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Oran seeks elusive title

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Eagles seek their first title in their eighth final four appearance.

The Oran baseball team has tradition and plenty of momentum on its side as it sets its sites on yet another state semifinal game.

Now all that's left for the Eagles to do is claim an elusive state title.

Oran will play Sedalia, Mo., Sacred Heart at 11 a.m. today in a Class 1 semifinal at Taylor Stadium in Columbia, Mo.

Silex (12-4) will face Stoutland (15-8) in the other semifinal.

This is Oran's eighth appearance in the state final four and sixth under Wood. Oran has yet to win a state title, with three seconds and four third-place finishes.

"I spoke at a clinic this past year and one of the things someone asked was 'Don't you get tired of coming up here and getting second place,' and I responded, 'I'd get tired of not going, that's what I'd get tired of,'" Wood said. "I just want a chance to win it every year."

The Eagles (25-4) have now made the state final four in each of their last six state playoff appearances, including four of the last five years. Oran's last two trips both resulted in runner-up finishes.

"Anything short of a state title would disappoint them," Wood said. "That's a good thing."

In their championship loss in 2004, the game ended on a wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh. In 2003, the Eagles outhit Sparta 11-3 in the championship game yet fell 5-2.

Those experiences have shown Wood and his team that anything can happen in the final four. A bounce here or a pitch there can be the difference in winning a title and going home in third place.

"You have to get a lot of breaks when you get up there," Wood said.

Experience can help players take advantage of those breaks, and Oran boasts the most state-experienced team remaining in Class 1. Four current Eagles were in the lineup for the championship game in 2004.

"It's a big factor, having been up there, knowing the stadium," senior Paul Bucher said.

While the Eagles have a decided edge on semifinal opponent Sacred Heart in the experience factor -- Sacred Heart's only state final four appearance was in 2002 -- Oran will have four starters making their final four debut. Among those are three of Oran's top five hitters.

"There's nothing you can tell them that's better than just to be there, to experience it," junior Chase Seyer said. "The state playoffs, there's nothing like it."

Sacred Heart (20-2) is led by junior Jaric Reid. Entering the sectional playoff round, Reid was hitting .753 with 14 doubles, 12 home runs, 51 RBIs, 43 runs scored and 25 steals. Reid also had only struck out twice all season while taking 19 walks.

Reid had hit safely in the team's first 21 games before his streak was snapped in the quarterfinals.

"They're a pretty salty ball club," Wood said. "Their No. 3 hitter [Reid] is legit."

Reid also pitches for the Gremlins, sporting a 7-2 record and 2.39 ERA in 41 innings. Fellow junior Austin Mullins is 7-0 with a 2.79 ERA in 47 2/3 innings.

The two teams met at the state tournament in 2002, as Oran defeated Sacred Heart 7-3 in the third-place game.

The Eagles enter the semifinals riding a 13-game winning streak. Oran outscored its opponents 31-7 over its last three games. Included in its late-season run was a win over Class 3 quarterfinalist Kennett.

"You always want to build up every game and get better, and at the state playoffs be playing your best ball," Seyer said.

Throughout the season, Oran's offense has pounded opponents, averaging more than 10 runs a game. Sophomore Kody Campbell leads the team with a .495 average. Austin Dumey and Caleb Seyer are each hitting better than .400, and Dumey leads the way with 44 RBIs. Caleb Seyer has scored more than 50 runs out of the leadoff spot. Chase Seyer leads the team with six home runs, and Caleb Seyer had five.

Oran's pitching has been as impressive, with a team earned run average of 2.26. Chase Seyer and Dumey each sport a 6-1 pitching record and will likely be the starters in Columbia. Chase Seyer blanked Saxony Lutheran in the quarterfinals to lower his ERA to 1.95. He started the state championship game in 2004 as a freshman.

The Eagles also can turn to Bucher in relief, who has posted an ERA of 0.94 in 22 1/3 innings of work. Sophomore Alex Chasteen also has five wins on the mound and an ERA of 2.39 in 26 1/3 innings.

Wood said his team's pitching depth can compare to anyone in Class 1.

"In 1A, there's no doubt," Wood said. "If we could play like the big leagues and have a seven-game series we'd be as good as anyone in the state, bar none.

"That's the thing about state. It's one game winner-take-all. You can't have a bad day up there."

Defensively, the Eagles have been sparked by a position change made about midway through the season. Senior catcher Joey Williams was moved to first base, and outfielder Caleb Seyer was put behind the plate.

The move helped cut down on teams running on the Eagles, and improved Oran's defense.

"He's really done a good job for us," Wood said of Williams at first, "which has enabled us to put Chase [Seyer] in the outfield when he's not pitching."

Caleb Seyer missed out on the preseason work Oran catchers received, but he has looked steady behind the plate during Oran's playoff run.

"He's a pretty athletic kid, a pretty sharp kid," Wood said.

Oran is hoping all three facets of its game come together to help the school capture its first state title. The Eagles will lose five seniors from this year's roster, including three starters.

"I want to bring one home before I'm done," Williams said.

Notes

* Oran has the second-most appearances in the state final four without a state title. Sikeston has the most with nine.

* None of the Class 1 final four teams have won a state title. Stoutland and Silex are each making their first appearance.


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