OKLAHOMA CITY (May 9, 2014) – When Oklahoma Christian baseball coaches first saw the bracket for this week’s National Christian College Athletic Association Central Region tournament, they knew quickly in what spot they wanted to use ace pitcher Brandon Pierce.
The Eagles saved Pierce for the tournament’s winners’ bracket final and he didn’t disappoint, allowing just six hits and three runs (all unearned) while striking out eight in 7 2/3 innings to lead OC to a 7-3 win over Heartland Conference rival McMurry (Texas) at Dobson Field.
By winning a game that didn’t start until after 10 p.m. Thursday and didn’t finish until nearly 1 a.m. Friday, OC (35-15) put itself in the driver’s seat of the double-elimination event. Of the 10 teams that started, only four remain and of those, only the Eagles are undefeated in the tournament.
OC will face one of the one-loss teams, Grace (Neb.), at 2 p.m. Friday. A win in that game would propel OC into a 5 p.m. game against the winner of an 11 a.m. game between McMurry and Central Baptist (Ark.). Two wins on Friday would give the Eagles their second straight region title and a trip to next week’s NCCAA World Series in Mason, Ohio.
An OC loss to Grace would mean three teams would have one loss and a coin flip would be held to determine who would play in the 5 p.m. game and which team would advance to a Saturday if-necessary game.
“It’s exciting,” OC coach Lonny Cobble said. “We could possibly end this thing tomorrow if everything falls right. The guys are really excited. I thought we played well. We’re still swinging the bats real well and got a great pitching performance from Brandon Pierce.”
With 35 wins, the Eagles are just one shy of matching the program’s record for wins in a season, set in 1996 and matched in 1996. The win over McMurry means OC has won 35 games for the first time since 1998.
Pierce (10-3) became the first OC pitcher to record a double-digit win total since the university revived the program in 2008.
When OC and McMurry (25-27) met during the regular season, the three games all were close affairs, with the Eagles twice winning 4-2 and the War Hawks taking a 4-3 decision. Cobble said the Eagles wanted to score early in order to put pressure on McMurry’s offense and his team executed that plan successfully.
OC scored in each of its first four at-bats against McMurry starter Caleb Gonzales (1-3) and led 5-0 and it could have been a larger margin had the Eagles not left the bases loaded in both the first and second innings. Robert Rosser’s sacrifice fly in the first scored Caleb Price, who went 4-for-5, and Price had a RBI single in the second to make it 2-0.
In the third, Cory Eastwood hit a sacrifice fly to put the Eagles ahead 3-0 and Jordan Lopez’s two-run double in the fourth made it 5-0 and chased Gonzales.
“When you have a guy like Brandon Pierce on the mound, 5-0 feels like 10-0 and 15-0 lots of times,” Cobble said.
A pair of OC errors led to two McMurry runs in the top of the fifth, but the Eagles came right back with two sixth-inning runs, with Cameron Keener delivering a RBI single that made it 7-2.
McMurry got to a tiring Pierce in the eighth, as A.J. Dupre’s RBI single pulled the War Hawks within 7-3. But with two runners on base and two outs, reliever Eddie Broll came on to strike out Jeffers Rader to end the threat.
Cobble opted to stick with Broll – OC’s usual setup man – in the ninth and Broll allowed a hit but finished off the game to record his first save of the season.
“I just thought we’d go with Eddie,” Cobble said. “We had him loose and we let him finish the eighth then close it out in the ninth. I’m just real proud of the way he’s thrown all year.”
Blake Stringer went 3-for-4 for OC while A.J. Florence also had a pair of hits as part of the Eagles’ 14-hit attack.