Kubasaki now carrying the label of favorite

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Shoichiro Vivas, a senior catcher, is one of four three-year starters returning to a Kubasaki Dragons team set to begin the season as defending Far East Division I Tournament champions, as well as Okinawa Athletics & Activities Council district champion for eight straight years.  Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes
From Stripes.com
Shoichiro Vivas, a senior catcher, is one of four three-year starters returning to a Kubasaki Dragons team set to begin the season as defending Far East Division I Tournament champions, as well as Okinawa Athletics & Activities Council district champion for eight straight years. Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes

Kubasaki now carrying the label of favorite

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: March 14, 2014

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – It was as improbable a championship as Randy Toor and Kubasaki’s baseball team could have reasonably expected.

With almost all observers saying everybody else was playing for second place behind prohibitive favorite American School In Japan, the Dragons stunned the Mustangs 1-0 in the semifinals last May 25, en route to their second Far East Division I Tournament title in four years.

There’ll be no such surprises this season, Toor, the Dragons’ ninth-year coach, acknowledged. His senior-laden troupe, well-stocked with both veteran and young arms, now assumes the D-I favorites label and the virtual bull’s-eyes that go with it.

“I think they wouldn’t have it any other way, everybody coming after them,” Toor said. “They’ve been through it all. Practices are still intense. They’re excited.”

The pieces are certainly in place for the Dragons to make a run at a ninth straight Okinawa series win, as well as trying to make it three D-I titles since the inaugural Far East tournament in 2010.

Pitcher-shortstop Tommy Warren, catcher Shoichiro Vivas, second baseman Jaren Blessett and left-handed workhorse Angelo Bourdony are each three-year Dragons veterans. Junior Renton Poole – who outdueled ASIJ’s Justin Novak in that semifinal upset – ranks as the staff ace.

Backing that leadership group is a pair of sophomore hurlers, Victor Belloc and Justin LeBlanc, each of whom saw plenty of innings in 2013.

If there’s a question mark with Kubasaki, it may be depth, Toor said. “We’ll be OK if we keep everybody healthy,” he said, adding that while fatigue shouldn’t be a factor since the players have worked out on their own, “injuries we have to avoid.”

Toor says he and his charges know they’ll get a challenge from Kadena, a three-time Far East D-I runner-up, and its triad of seniors Dominic Shea and Cody Prince and junior Justin Sego. The Panthers went back to the future, bringing back 2011 Panthers coach David Compton.

Another potential menace is Seoul American, with the McDonald brothers (Alex, Blake and Chase) and their father and coach, Joel. And the Dragons get fire-tested right away when they visit ASIJ and St. Mary’s International this weekend. “Great way to start the season,” Toor said.

In Division II, two-time Far East champion Robert D. Edgren must overcome the loss of its entire rotation. But assistant coach Steven Bennett says freshman Kyle Peterson and sophomore Khaleem Shabazz, the Eagles’ football quarterbacks, have shown promise early.

Other youngsters such as Jackson Edmonds and J.P. Krussick and baseball newcomer Dorion Dillon are expected to make contributions, while meshing with upperclassmen such as senior Izzy Leon, who has been instrumental in recruiting and mentoring young players, Bennett said.

The dean of DODDS Pacific coaches, Tom Allensworth, is back for a 16th season with D-II runner-up Zama. The Trojans also feature a mix of veterans and youth in seniors Christian Venzlauskas and Saad Almomory and sophomore Keiyl Sasano.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com