field a lot, deploying a lot -- not many chain of commands supported the program because they really didn't understand it. I got lucky last year at Fort Lee."
Kenny Turlington, a native of Goldsboro, N.C., stationed at Annapolis, Md., went 5-for-5 and Avery homered twice to power All-Army to a 25-15 victory over All-Navy on Sunday night.
On Monday, All-Army prevailed 25-10 over All-Marine Corps and 24-16 over All-Navy.
The All-Marine Corps squad rallied from a 23-2 deficit to defeat All-Army, 34-32, giving the 4-0 Soldiers a wakeup call on Tuesday morning. All-Army committed 12 errors in the game, including seven in the fifth inning.
"It was just one of those games you can't catch or throw the ball," Diaz said. "It happens. Luckily, we bounced right back from it."
"I just told the guys that's slow-pitch softball," Shaw said. "I can't get up there and throw a slider or curveball or anything. You're throwing it underhanded and they're supposed to hit it. We just didn't make the plays we needed to make. I told the guys, 'you score 32 runs, you should win a game. But they scored 34. It happens in softball.'
"You just don't let that stuff get to you because you come back next game and score your 32 again and you'll probably win the game. I told the guys, 'My ERA going into the last inning isn't all that good, but give me a 15-run lead and we'll probably win.'"
Avery ended All-Army's 23-8 victory over Air Force with a three-run, walk-off homer on Tuesday night that put the Soldiers back in the driver's seat.
Avery did it again on Wednesday afternoon, ending All-Army's 25-10 victory over All-Navy with a towering shot to left. In that game, All-Army tallied 16 runs before making their second out of the first inning. Fuss homered twice as the Soldiers batted around. Once all the damage was done, Fuss had no idea how many homers he had.
"I don't know," he said with a Texas drawl. "I keep track of how many times I get out and get mad."
Fuss seemed excited just to be there.
"It's good, man, meeting all these guys you hear about," he explained. "When you play softball, you hear all these names -- this guy, this guy and that guy. And then you get to come actually see it. … It's always great when you win. …It's a lot of hard work, man. When you get older, it ain't as easy as it used to be. Everything hurts when you're done. You've got an ice bag and Icy Hot.
"You try to stay together here. I came here on a mission and didn't want to leave no doubt for the guys -- the people who didn't want to see me come or said they would like to come and didn't have the chance. That motivates you, too -- gets a little fire behind you."
Little did Fuss know that he and Shaw were firing up their veteran teammates.
"I can't let them make me look too bad," Fuss said. "It's hard to follow them up.
'It's like what do I do with the ball? Y'all just hit it 400 feet.' They set the pace for the whole team."
On Wednesday night, All-Marine Corps intentionally walked Avery with another game on the line. Shaw, however, did not mind helping his own cause and secured the gold medal with a walk-off homer that ended All-Army's 26-10 victory in the fifth inning via the 15-run rule. After losing to the Marines, the Soldiers won three consecutive games via walk-off homers and the run rule.
"Any guy in the lineup could have hit it," Shaw said. "It just fell on my shoulders when they walked Dex."
Diaz, who was pulled for a pinch hitter with the bases loaded, later re-entered the game and launched a three-run homer that gave the Soldiers a 14-5 lead they never relinquished. He considered it payback in more ways than one.
"Every time I play the Marines, I get up for it because I used to be in the Marines," said Diaz, 35, a 10-time All-Army player from Miami, Fla. "In 1997, I went out for the All-Marine Team and I felt like I made the team and I got cut. … My blood always boils when I play the Marines."
All-Army also atoned for losing the 2011 Armed Forces championship to All-Air Force, which rallied from 10 runs down with six outs remaining in regulation, and again from three runs down with two outs in the eighth inning, to win 20-19 in that gold-medal game.
"To be like a dynasty-type team, you've got to have that five or six core veterans that know what it is like -- they've been there and they've got sweat, blood and tears on that ball field," Diaz said. "We just said we're not going to feel like we felt last year. This is our year to pay back the Air Force for leaving us on the field with a walk-off home run last year.
"This is by far the best hitting team I've been on. We just came together as one. There's no drama. We averaged 25 runs per game, and we've never done that."
All-Army's other setback came in its final game on Thursday, a 12-8 loss to All-Air Force in which several veteran Soldiers did not play because they had already secured the gold. For one year, at least, there would be no extra-inning drama.
"It was special to win it on Army turf," Dochwat said. "Fort Sill took care of us from the day we got off the plane."
"Winning the gold is the ultimate prize," Avery concluded. "But I just love coming back and playing with the guys and seeing all the guys from the other services, too. I think that's what keeps me coming back. Throughout the year, you don't get to see them and talk to them, so just coming back and doing fellowship with them, that's my high of coming here. It's just a friendship that you make for a lifetime, and you can't beat that."