By Murray Evans
MASON, Ohio (May 16, 2013) – Chris Burgess and Brock Werdel successfully swapped pitching roles on Thursday at Legacy Field and as a result Oklahoma Christian remains in the running for a berth in the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series semifinals.
Burgess, a closer making his first start since his junior-college days, struck out seven in 4 1/3 innings and Werdel came on to shut down a rally by Cedarville (Ohio), lifting the Eagles to a 5-2 win in pool play.
That win followed an 11-4 loss to top-seeded California Baptist that threatened to knock OC (26-25) out of contention for the semifinals. But Cal Baptist later beat Mount Vernon Nazarene (Ohio) 3-1, a result that kept OC’s hope alive.
The top two teams in each of two five-team pools qualify for the semifinals. For OC to finish second in its pool, the Eagles first need Cedarville to beat Mount Vernon Nazarene on Friday morning, then OC needs to beat fifth-seeded Southeastern (Fla.) (37-28) on Friday afternoon. If both those things happen, OC would play second-seeded Campbellsville (Ky.) on Friday night.
“Burgess started and gave us what he had and pitched great,” OC coach Lonny Cobble said. “Now we’re in a position, if we get some help, we can still get into the semifinals. That’s all we can ask for after starting 0-2.”
Two wins on Thursday would have put the Eagles in prime position, but Cal Baptist quickly ended any thoughts of an OC upset bid. The Lancers touched OC starter Cale Coshow (3-5) for four first-inning runs on four singles and finished the game with 14 hits. Zach Esquerra went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to lead the Lancers.
Cal Baptist (40-18) eventually led 11-1 before OC rallied with three runs in the seventh inning, two on a triple to left-center field by Heath Steele. Michael Davis (4-2) went the distance on the mound for the Lancers, recording eight strikeouts.
“It was disappointing, because we needed to play with that sense of urgency we had there at the end for the whole game,” Cobble said. “We don’t do that until the late innings, it seems like and that’s frustrating. … We need to play from inning one to get something done.”
The loss put OC at 0-2 in pool play and Cobble gambled by starting Burgess, who has excelled in his closer’s role all season. Burgess had been a starter at Black Hawk (Ill.) as a freshman and sophomore and Cobble reasoned that as a coach, he didn’t want his star pitcher not to have thrown in a national-tournament game that meant something.
In the top of the second inning, the OC-Cedarville game was delayed an hour and nine minutes by rain. Burgess bounced back from the delay, but Cedarville starter Ryan Ledbetter didn’t return, forcing coach Mike Manes to run through four relievers and juggle his lineup to finish the game. In one inning, the Yellow Jackets made eight defensive changes.
The Eagles jumped on Cedarville reliever Sean Larkin (6-2) in the third inning. Cory Eastwood hit a one-out double to right-center field and Dillon Andrews – who went 5-of-7 on the day, including hits in five straight at-bats – followed with a ground-rule double that bounced over the right-field fence, scoring Eastwood. Andrews scored on a single up the middle by Garrett Guys.
Caden Cleveland led off the fourth with a single up the middle off reliever Jordan Adams and courtesy runner Sean Murphy later scored, making it 3-0. In the top of the fifth, Andrews walked and scored to make it 4-0.
“We hit a lot better,” Cobble said. “We got some runs early and that helped.”
Burgess (7-0) sailed through the first three innings. Cedarville loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning, but Burgess fanned Steve Cardwell and coaxed a fielder’s choice ground ball from Zach Huskey to end the inning.
Burgess again ran into trouble in the fifth, allowing Cedarville (28-19) to again load the bases with one out.
After David Lenhardt’s single pulled Cedarville within 4-1, Werdel – who’s normally a starter – replaced Burgess. Werdel gave up a run-scoring single to David Ledbetter, but then struck out Chris Fox and Tyler Hurt – both looking – to end what proved to be the Yellow Jackets’ last major threat.
Cleveland’s third hit of the game, a single to centerfield, led to an insurance run for OC, as courtesy runner Chandler Allen scored on Caleb Price’s single to center.
The win gave the Eagles their most wins in a season since the university revived the baseball program in 2008. OC also is guaranteed of a non-losing campaign for only the second time during those six seasons.