ENID — The Northern Oklahoma College Enid Jets are national champions for the first time in the program’s history.
The fifth-seeded Jets (42-17) won their first national title by defeating third-seed Mesa, 5-4, Friday night in the championship game of the NJCAA Division II World Series at David Allen Memorial Ballpark.
Sophomore Dylan Caplinger gave the Jets the game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning. Tied 4-4, Caplinger swung on a 2-0 count and sent the ball behind the left field wall.
“Just trying to hit something hard,” Caplinger said.
Freshman pitcher Brandon Hudson shut the door on the Thunderbirds' (44-23) last-chance rally in the bottom of the ninth to seal the Jets’ victory. After striking out two batters, Mesa put two men on and the tying run on second base.
In front of a record-breaking crowd of more than 4,200, Hudson refused to show his nerves.
“They’re all counting on you and you don’t want to let anyone down,” Hudson said.
Hudson threw his final pitch to Luke Patty, who sent the ball soaring to right field and into Tanner Neely’s glove.
The Jets had finally done it.
After nearly two decades, after three previous attempts and a year after coming up short of the championship round, NOC Enid is a national champion.
NOC Enid head coach Raydon Leaton stood on the field during the postgame ceremony. His hands rested on his knees. His body hunched over. All season he kept the emotions calm. But on that field, amongst his team, his assistant coaches and what seemed like the entire city of Enid, he let his emotions go.
“Been built up,” Leaton said.
Hours before winning their first World Series title, the Jets watched video after video from NOC Enid alumni offering encouragement before heading into a game none of them had been able to reach.
“It was so heartfelt,” Leaton said. “I had to gather myself then, as well. This goes way beyond this team. It’s a huge alumni.”
The Jets and Thunderbirds played as close a game as any in the tournament. Neither team led by more than two runs and each side held a lead before seeing it evaporate. Mesa drew first blood with a two-run, two-hit third inning.
NOC Enid didn't wait long to answer Mesa's two-run inning. In the top of the fourth inning, sophomore E.J. Taylor hit his third home run of the World Series, his 15th of the season, to cut Mesa's lead to one run. Taylor took his first pitch from Mesa starter Carter Robinson and sent the ball over the centerfield wall for the solo homer. It was only Robinson's third home run allowed this year.
Taylor said before the game, he and teammates said nothing mattered after Friday. Forget stats or the ups and downs of the game.
“We just wanted to come out as national champions,” he said.
It’s been a long two years for sophomores like Taylor who were on the third-place team in last year’s World Series.
“I’m honestly emotional talking about it,” Taylor said. “That’s two years of hard, hard work. Coach gave us the formula and we had to put it together. We believed it.”
Freshman third baseman Alec Buonasera hit an RBI single to tie the game, 2-2. Then, Buonasera scored the go-ahead run on an RBI single from sophomore outfielder Brendon Woelfle.
In the bottom of the seventh, Misenheimer took advantage of two rare mistakes from Robinson. The Mesa right-hander first threw a wild pitch to advance Misenheimer to second base. Then, two batters later, Robinson’s second wild pitch allowed Misenheimer to score from third base.
Robinson finished the game allowing four runs off eight hits through seven innings. He struck out eight batters.
Freshman Wyatt Sellars made his first start of the year for the Jets and threw his longest outing with six innings. Leaton said Sellars is “unique” as a closer and has to know when he’s coming into a game.
So, Leaton let him know before the game even started.
“He’s such a competitor,” Leaton said. “If I told him I was going to get a drink of water, he’d try to beat me to the cooler.”
Sellars said his start came down to one thing — who wanted it more.
“I just had to perform for my team,” he said.
Sellars struck out a season-high six batters and allowed four runs off four hits. After the third inning, he threw three straight 1-2-3 innings before pinch-hitter Demetrio Botello hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game, 4-4.
Hudson said on the bus ride over to David Allen, he and Sellars talked about sending their sophomore teammates out as champions. Hudson said Sellars turned to him and said, “Hey, this is it. So, let’s do it.”
Hudson escaped two jams Friday night. Before his ninth-inning save, Hudson faced a one-out bases-loaded situation. He struck out two Mesa batters, the last being pinch hitter Caleb Lumbard. With Hudson’s final strikeout of the inning, the Jets dugout and the rest of David Allen roared.
“The city of Enid is awesome,” Leaton said. “Coming out and supporting us all night, the way they have all week, the way they have all season.”
Leaton said even after tough losses, he’d get encouraging texts from Enid locals.
“It’s just been unbelievable,” he said. “We just have some good baseball people in Enid.”
Both Leaton and Mesa head coach Tony Cirelli had high praise for the way the championship played out.
“That’s a great baseball game,” Cirelli said. “I’m just glad to be a part of that game. I’d rather won, but it was a great game.”
“Neither team deserved to lose that game,” Leaton said. “Both teams deserved to win.”
But it was NOC Enid that came out of the game a champion.
“We made history,” Taylor said. "That was the goal. Our sophomores came in after we lost last year and said, ‘Let’s be the first ones to bring one to Enid.’”
A goal, a dream, a championship realized.