By Scott Prater
When leaders from the 50th and 21st Space Wings gathered for a friendly inter-wing rivalry softball game Sept. 20, supporters on both sides wondered what kind of game they might witness. Would the game have a fun and friendly atmosphere or would the teams transform it into a competitive free-for-all?
Ultimately, it turned out to feature both elements. This was no picnic softball game.
The 21st Space Wing’s Golden Knights, made up of Peterson Air Force Base chief master sergeants and colonels, left the Peterson softball field with bragging rights after claiming a 21-15 victory against their counterparts from Schriever AFB. But, it was a hard-fought win, which featured several lead changes, some amazing defensive gems and a whole lot of hitting.
The 50th Space Wing’s chiefs and colonels, known as the masters of softball, started slowly, mustering only one hit while failing to get on the score board in the first inning. Subsequently, the Knights started hot, scoring six runs in the bottom half of the first inning.
Sensing that the game might get out of hand quickly, Schriever responded in the second inning.
Col. Bill Liquori, 50 SW commander, sparked the rally with the first of his three hits. Col. Jonathan Sutherland, 50th Network Operations Group commander, followed by smoking a sharp liner up the middle and Col. Bill Rittershaus, 50 SW vice commander, brought them both home with his own single into right-center field.
The runs kept coming as Schriever batted around in the inning. Col. Tommy Roberts, 50th Operations Group commander, blasted a drive off the left-field fence and Liquori followed with an RBI triple to the deepest part of the park in center field. In all, Schriever scored eight times in the inning to take their first lead.
Their advantage vanished in the next inning, however, as the Knights reclaimed the lead with five runs in the second.
“They brought their ‘A’ game today,” Liquori said. “You have to give them credit for hitting them where we weren’t. They started hot and finished strong offensively.”
Knights hitters pelted hits to every part of the park in the first three innings, tallying 16 of their 21 runs.
Thanks to a stingy Schriever defensive effort, however, the Knights bats went silent in the middle innings, and that helped Schriever climb back into contention.
Led by a sportscenter highlight play from Liquori, the Knights failed to score in the fourth. Peterson’s Col. Michael Hough, 21st Space Wing vice commander, thought he had a sure base hit when he slapped a sharp grounder toward second base, before Liquori dove to his left and snagged the ball off its third hop. With Hough steaming to first base, Liquori jumped up, set his feet and threw a laser to first to get him by a step.
Schriever supporters roared with approval as Liquori’s teammates looked on in appreciation.
“That play energized us,” Schriever team captain Lt. Col. Thomas Ste. Marie, 2nd Space Operations Squadron commander, said. “That was a huge momentum turner for us. It generated a lot of emotion and helped us turn the tide a bit. We put up some big runs after that.”
Helped out by the play, Schriever held its opponents scoreless in the fourth inning and again in the fifth, thanks to a double play. Second baseman Roberts fielded a ground ball off the bat of Chief Master Sgt. Brad Smith, 21st Operations Group chief enlisted manager, and made a perfect transition to Liquori who caught the ball mid stride, stepped on second base and delivered a perfect throw to first.
“That was a spectacular play as well,” Ste. Marie said. “We took some infield practice on Wednesday and I think that helped the guys gel on defense today.”
As its defense heated up, Schriever kept the game close. With three runs in the third, another in the fourth, two more in the fifth and one in the sixth, Schriever cut the Knights lead to 16-15 after six.
But, the Knights’ bats got hot again. Starting with six straight singles, they scored five runs in the sixth inning to put the game out of reach.
“We have to congratulate the 21st,” Liquori, said. “But, we’re proud that we didn’t quit and played tough all the way to the end.”
For Col. John Shaw, 21 SW commander, and a former Schriever colonel, the game represented a homecoming of sorts.
“It was great that we had a crowd from both bases,” he said. “The announcer was terrific; the weather was phenomenal and we managed to get everybody together. We did get the better of the 50th this year, but it was touch and go most of the game and could have gone either way. I’m glad we had the home-field advantage.”