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AAFES tames Kickin’ Grass to win softball tournament

David Bedard
Fort Wainwright PAO

 

Debbie Ferguson, Eielson Air Force Base, runs from second to third base for Kickin' Grass during the game two July 24 matchup between AAFES and Kickin' Grass.

photo by David Bedard/Fort Wainwright PAO

Debbie Ferguson, Eielson Air Force Base, runs from second to third base for Kickin' Grass during the game two July 24 matchup between AAFES and Kickin' Grass.

Six teams vied for top honors in the 2008 Fort Wainwright Women’s Softball Tournament, but it was the AAFES team that took home the first-place trophy.

Steve Tate, director of intramural sports, scheduled the tournament during 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s deployment to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

“It definitely helped the four weeks without our Soldiers go by quickly,” said Nadia Hall, the Queens of the Castle coach. “It was definitely a challenge to keep some of our girls motivated to play while the guys are away at NTC.”

With Soldiers deployed, childcare sometimes proved to be a challenge for the players.

“It was also a little distracting to focus on the game with all the kids in car seats or strollers and playpens in the dugout while we played,” Hall said. “But we all helped each other and had a great time, win or lose.”

The tournament finals began July 23, with the loser’s bracket teams, Kickin’ Grass and the Pink Sox, competing to win a chance at beating the winner’s bracket champions, AAFES.

The loser was to be presented the third-place trophy, while the winner would have to win two consecutive games against AAFES to secure first place. AAFES needed to win just once for first place.

By the fourth inning, the Pink Sox were up 4-0, and it was their game to lose. Finally, Kickin’ Grass answered back with five runs in the fifth to end the inning down 7-5.

The beginning of the seventh and final inning found the score tied 7-7. However, Kickin’ Grass came out slugging to outscore the Pink Sox 4-2 for a final score of 11-9 to advance to the championship matchup.

“(Kickin’ Grass) always does that,” Tate said with a grin. “They always come from behind for the win.”

While Kickin’ Grass was fending off the Pink Sox, AAFES practiced their drills, showing the confidence of an undefeated team that has largely stuck together for the last three seasons.

“We all work together, so we know each other very well,” said Kristen Lawson, AAFES coach. “We just have fun and root each other on.”

“We play as a team, we work as a team...we win as a team the AAFES way,” said AAFES team member Sue Valdrow.

Kickin’ Grass showed defiant exuberance following their victory over the Pink Sox, and they hoped to carry that momentum into the game with AAFES.

“We’re pumped up. We encourage each other,” said Laurie Quinter, wife of Spc. Matthew Quinter, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. “We just need to catch everything (AAFES) hits into the outfield.”

The game began in Kickin’ Grass’ favor, when they ended the first inning up 3-2. What followed was a back and forth game with inning scores of 3-4, 4-5, 4-6 and a scoreless fifth inning. Then Kickin’ Grass received a little help from the weather.

Although the game began under sunny skies, a foreboding storm front moved in and began to dump cold rain on the field. Players dived for sweatshirts, and spectators huddled together for warmth.

Then the AAFES defense lost their composure in the outfield, allowing eight runs for a 12-6 Kickin’ Grass advantage after numerous AAFES errors and a scoreless inning on their part.

In the final inning, AAFES scored four runs, but it wasn’t enough to overhaul Kickin’ Grass, and the underdogs ended the game with a 12-10 victory to force game two.

“It is a big game and a big win,” Quinter said. “That was the first time we have beaten them this season, so it was an important win.”

Game two opened July 24 to blue skies and a dry outfield. Lawson was philosophical before the game.

“It’s the last game of the season, so we are looking to have fun,” Lawson said. “So it is either first or second, and those aren’t bad places to be in.”

The game started slowly, with Kickin’ Grass opening up a 1-0 lead after two innings. They maintained their margin at the end of the third with a score of 4-2. Then the AAFES bench brought all of their thunder in the fourth inning, outscoring Kickin’ Grass 9-4 to end the inning up 11-8.

During the fifth and sixth innings, both outfields played stalwart defense, holding each other scoreless.

In the last inning, the Kickin’ Grass outfield blinked, giving up eight runs to a resurgent AAFES. AAFES continued their stonewall defense to allow Kickin’ Grass no runs in the seventh inning to clinch a 19-8 victory and the championship.

After the game, Lawson was already talking about their next tournament, a one-pitch affair. She later spoke about what turned the team around.

“We started to relax, have fun and cheer each other on,” Lawson said. “That’s what keeps us going. That’s what it is all about.”