SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Feb. 5, 2013) – This is a different Oklahoma Christian baseball team, as the Eagles proved Tuesday, even in defeat.
OC went toe-to-toe with Heartland Conference rival St. Mary’s (Texas) – the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II, according to Division II Baseball News – and held its own. St. Mary’s escaped with a 3-2 win in 11 innings at Wolff Stadium, but the Rattlers knew they’d been in a ballgame.
Weston Heiligman’s infield single in the bottom of the 11th off OC reliever Brock Werdel scored pinch-runner Matt Bienek with the decisive run for St. Mary’s (4-0), which reached the third round of the Division II College World Series last season and won its first three games this season by a combined score of 18-1.
“We were curious where we were at as a team,” OC coach Lonny Cobble said. “We played the No. 1 team in the country to an extra-inning game and we got beat by one. St. Mary’s is a really good team. What I like is that we have a lot of heads hanging, a lot of disappointed guys. They thought they were going to win the game. That’s the kind of attitude we hope to instill in these guys.”
OC (1-1) managed only six hits but played opportunistic baseball in almost pulling off what would have been one of the biggest wins in the program’s history. OC didn’t commit an error and rallied after it seemed the Rattlers had seized control of the game.
The Eagles also received clutch pitching performances from Division I transfers Tyler Sturges and Chris Burgess. Sturges started and went 5 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and two runs while striking out six. Burgess came on in the seventh and threw 2 2/3 innings, striking out five and allowing just one hit. In between, Daniel Sawyer pitched 2/3 of an inning without allowing a hit.
But the Eagles also struck out 11 times and left seven runners on base. In the seventh inning, OC had runners on first and third with one out but hit into a double play.
“We had our chances to win and just didn’t do it,” Cobble said. “We struck out too many times and left too many people on base. But we’re proud of the kids, the way they played.”
The teams battled through five scoreless innings, as Sturges and Derek Moczygemba were locked in a pitchers’ duel. St. Mary’s broke through in the bottom of the sixth with two outs. Adrian Garcia singled to centerfield and Billy Richard followed with a drive to left-centerfield to score Garcia. Brandon Bates hit Sturges’ next pitch into left field, scoring Richard to make it 2-0. Sawyer came in and ended the threat.
The Eagles quickly answered. Jerry Owen walked to lead off the top of the seventh and Evan Draper pinch-ran for him. Cody Rosecrans singled to left field, putting runners on first and second. Sean Murphy followed with a sacrifice bunt that Moczygemba threw away, allowing Draper to score and putting Rosecrans on third and Murphy on second.
Caleb Price followed with a bunt single that scored Rosecrans to tie the game. Rick Villa relieved Moczygemba and coaxed a double-play grounder out of Cory Eastwood.
Burgess came on with two on and one out in the bottom of the seventh and shut down the Rattlers through the ninth inning before giving way to Werdel (0-1). The Eagles weren’t able to generate much offense in the late innings, though. Only Dillon Andrews (who went 3-for-5) had more than one hit for OC.
In the bottom of the 11th, Al Gonzalez reached on a one-out Texas League single, then Ivan Sigala doubled down the left-field line, sending Gonzalez to third. Bienek came on to pinch run before Werdel intentionally walked Jan Paul Reguero to load the bases. Heiligman sent a shot that Werdel grabbed, but the pitcher wasn’t able to throw home for an attempted forceout.
“As soon as Brock reached out and grabbed it, he realized he probably should have let that go,” Cobble said. “But we’re living and learning. We played good. Hopefully we’ll grow from it.”
Jonathan Perez (1-0), who led Division II with 18 saves last season, picked up the win for the Rattlers with one inning of hitless relief.
Cobble said St. Mary’s coach Charlie Migl praised the Eagles after the game.
“Charlie was, ‘Dude, I had no idea what you all brought to town.’ He said, ‘I’m glad we’re not seeing you all three times this season.’ I think we earned some respect early. Hopefully we build on it.”
OC will face another powerful Heartland Conference foe, No. 25-ranked St. Edward’s (Texas), on Wednesday in Austin, Texas.