Stars come out at Super Regional
There was a reason Oklahoma City University went into the baseball post-season ranked No. 1 in the NAIA.
On Saturday, the Stars shone, giving plentiful evidence of their lofty status during a 13-8 victory over unranked Missouri Valley College in the deciding game of the best-of-three Mid-South Super Regional series.
It took Oklahoma City only four innings to build an 11-0 lead, which nearly caused the Vikings to crack completely. To its credit, Valley fought back during the late stages and built up enough momentum that Stars coach Denny Crabaugh had to call on his closer to prevent a comeback.
"They showed what they've done all year," MVC head coach Dan Bowers said about his squad's overdue charge. "Just came up a little short."
From the outset, it didn't appear to be Valley's day. Sophomore Ted Ledbetter singled to lead off the bottom of the first inning and, with one out, junior Mike Serrata misjudged senior Brandon Kaye's line drive to center field -- breaking in and then back-tracking as it went over his head -- to let in the first Star run.
Viking freshman Brian Brown couldn't handle sophomore Ben Himes' smash to first base, what could have been the third out, and junior Aaron Williams doubled for the frame's second tally.
Oklahoma City was just getting started. Junior Matt Houston cracked an RBI single and Kaye followed with a two-run hit in the second. Junior David Marlett singled and came in on junior Erik Turberville's double, ending the day for MVC junior right-hander Pat Dunn in the third inning.
"It was one of those days," Bowers noted about the outing for Dunn, who had been the Vikings' stopper during their stretch run. "It looked like he was hitting his spots.
"They're just a pretty darn good hitting club," Bowers added. "There's only so long you're going to shut down some of their big bats."
Freshman Nick Bowers got the call and gave up a single to Ledbetter and three-run homer to Houston. Junior Pat Frost took over in the fourth and surrendered a two-run shot to senior Jamie Tapp. With junior right-hander E.J. Shanks holding Valley to one hit through five innings, it looked as though the Stars would cruise.
"Being down that many, it would have been tough in the third and fourth" innings to begin a comeback, Dan Bowers admitted. "When you get down that far" against the nation's top team, "you should have been done."
The Vikings were cooked ... only nobody told them. Freshman Jordan Lundberg smacked his fourth homer in six games to begin the sixth inning, although Valley was unable to squeeze out another run after loading the bases with one out.
Two hit batters and Lundberg's single filled the sacks with none out in the seventh. Brown tapped to Tapp at third for a force out at the plate, but senior Colin Rudko drove in a pair of runs with a two-out double, two more scored when junior Brent Phelan's roller to short went under Marlett's glove and junior Chris Becker and Josh Miller singled to plate Phelan.
Two errors, junior Mike Serrata's bouncer and a Rudko single closed the margin to 12-8 in the eighth.
Singles by Turberville and Houston produced an OCU run in its half of the eighth, but Becker greeted freshman reliever Jeff McLaughlin with a single and Miller walked to start the ninth.
However, the Stars' defense snuffed the rally. Ledbetter raced to track down senior Brad Hertel's tailing liner to right and Marlett scooped up junior Brian Franco's grounder to touch off a game-ending double play.
"Things have been tough for us all year; that's just the way we've done things," Bowers said. "We just ran out of innings."
While Oklahoma City (59-6-1) gets ready to head to Lewiston, Idaho, for the NAIA World Series on May 23-30, which it would have attended anyway with an at-large bid, the Vikings (27-27) reflect on the season past.
It was a difficult campaign which saw the Orange and Purple rally from a 9-21 start -- mostly against top-flight opponents -- to barge into the post-season, claim the Region V title and get within one victory of the national tournament for the second time in three years.
"Absolute heart and soul," is Bowers' description of his crew. "I've never seen a club with this kind of heart in my life. Nobody gave us a chance."
Maybe not, but Valley gave itself one.