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Western Oklahoma’s Tito Jones hits an RBI single against UA Rich-Mountain Thursday, May 20, 2021 at David Allen Memorial Ballpark. The Pioneers defeated the Bucks to advance to the NJCAA DII World Series. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

It’s been 729 days since NOC Enid won the last NJCAA Division II World Series, and on Saturday, 10 teams from across the country will come to Enid to try to accomplish that same feat.

The tournament will begin at 10 a.m. at David Allen Memorial Ballpark, when Patrick Henry (Va.) takes on Lackawanna (Pa.). The Jets won’t be competing this season after falling to the eventual Plains District Champion Western Oklahoma State in the semifinals of the Region 2 Tournament.

Western came into the district tournament ranked No. 6 in the country, with a 41-12 record. Western head coach Kurt Russel said his team feels confident after reeling off five straight wins to keep their season alive.

“I think the kids are feeling good, they’re feeling like they may be peaking at the right time,” Russel said.

After falling to UA Rich-Mountain 7-0 in its second game of the district tournament, Western won three games by a combined 29 runs before taking two rematches with the Bucks 9-2 and 6-1.

Specifically, Russel said his team has been feeling more confident at the plate.

“They’ve pitched well all year, but it’s been kind of spotty on their hitting,” Russel said. “It’s not that they haven’t hit well, it’s just not getting a big hit when you need it with the bases loaded. It kind of put pressure on us in spots, and I think they’ve finally settled in.”

Russel is no stranger to the World Series. His Pioneers won the whole thing in 2011 and finished runner-up in 2012 and 2015. Western will be making its eighth appearance to the World Series since it first began in 1993.

He said having been in these games gave him some insight he can offer to his team.

“Just helping the players go out there and stay to their game plan,” Russel said. “Not going too quick, and just letting the game kind of come to them, don’t look at pressure spots, look at opportunities.”

Western will represent the region as they try to become the second straight Oklahoma school to win it all. They’ll be facing teams from Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia and Arizona.

Their first game will come against No. 18 Kirkwood Community College (Iowa) at 1 p.m. The Eagles took the East District Championship over Miles Community College (Mont.), 9-1.

“I know (Eagles coach Todd Rima) does a great job over there, and he’ll have his bunch ready to play,” Russel said. “We’ve played those Iowa guys up here several times, and it’s always a good game for everybody.”

If they win, they’ll be off Sunday, then play on Monday at 7:15 p.m.

If they lose to the Eagles, they’ll turn around and play against the loser of Patrick Henry (Va.) and Lackawanna (Pa.) at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

The Pioneers certainly seemed to have the right pieces in place to be a tough matchup for any team they meet. Shortstop Johnny Felix is a nightmare for opposing hitters, and is batting .365 with 52 RBI and 12 home runs.

Pitcher Juan Pimentel was named the NJCAA DII Region Player of the Year, and allowed just four hits with nine strikeouts in their championship win over the Bucks. Adonys Herrera leads the team with a .394 batting average to go along with 36 RBI.

“I think they’re a good bunch,” Russel said of his team. “We’ll see what they do up here. There’s always good teams up here, we’ll just have to see what happens.”

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Masri is sports editor for the Enid News & Eagle.

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Tarik? Send an email to tmasri@enidnews.com.

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