ENID, Okla. — For the first time in program history, Northern Oklahoma College Enid is in the national championship game of the NJCAA Division II World Series.
“We’re just ecstatic to live to see another day and have a chance to win a national championship, which is something we’ve talked about for a long time,” said NOC Enid head coach Raydon Leaton.
The fifth-seeded Jets (41-18) cruised to a 15-6 run-rule victory in seven innings against eighth-seeded Pasco-Hernando State College, Fla., Thursday night at David Allen Memorial Ballpark. The Jets will face 2014 World Series champion Mesa, Ariz., which defeated Madison 7-4 earlier Thursday to advance to Friday's 7 p.m. championship game.
“It’s win or go home,” sophomore Dylan Caplinger said. “And we came to win.”
NOC Enid eliminated a relentless Pasco-Hernando (35-25) club that went on a three-game win-streak to advance to the semifinal round and forced Game 2 against the Jets after defeating NOC Enid 12-11 on Wednesday.
“That’s a good ball club over there,” Leaton said of Pasco-Hernando. “We knew they could hit and sure enough they did. But credit my guys for responding right after that.”
Three teams are back from last year and another makes its tournament debut in the 2019 NJCAA Division II World Series. Here's a closer look at each of the 10 participating teams:
The Jets built a 10-0 lead through 4 1/2 innings and were on the cusp of earning a five-inning run-rule. All sophomore starter Kaleb McCullough needed was three outs to seal the game.
But the Bobcats refused to go quietly. In the bottom of the fifth, the Bobcats loaded the bases on McCullough with two walks and a hit batter.
“He was throwing really well,” Leaton said. “He threw a breaking ball 0-2, if he puts that guy away, he probably finishes the game.”
McCullough ended his night allowing three runs on two hits through four innings. He threw a no-hitter through three innings.
Sophomore Lawson Isaacs came on in relief and allowed an RBI single by Jermaine White to center to score the first Bobcat run, staving off the run-rule.
The Bobcats tacked on two more runs in the same inning on an error by Clay Lockett, who mishandled a ground ball from Braden Lyman and made an off-target throw to first after missing the opportunity for a force out at second.
The Bobcats loaded the bases again without NOC Enid recording an out. After Isaacs struck out two batters, Nicholas Alessi hit a three-run single to left field to cut the lead to four runs and make it a 10-6 game.
After the fifth inning, Issacs threw two scoreless innings, which he capped off with a third-out strikeout to end the game.
“He’s been throwing on a tired arm and he threw on guts again,” Leaton said. “In any situation … I trust that guy to go out and get outs.”
The Jets answered the Bobcats' six-run inning with a five-run effort in the bottom of the sixth inning. Lockett led off with a triple, followed by an RBI single from Seth Graves, a two-run home run from D.J. Calvert followed by E.J. Taylor's second home run of the night, a solo shot to left field.
“These guys have been resilient,” Leaton said of his ball club. “It’s a mature team ... Every day is a new day and every at-bat’s a new at-bat.”
The Jets took advantage of every at-bat they had from the start of the game.
The Jets took a 5-0 lead through two innings thanks to RBI hits from Caplinger, Calvert and Tanner Neely. Caplinger hit a two-run single to right-centerfield in the top of the first inning to give NOC Enid a two-run lead.
The following inning, Calvert laced a one-out RBI single to left field that put runners on the corners. Two batters later, Neely drove in two more runs with a hit to shallow right field.
Pasco-Hernando pulled starter Ryan Ayrey after 1 1/3 innings. He allowed three runs off four hits and walked four batters. He was relieved by Wednesday's game-winner, Sam Prince, who kept NOC Enid batters off-balance with his side-arm throws. But Prince lasted just one inning, allowing three runs off three hits.
In the top of the third, Pasco-Hernando attempted to turn a double play on a ground ball off the bat of Lockett, who started at second base, but the Bobcats committed an error on the throw to first. The mistake allowed NOC Enid's sixth run to score.
Taylor and Neely, hitless in Game 1, came alive in Game 2 with back-to-back solo home runs to expand NOC Enid's lead to eight runs.
Taylor hit a shot to left field before Neely sent one deep to right field. Then, with the bases loaded in the top of the fifth inning, freshman third baseman Alec Buonasera, who was 0 for 7 heading into his fourth at-bat in Game 2, hit a two-run single to left field to make it 10-0.
“Coach just told us not to press,” Taylor said. “I think our preparation finally came to fruition.”
While NOC Enid moves on to face Mesa in the 7 p.m. championship game, Pasco-Hernando heads home with a program-best third-place finish.
“I’m really proud of the way they fought,” said Pasco-Hernando head coach Lyndon Coleman. “We struggled to do that in the beginning of the season. Then, all of a sudden it clicked and they came together as one group and that’s what I’m most proud of.
“We were a bunch of individuals to start the year and we finished the year as one team.”
KCRC (1390 AM) will broadcast Friday's World Series title game.