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It’s a sweet repeat as Eagles sweep Grace, McMurry to take Central Region crown

The OC Eagles baseball team poses with the NCCAA Central Region title banner after their win Friday over McMurry.
The OC Eagles baseball team poses with the NCCAA Central Region title banner after their win Friday over McMurry.

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 9, 2014) – There was no dogpile for Oklahoma Christian on Friday after it won a second straight National Christian College Athletic Association Central Region title. These Eagles have larger goals in mind – and are soaring higher than almost any other team in the program’s history.

OC rolled past Grace (Neb.) 11-1, then held on for a 3-2 win over Heartland Conference rival McMurry (Texas) on Friday at Dobson Field to complete an undefeated five-game sweep through the regional tournament. The Eagles earned a berth in the NCCAA World Series, which will start Wednesday in Mason, Ohio.

The two wins extended the Eagles’ winning streak to 10 games – the longest since the university revived the program in 2008 – and gave them 37 wins, snapping the school record for wins in a season of 36, set by the 1994 team and matched by the 1996 squad, both coached by Johnny Inman.

“We had a goal for a 30-win season and ended up getting 37,” OC coach Lonny Cobble said. “I’m very excited for these guys.”

Before last year, OC’s baseball team hadn’t won a postseason tournament since 1972. Now the Eagles (37-15) are headed back to the national tournament with an eye on trying to surpass the program’s best-ever finish, a third-place showing at the 1972 NAIA World Series.

That’s quite a goal, considering that the Eagles were mired in a 25-game losing streak only two years ago. Senior outfielder Caleb Price – named as the regional tournament’s most valuable player after hitting .526 in OC’s five wins – was on the 2012 squad and is just glad to be able to enjoy a remarkable turnaround.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride for sure,” Price said. “We’ve got a good group of guys … guys that would run through a wall for each other. When you put that together, winning comes easy when you’re playing with those guys. Thirty-seven wins is more than we expected this year, but now we expect to keep it rolling and go up and win in Ohio.

“It’s good to go back for a second straight time. We kind of know what to expect and know what we’re getting into when we get up there. We’ve got a winning mentality and we’re going to go up there and give it our all.”

McMurry (26-28) survived an elimination game against Central Baptist (Ark.), winning 3-1, to advance to the championship round opposite OC. All four previous games this season between OC and the War Hawks had been tight, tense affairs and Friday was no different.

OC junior left-hander Kelby Reneau (5-0) outdueled McMurry’s Joel DePorte (9-5), allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings in his longest stint in several weeks. DePorte went the distance and allowed seven hits while pitching his second game in four days.

OC jumped ahead 2-0 in the second inning, taking advantage of two errors by McMurry. With two outs, Cameron Keener reached on an error and Garrett Stephenson followed with a double. Cory Eastwood’s single scored Keener and Zac Cobble’s single scored Stephenson.

The War Hawks pulled within 2-1 in the third, as A.J. Dupre walked and scored. But OC extended its advantage to 3-1 in the fifth, when A.J. Florence singled home Zac Cobble, who had doubled. McMurry scored its other run in the seventh, as Ben Douglas doubled and scored on a groundout by Dupre.

But OC’s bullpen again answered the call. Eddie Broll threw a shutout eighth inning, then Dillon Endecott did the same in the ninth. He coaxed a double-play grounder from Dupre to end the game and finish off his 13th save of the season, extending his school single-season and career records. OC finished 4-1 against McMurry this season.

“I was thinking before the game … it’s hard to beat a team three times,” Lonny Cobble said. “To beat those guys a fourth time and make that happen was just very exciting.”

The win against Grace (27-17) was considerably easier. Sean Murphy had three RBIs for OC while Price, Jordan Lopez and Blake Stringer had two each, while right-hander Tyler Sturges (3-2) had his best outing in more than a month, allowing just three hits and one (unearned) run in six innings before giving way to his brother, Dylon Sturges.

“That’s great news for OC baseball,” Lonny Cobble said of Tyler Sturges’ outing. “When he’s on, he’s as good as anybody that we’ve got. He kind of went through a rough patch, but he’s settled down and got it back together. He’s throwing great. If he can throw like that, he’s going to beat a lot of people.”

The Royals led 1-0 after the first, but OC scored once each in the second and third against Grace starter Luciano Reynoso (2-6), then broke it open with a three-run fourth inning, during which the Eagles had five hits, including RBI singles by Zac Cobble and Lopez. OC added four more in the sixth, two of those on a single by Murphy that made it 9-1.

In the seventh, Price’s single scored Eastwood, who had walked, and Stringer hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to bring home Florence with the run that gave OC a 10-run game and ended the game by the run rule.