By Murray Evans
MASON, Ohio (May 15, 2013) – The old axiom about baseball being a game of inches played out for Oklahoma Christian on Wednesday in the Eagles’ opening game of the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series.
OC narrowly missed what would have been a game-tying three-run home run in the second inning and struggled offensively until the late innings against Mount Vernon Nazarene (Ohio), dropping a 7-3 decision on a sunny, breezy day at Prasco Park.
Ninth-seeded OC (25-24) fell to 0-1 in pool play. It’s likely that the Eagles will need three wins to advance to the tournament semifinals, meaning they’ll probably have to sweep a doubleheader Thursday against top-seeded California Baptist and eighth-seeded Cedarville (Ohio) and win again Friday against fifth-seeded Southeastern (Fla.).
OC is playing in its first national tournament in 41 years and head coach Lonny Cobble said his assistants thought nerves might have played a factor Wednesday. Cobble wasn’t sure about that, but he did pinpoint a couple of areas in which the game got away.
“I didn’t think we swung it real well,” Cobble said. “We hit some balls hard but we didn’t get any breaks, really, to fall. Those guys did hit the ball where we weren’t early. (Starting pitcher Tyler) Sturges did have a rough outing. We’ve got to have him have a better outing than what he had.”
Against Mount Vernon Nazarene (33-17), OC fell behind quickly as Sturges (5-5) allowed six runs (five earned) and six hits in 2 2/3 innings. Cory Brown had a two-run single during a three-run second inning for MVNU and Seth Eller led off with a triple in the third inning as the Cougars scored three more runs.
But the key play for the Eagles came in between those MVNU at-bats. Down 3-0 in the second, Caleb Price singled with one out and Caden Cleveland followed with another single. After Garrett Stephenson hit into a fielder’s choice, forcing out Cleveland at second, Sean Murphy sent a drive into a section of left field where the fence jutted out.
Had Murphy’s drive been a few feet to the left, the game would have been tied. Instead, MVNU left fielder Jake Dickerson ran down the drive and caught it for the third out and the Cougars went on to extend their lead.
In the top of the third inning, Ryan Nash relieved Sturges and threw 3 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball, but the Eagles struggled to rally against MVNU freshman Lucas Daugherty (3-1), who allowed six hits and went the distance for the second time this season.
“Nash pitched great,” Cobble said. “We had to have him come in and hold them right there and he held serve and did a great job.”
OC pulled within 6-1 on Cleveland's RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, but MVNU got that run back in the top of the seventh. MVNU fell apart defensively in the bottom of the seventh, committing four errors, but the only runs OC managed in the inning came on a two-run home run to left field by Jordan Lopez, who earlier in the day was named the NCCAA baseball student-athlete of the week.
Cleveland and Price each had two hits for the Eagles, who left eight runners on base.
“We’ve got to do a better job scoring,” Cobble said. “Three runs and they all came late. It would be nice to put some pressure on those guys a little bit earlier.
“I thought we played pretty good defense. We’ve just got to put it all together, like we did in the regional. We lost that first game and came back to win. Hopefully we’ll battle back and win two or three right here.”