By Scott Prater
Ask any player who has taken the field for the 2nd Space Operations Squadron over the past two years, and they’ll tell you… they’ve grown more than tired of playing the role of bridesmaid.
In each of those seasons, 2 SOPS has competed among the top teams in the Schriever Intramural Softball League, only to walk away with a second or third place finish.
But after cranking out 26 hits, seven for extra bases, in the league championship game Aug. 13, 2 SOPS players finally claimed their prize. Michael Hoggard collected four hits, drove in seven runs, including a triple and an inside the park home run, while leading the GPS’ters to a 20-7 win over 50th Force Support/Comptroller Squadron combined team.
“I’ve been here three years now and for the past two we’ve been just a couple hits shy of wearing these championship t-shirts,” said 2 SOPS co-coach Brian Meyers. “This year we kind of had that perfect storm in the post-season tournament, and just crushed the ball.”
While 2 SOPS swept three straight opponents to reach the tournament final, 50 FSS/CPTS took the long road.
A loss to 50th Security Forces Squadron in the second round sent them down to the loser’s bracket, where they were forced to win two straight to stay in contention. After getting past 50th Space Communication Squadron, they once again faced 50 SFS. Short stop Dustin Strickland proved to be the hero in the rematch as he belted a triple and an inside-the-park home run in a 10-5 50 FSS/CPTS victory.
“Yeah, it felt good to avenge that loss to 50 SFS,” said 50 FSS/CPTS captain Bob Black. “Our guys played well this entire year, but 2 SOPS killed us with their sticks today. Even without our errors, I think they still would have beat us pretty bad. I think we might have used all our hits up yesterday.”
Black attributed some of his team’s hitting woes to 2 SOPS pitcher Roger Gallardo, who effectively limited 50 FSS/CPTS batters to singles. But Meyers said the team’s outfield also played a key role in limiting 50 FSS/CPTS’ production.
“Man-to-man, we’ve got the fastest outfield in the league with Heath Busche, Mike Manor, Jason Gravitt and Jason Alexander,” he said. “All those dudes can motor. They cover a lot of ground.”
50 FSS/CPTS took control early on, scoring four runs on five hits in the first inning. Dave Sanders stepped to the plate with bases loaded and drove all three home by scorching a pitch over Manor’s outstretched glove in right field.
Unfortunately for 50 FSS/CPTS, that was its last real scoring effort. Gallardo and company held them scoreless in four of the next six innings.
Meanwhile, 2 SOPS answered with a six-run outburst in the second inning. They also picked up three more in the third, four in the fourth, and sealed the win with a five-run frenzy in the sixth.
Hoggard was 2 SOPS’ number-nine hitter, but he always seemed to appear at the plate with men in scoring position. He drove in two runners with a double in second inning, two more with another double in the third, and three, including himself with an inside-the-park job in the sixth.
“He came to us half way through the season,” Manor said. “And he really provided a spark. At the time, we were losing guys to crew duty and whatnot, so his timing couldn’t have been better.”
Hoggard said he fell into a slump in the latter part of the season, but found his batting stroke again in the first game of the tournament.
Still, Manor was careful to point out that the team’s success can’t be attributed to the play of just one athlete. 2 SOPS base runners played aggressively, taking extra bases as often as possible and placing pressure on the 50 FSS/CPTS defense.
“This team is tight,” he said. “The unity you see on the field is really what you see in our squadrons (19th and 2nd). How we work together on a daily basis just transferred out to the field. You see guys who enjoy being around each other and it’s really a joy to see that unity payoff in a championship.”