“What we did previously doesn’t matter. Everybody is 0-0.’’
NOC Enid coach Raydon Leaton admits his comments about the upcoming Region 2 junior college baseball championships are an old cliche.
But for this year’s championships, there’s also a lot of truth to it.
The Jets (35-21), who will face defending national champion Western Oklahoma College (37-14) in a 3:30 p.m. game today at Doegnes Stadium in Bartlesville, have reason to be optimistic, even as the No. 5 seed in a six-team field.
NOC Enid split with three teams in conference play — Western, Carl Albert and NOC Tonkawa. They won three out of four games against Redlands. They were swept by top-seed Murray State.
Western, the No. 2 seed, was 12-8 in conference play. Redlands and Carl Albert were 11-9. NOC Enid was 9-11. Murray State was 15-5. NOC Tonkawa 2-18.
“I think this is about as wide open as the tournament has been in the last four or five years,’’ Leaton said. “Everybody beat up on everybody else. Everybody is excited about the tournament.’’
And records don’t mean a thing.
Last year, 3-17 Carl Albert reached the tournament finals. NOC Enid, 15-5, ended up fourth.
“Everyone is saying how good this tournament is going to be and how it was going to be anybody’s game,’’ Leaton said. “We just have to take care of ourselves, just like we have all year.’’
NOC Enid matches up well with Western.
Garrett Kelly shut out the Pioneers, 1-0 at David Allen Memorial Ballpark on April 19. Zac Postoak had a shutout until the sixth on April 22 when Western scored two unearned runs to pull out a 2-1 victory.
NOC Enid’s Shawn Hunter followed that by beating the Pioneers, 5-2 in the second game.
“We have to beat them somewhere in the tournament, whether it’s the first game or the last game,’’ Leaton said. “Like anybody else, we’re going to have to go in and play hard.I think any game in this tournament, you’re going to have to play well to beat your opponent.’’
Leaton is undecided between Kelly (6-3, 3.71 ERA), Postoak (3-5, 2.45 ERA) and Hunter (7-2, 2.57 ERA) as his Game 1 starter.
Whoever starts will face a Western lineup that is hitting .343 as a team.
Sherman Lacrus leads the Pioneers attack with a .409 average and eight homers and 25 RBI. He is followed by Esteban Paula (.390, one homer 23 RBI), Elvis Rodriguez (.388, 8 homers, 40 RBI), Michael Cruz (.364, 7 homers, 41 RBI), Cesar Figuero (.331, 5 homers, 25 RBI) and Hazael Wessin (4 homers, 17 RBI, .298).
Ace Earlin Santos threw a six-hitter in an 8-2 win over the Jets at David Allen in the first game of the doubleheader April 19. He struck out three and walked two.
Other first-round games pit Carl Albert (37-19) and Redlands (36-16) at noon and Murray State (38-14) against NOC Tonkawa (11-29) at 7 p.m.
The NOC Enid-Western winner will play the Carl Albert-Redlands winner at 3:30 p.m. Friday. The Enid-Western loser faces the Carl Albert-Redlands loser in an elimination game at noon Friday. The championship is set for Sunday (the complete bracket is on Page B2).
The winner will have to win at least four games.
That could be good news for the Jets. Leaton said his team has the deepest pitching staff in the tournament with Jonathan Johnson (4-5, 6.04 ERA), Justin Sheets (6-2, 5.52 ERA), Travis Lance (2-1, 4.29 ERA), Matt Decker (1-0, 4.87 ERA) and Tyler Dean (4-2, 5.29) being proven commodities.
“We hope we don’t have to get real deep into it,’’ Leaton said. “The shortest route to the championship is winning four games in four days. Winning every game is important. If you lose the first game, you just have to crawl back.’’
The Jets will take a .293 batting average into the tournament. J.R. Head leads the attack with a .362 average with five homers and 28 RBI.
He is followed by Brandon Ruiz (2 homers, 29 RBI, .350), Logan Bradley (4 homers, 26 RBI, .299) Christian Faulkner (8 homers, 45 RBI, .291), Blake Callaway (three homers, 26 RBI, .288), Tanner Cruts (2 homers, 26 RBI, .287) and Dusty Harper (4 homers, 37 RBI, .277).
The Jets’ chances could depend upon which team shows up — the one that was ranked No. 5 nationally after going 25-10 before spring break, or the team which was 10-11 afterwards.
“We had a pretty good pre-conference season and we didn’t do as well as we hoped for in our conference season,’’ Leaton said. “This is a whole new season.’’
The Region 2 winner will face the Kansas champion (Dodge City, Hesston or Brown Mackie) and Longview (Missouri) in the district championship next week at the home of the Kansas champion.
“What we did previously doesn’t matter. Everybody is 0-0.’’
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