ENID, Okla. — During the final inning of the NJCAA Division II World Series, the real Brandon Hudson returned to the mound.
With Northern Oklahoma College Enid leading Mesa Community College, Ariz., 5-4, in the national championship game, the freshman pitcher came back out in the ninth inning. He had just escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the eighth to keep the game tied and looked to keep the Jets’ lead for three more outs.
Commemorative 11-inch by 17-inch posters of the front page of the June 1, 2019, Enid News & Eagle sports section covering the final of the NJCAA Division II World Series are available to purchase at the ENE office, 227 W. Broadway.
“All I could think about is, ‘Do it for the boys, do it for the sophomores that are leaving,’” Hudson said. “This is the last game for them and put it all out on the line for them.”
During the biggest game of its season, and during the biggest tournament of the year, NOC Enid relied on its freshmen pitchers, like Hudson, to give the Jets quality starts, quality innings and, most importantly, a win.
Before Hudson appeared, the Jets’ relied on freshman Wyatt Sellers to start in the championship game.
“Freshmen have to grind out the year,” said NOC Enid head coach Raydon Leaton. “Some of them aren’t ready in February. This is their first experience with college baseball and it's a learning process. You hope through February, March and April they can continue to grind, continue to listen and continue to be coachable and continue to be better so when you get in this part of the season, you can count on them and they can go do great things for you.”
The “real Brandon Hudson” was alive and well during the World Series tournament. Yet, he may as well have been reported as missing at the start of the season.
Hudson said he had a strong fall season for NOC Enid. But heading into the spring season, his performance changed.
“I didn’t have it in me in the beginning of the year,” he said.
His first two outings were short and sweet, a few innings of work to help preserve a lead. But two of Hudson’s next three appearances saw him struggle. He gave up two runs in an inning before allowing three runs off three hits before he could retire a batter.
Against Parkland in March, Hudson appeared for less than four innings and gave up six runs off six hits.
He was struggling. But his teammates’ faith in him never wavered.
“They always had faith in me,” Hudson said.
They wanted the “real Brandon Hudson.”
“I think I showed it off here in the World Series,” he said.
Before coming out of the bullpen in the championship final against Mesa, Hudson came out as the starter against top-seeded Pearl River Community College, Miss. Through 8 2/3 innings, Hudson dominated. He struck out a season-best 10 batters in NOC Enid’s 4-2 win.
He returned on a few days of rest to throw three scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and earning four strikeouts.
After striking out two batters to start the bottom of the ninth inning, Hudson allowed two more men on base. But he retired the final batter with a fly out to right to win the game.
“That guy, all year long, especially in the postseason, was lights out,” Leaton said. “He threw on guts.”
‘The young ones’
The Jets kept Hudson in the game because they trusted him to get out of the jam and keep Mesa off the board. All year, NOC Enid knew it would need to rely on Hudson and other young arms to give them a chance to win the program’s first World Series title.
Earlier in the season, sophomore Kaleb McCullough was speaking about how, as one of the leaders on the team, he was trying to get back to setting a good example for his freshmen teammates. The first example he gave was about Hudson.
McCullough said he found Hudson one night in the dorms after struggling in a previous outing and consoled the young pitcher.
“We’re going to need him,” McCullough said back in March. “So, I told him, ‘Stay with it … You’re going to get into situations like that again and you’re going to learn from those mistakes.”
McCullough spoke from experience. As a freshman last season, the right-hander made seven appearances in the last 18 games of the year, including three appearances in the final six games, two of which were World Series games.
Like McCullough, Braxton Douthit was relied on as a freshman and went on to become the leading starter for NOC Enid.
“Our pitchers, the young ones, I think they stepped up a lot,” Douthit said last month. “It’s tremendous to see.”
Sellers’ first start of the year came in the championship game against Mesa. The Jets expected two or three innings out of him. He gave them six, allowing four runs off four hits and six strikeouts.
Freshman Stevie Owings was among a handful of other freshmen who turned in solid outings when the Jets called their number. Owings allowed two runs through six innings against Western Oklahoma in a Region II elimination game. Owings made two more appearances in three World Series games, allowing three earned runs through nine innings.
The NOC Enid freshman stepped up not just for the team, but for their sophomore teammates.
“This is the last game that we get to play with these sophomores,” Hudson said. “All the freshman knew it.”