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Eagles again rally from early deficit, beat Central Baptist to advance in regional

OC senior Ryan Nash throws a pitch on Wednesday against Central Baptist. Nash threw 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in the game.
OC senior Ryan Nash throws a pitch on Wednesday against Central Baptist. Nash threw 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in the game.

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 7, 2014) – It’s worked for the last two games, but it’s a formula that Oklahoma Christian baseball coach Lonny Cobble would prefer his team not use any more.

In their second game in the National Christian College Athletic Association Central Region tournament, the Eagles – as they did in their tournament opener – fell behind by five runs in the top of the first inning. And just like in the opener, OC rallied to win, this time beating Central Baptist (Ark.) 12-8 on Wednesday at Dobson Field.

The win kept top-seeded OC in the winners’ bracket in the 10-team double-elimination tournament. OC (34-15) will play either second-team Grace (Neb.) or third-seeded McMurry (Texas) at 8 p.m. Thursday. Grace and McMurry were supposed to play Wednesday night, but storms that hit Oklahoma City forced the postponement of that game. They instead will play at 11 a.m. Thursday, with the winner to face OC.

The tournament winner will advance to the NCCAA World Series, to be played next week in Mason, Ohio. The Eagles are seeking their second straight trip to the national tournament, but they’re not making it easy on themselves.

“We told the guys we can’t go out and give up five-spots,” Cobble said. “Teams are eventually not going to let us come back to win games like that. I’m real disappointed with the starting pitching the last two games, but I feel good about the way the guys battled. They didn’t panic. The whole time, they kept saying, ‘We’re in this. We’re in this.” Finally the hitting came around.”

In their regional opener Tuesday, the Eagles surrendered five runs to Crowley’s Ridge (Ark.) in the top of the first inning before answering with 11 runs in the bottom of the first en route to a 23-7 win.

On Wednesday, led by senior Ryan Nash, OC’s bullpen bought time for the Eagles to rally on offense and another senior, Blake Stringer, finally put OC ahead of fourth-seeded Central Baptist with a two-run single in the sixth inning. The Eagles came back despite hitting into four double plays.

“I just felt the guys were kind of pressing a little bit,” Cobble said. “We had storms coming in. I think they were worried about too many things they couldn’t control, instead of just playing the game the way they can play it. … Everybody is good in this regional. You can’t fall behind and expect to win and we’ve got to change that.”

A cold front moved into the area just as the game started, resulting in a gusty south wind that blew out to left field. That, combined with what Cobble called “uncharacteristic” struggles by OC starter Luke Sandoval, put OC in an early hole. Five of the Mustangs’ first six batters reached base, with Sam Buczek hitting a three-run home run and Brandon Papera following with a solo shot that made it 5-0.

OC answered with three runs in the bottom of the first, taking advantage of two walks and two hit batsmen by Central Baptist starter Josh Fortner. But the Mustangs pushed the lead back out again, as Buczek doubled and scored in a two-run third inning that made it 7-3.

Nash came in and allowed three hits over 3 2/3 innings. Dylon Sturges (4-2) went 1 1/3 innings, wriggling out of a two-on, one-out jam in the seventh, eventually striking out the side. Central Baptist loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth against Eddie Broll, but Broll coaxed a popup out of Buczek to end the threat.

The Eagles took the lead with a four-run sixth inning against Fortner and reliever Zach Sparks (5-2). Cory Eastwood, who went 4-for-5, led off with a double, Zac Cobble followed with a single and both scored on a triple by A.J. Florence that pulled OC within 7-6. After Caleb Price walked and stole second base, Stringer singled to left field to put the Eagles up 8-7.

Florence added another RBI single in the seventh and Jordan Lopez hit a no-doubt homer over the left-field fence to highlight a three-run eighth that extended OC’s lead to 12-7. Florence and Stringer each finished with three hits for the Eagles, who had 16 as a team.

Papera, who went 4-for-5, doubled and scored against OC closer Dillon Endecott in the ninth, but it was too little, too late for the Mustangs.

“The bullpen has done a great job,” Lonny Cobble said. “We feel like if we can get to our bullpen, those guys have done a good job all year for us. We’ve just got to stretch our starting pitching.”

NCCAA CENTRAL REGION TOURNAMENT
Wednesday results
Dallas Christian (Texas) 17, Crowley’s Ridge (Ark.) 7 (Crowley’s Ridge eliminated)
Arlington Baptist (Texas) 18, Ecclesia (Ark.) 1 (Ecclesia eliminated)
Oklahoma Christian 12, Central Baptist (Ark.) 8
Grace (Neb.) vs. McMurry (Texas), postponed, rain (rescheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday)