OKLAHOMA CITY (March 7, 2014) – To move up the Heartland Conference ladder, Oklahoma Christian will need to beat the teams ahead of OC in the regional rankings. The Eagles did just that on Friday at Pirate Field.
Brandon Pierce threw a three-hit shutout and Blake Stringer homered in a 2-0 win over Arkansas-Fort Smith in the opening game of a doubleheader, and OC followed with a 10-6 win over the Lions in the second game, with Stringer contributing two more RBIs.
OC (9-5, 6-2 Heartland) clinched a league-series win for the second straight week and can go for the season sweep of UAFS (8-8, 4-4) on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles have won five straight games, including a sweep last weekend at league rival Texas A&M International.
OC entered the week just two spots out of the NCAA Division II South Central Region top 10 rankings, while UAFS was No. 10.
“A goal of ours is to win the series and take two out of three,” Cobble said. “Now that we’ve taken the first two, we’re just hoping weather cooperates and we get a chance to maybe play that third (game).”
The doubleheader was played at Putnam City High School, which has an artificial turf field that offered better playing conditions than an OC field that has endured several rounds of winter storms, including snow and ice earlier this week.
Pierce (3-1) was more masterful than his numbers might show, as two of the singles the Lions hit were of the infield variety. He struck out six and allowed only one baserunner as far as third base while recording his second complete game in as many outings.
“I was really proud of Brandon,” Cobble said. “I mean, the guy came out and threw well. That’s what we expect of him … a guy coming from Nebraska and helping us this year. The guy did a great job and we’re really pleased with the performance we got. He kept those guys off balance. He was throwing three pitches for strikes and just had command of the strike zone.”
OC scratched out a run in the second, as Robert Rosser reached on a bloop double to left field and scored on a two-out single by Cory Eastwood in the second inning. Stringer added a no-doubt solo home run in the sixth to put OC up 2-0.
The Lions’ only serious threat came in the sixth, when speedy C.J. Nelson reached on an error and ended up at third base with two outs, but Pierce struck out Ryan Justus to end the inning.
UAFS starter Wayde Roth (1-2) also pitched a complete game, striking out five.
Where Pierce left off for OC, left-hander Kelby Reneau (3-0) picked up in the second game, blanking the Lions for five innings as OC built an 8-0 lead. The Lions finally scored once off Reneau in the sixth, only to have OC answer with a two-run single by Chase Kuwitzky to go ahead 10-1 in the bottom of the inning.
Reneau tired in the seventh and the Lions took advantage, scoring five runs, but reliever Eddie Broll came on and threw 2 1/3 innings of shutout relief to keep UAFS at bay.
“Kelby pitched a great game,” Cobble said. “He had great command of the changeup and his off-speed stuff and kept those guys off balance all day today.”
A.J. Florence led off the OC first inning with a home run and the Eagles batted around in the third, with Stringer’s bloop single off UAFS starter Darrin Pittman (1-2) driving in one of OC’s three runs in the inning. OC took advantage of two errors and two wild pitches during a four-run fourth inning.
Florence, Markus Carr and Cameron Keener each had a pair of hits for OC.
“I was a little disappointed with the offense,” Cobble said. “We wanted to put some guys in, to get them some at-bats and had that 10-1 lead and kind of let them chip away and get back into it. We just kind of lost focus there for a little bit. But you live and you learn. That’s things guys really need to work on.”