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Oran baseball team out for elusive first state crown
The Oran baseball team has had high hopes for its first Class 1 state championship over the past 21 years.
The Eagles have been knocking on the door since 1980, when their first final four appearance netted a third-place finish. Oran duplicated the feat the following year.
The third time was not the proverbial charm, but the Eagles did finish runner-up in 1998. Oran ended the 1990s with another third-place finish and have come up short on five attempts since 2002 with two seconds and three thirds -- the most recent in 2008.
"We're definitely still chasing it," said Oran coach Mitch Wood, whose program also has the distinction of never finishing fourth.
The Eagles (23-2) will make their 10th final four appearance at 4 p.m. today when they meet Liberal (19-4), a first-time visitor to the final four, in the Class 1 semifinals at Meador Park in Springfield, Mo.
The winner will play for the championship at 4 p.m. Thursday against the winner of the semifinal between St. Elizabeth (14-5) and La Plata (19-2).
"I think other people are making a bigger deal about it than we do," Wood said about not winning a title. "Our goal is to basically get to the state tournament, and then when you get there you've got to play well and you've got to have some luck.
"We've been there. We've lost one-run ballgames and championships. Hopefully this will be the year we can do it."
Oran and Liberal are coming off emotional quarterfinal wins. The Eagles rallied with five runs in the seventh inning to defeat Naylor 14-13 on Friday, while the Bulldogs tagged just the second loss on top-ranked Dora in a 7-5 victory a day earlier.
"We just have to come out and play Oran baseball," said Oran senior Zac Chasteen, whom Wood said likely would get the start on the mound today. "We're good enough to beat about any team. We just need to come out and play the way we're supposed to."
Chasteen, who has a team-low 1.84 ERA, picked up the win in relief in the quarterfinals to improve to 8-0. Junior Dalton Elfrink is 7-0 (3.14 ERA), while sophomore Kody Moore is 5-2.
All three pitchers appeared in the quarterfinal win, combining for 13 runs allowed, nine walks and five hit batsmen.
"We're laboring a little bit right now with our pitching," Wood said. "We've got a pretty good rest here, so hopefully the pitchers will be ready to throw a little bit."
The Eagles have a 2.42 ERA despite surrendering 44 runs in their last six games. Oran gave up just 39 runs through its first 19 games.
"We've got all the talent. It's just a matter of if we use it," Elfrink said.
Liberal, which advanced to the quarterfinals last season, also has three pitchers with at least five wins in juniors Reed Kirby (6-0, 1.56) and Collen Selvey (5-2, 2.40) and senior Guillermo Rojo (5-1, 1.96).
Rojo was the winning pitcher and hit a home run against Dora, while Selvey struck out 16 in a 5-2 win against Lakeland in the sectional round. Rojo (.481) and Selvey (.480) lead the team in batting and also have six home runs apiece. Selvey has a team-leading 41 RBIs.
Junior catcher Dylan Massa (.426) also is hitting over .400 for the Bulldogs, who are batting .311 overall.
"They look like they've got two pretty good pitchers and some kids that can hit," Wood said. "They look like a pretty good baseball team."
Oran, which was ranked No. 1 after it won its first 16 games, has not lost to a Class 1 school this season. The Eagles' two losses have been to Class 2 state semifinalist Charleston (4-3 on May 5) and Class 4 Poplar Bluff (13-6 on May 11).
The Eagles are batting .329 as a team, led by senior Tyler Heuring at .462. Sophomore Kody Moore is next at .447, while freshman Seth Ressel (.357), senior Nolan Urhahn (.354), Elfrink (.347) and junior Blake Carlyle (.333) all are batting over .300.
Heuring and Elfrink lead the team with 35 RBIs apiece. Heuring also has a team-high six home runs.
The Eagles have scored at least 10 runs in a game 15 times this season.
St. Elizabeth, which owns two state championships (1995, 1997), is the only returning team from the 2010 final four where it finished fourth. St. Elizabeth reached the final four this year with an 8-4, eight-inning win against Northeast (Cairo), which was unbeaten entering the game. St. Elizabeth won its district title by 10 runs and then plastered Lincoln 19-0 in the sectionals.
La Plata, which finished third in its only final four appearance in 2009, may be the hottest team in the field with shutout victories in its last three games. La Plata blanked Canton 3-0 in its district title game, thumped Brunswick 10-0 in the sectionals and cruised past Concordia 9-0 in the quarterfinals. Its staff ERA is 1.04 with three pitchers averaging at or above one strikeout per inning.
But the Eagles are riding as much momentum as any with their thrilling quarterfinal victory that included a last-inning grand slam by sophomore catcher Alex Heuring.
The blast gave the Eagles new life and a new outlook.
"I think the team is a lot more relaxed," Chasteen said. "We're just out here having fun and trying to win a state championship. I think it kind of woke the guys up. We can't let teams stay in the game like that. We've got to hit the ball all game and not give many runs up."