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Eagles fall a step short of semifinals, losing 4-0 to Southeastern (Fla.)

OC starting pitcher Luke Sandoval looks in for a sign during the first inning against Southeastern on Friday in the NCCAA World Series.
OC starting pitcher Luke Sandoval looks in for a sign during the first inning against Southeastern on Friday in the NCCAA World Series.

By Murray Evans
MASON, Ohio (May 17, 2013) – It was a familiar refrain this baseball season for Oklahoma Christian – if the Eagles hit reasonably well, their pitching gave them a chance to win every game.

So it went again on Friday afternoon at the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series. An outstanding relief performance by Tyler Schuman kept OC close against Southeastern (Fla.), but the ninth-seeded Eagles couldn’t come up with a big hit in a season-ending 4-0 loss at Prasco Park.

OC (26-26) would have advanced to the semifinals with a win; instead, fifth-seeded Southeastern (38-28) moved on to face second-seeded Campbellsville (Ky.). The Eagles finished 1-3 in pool play in their first national-tournament appearance since 1972, when OC took third in the NAIA World Series.

“We had good pitching but not timely hitting,” OC coach Lonny Cobble said. “But we never quit. Even in the last inning, we battled and had guys on. That’s part of it – the learning experience. It was my first year and I had no clue. I told the boys I made a lot of mistakes, probably, and I’ll learn and get better. The younger guys, they need to do the same.

“The goal is not just to get here. From here on out, it’s to win this thing. There are a lot of good teams and now we know what to expect.”

The Eagles managed only six hits against Southeastern pitcher Grant Porter, who retired the first 10 batters he faced and went the distance for the Fire.

Southeastern picked up a pair of runs in the first, one on a solo home run over the left-field wall by Daniel Mims. The Fire scored two more in the third off OC starter Luke Sandoval (5-2) – one on an RBI single by Phil Delisle, another when Delisle and Bryan Muniz successfully pulled off a double steal, with Muniz swiping home.

OC reliever Tyler Schuman – who’d thrown just 14 innings all season before Friday – came in with one out in the third and pitched four innings of scoreless relief. He combined with Jacob Stephenson – who recorded the final out of the game on the mound for OC – to shut down Southeastern the rest of the way.

“That was the best Schuman has pitched all year,” Cobble said. “I told him that when I came and got him. I told him, ‘That’s what I expect all next year.’ Not the Schuman I saw before, but that Schuman, right there, because I know he can do it.”

But the Eagles’ bats didn’t respond. Cory Eastwood broke up Porter’s no-hit bid with a bunt single with one out in the fourth inning and stole second base, but was stranded there. Southeastern coach Jason Beck argued the call after Eastwood stole second and was ejected from the game.

In the sixth, Garrett Guys led off with a single. Heath Steele reached on a fielder’s choice with two outs and stole second, but advanced no further.

OC used singles by Eastwood and Dillon Andrews and an error that allowed Blake Stringer to reach to load the bases with two outs in the sixth, but Guys struck out looking to end the threat. Jerry Owen and Evan Draper both singled with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, but Caleb Price grounded out to second base to end the inning and the game.

“We’ve just got to get the big hit,” Cobble said. “We’re going to get better.”

The Eagles played Friday without starting outfielders Jordan Lopez and Markus Carr, both of whom were nursing injuries.

Cobble chose to focus on the positive, given that OC was playing for a national semifinal berth one year after finishing 8-34. He had special praise for the Eagles’ five seniors – Owen, Chris Burgess, Draper, Steele and Andrews.

“I told them to give us a chance and play for something on the last day of the season,” Cobble said. “You know what – we were playing to get into the semifinals. That’s all you can ask, to have that chance. There are a lot of teams around the country that are sitting home today and these boys were getting to play a meaningful game.

“Those seniors were a big part of bringing us this far. Those guys did a great job. I just couldn’t be more pleased with the five seniors with the way they played and the way they handled themselves. We had a lot of compliments, from the hotel to the people here at the tournament, about the way our boys behaved and acted. I just couldn’t be more proud of them.”