ORAN -- Oran's quest for the 1A state baseball championship begins today with a semifinal matchup against Marion C. Early at Simmons Field in Columbia.
The game will be played at 11 a.m., followed by the other semifinal between Sacred Heart (16-3) and New Haven (15-9). Based on records and schedule, Marion C. Early (18-5) and Oran (19-4) appear to be the best two teams in this year's Final Four.
"It looks like we are the two best teams up here, but you can throw those records away at this point," said Oran coach Mitch Wood. "Anybody can do anything. We're going to play it one game at a time. I think the players are focused on what they want to do."
The Eagles will have their hands full up against Panthers' ace Chris Gerleman today. The senior hurler was an all-state basketball player for Marion C. Early, and has been dominant on the mound this spring.
He has compiled a record of 10-2, striking out a state record 148 batters with just 17 walks in 74 innings of work. He throws in the 80s and has an ERA of 0.66.
"I hear he's a pretty good pitcher, but we play a good schedule and we've seen some good pitching this year," said Wood. "Scoring runs is our biggest concern. We've scored a lot of runs up to this point, but that water can shut off real quick. Hopefully we can give our pitching the support it needs."
Gerleman (6-4, 210) is also productive at the plate, batting .372 with 10 homers and 33 RBIs. Catcher Tyler Doke leads the offense, batting .469. He is also No. 2 in the pitching rotation with a 4-0 record and a 1.57 ERA.
Other key players include centerfielder Bobby Mangan (.451) and first baseman Dustin Gerleman (.444, 21 RBIs).
"They've been up here quite a few times, like we have, in the last few years," said Wood. "They definitely know what's going on. I think it will be a good ballgame."
Early reached the Final Four by defeating Stoutland 3-2 in the sectional round, then beating Sparta 8-0 in the quarterfinals. The Panthers took third at state last year, and have reached the Final Four three of the last four years.
Oran beat Bernie 15-2 in the sectionals and Advance 11-1 in the quarters. It is their first trip to state since 1999, where they lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to Marion C. Early. Just one member of this year's Oran team was on that squad.
Staff ace Trey Graviett will get the start today against the Panthers.
This year Graviett has compiled a record of 7-3 with a 1.24 ERA.
"When Trey is on, I feel we can hold most teams to few runs," said Wood. "They've got a good right hander that throws in the low 80s and we've got a good left hander that throws in the low 80s. Anybody that knows anything about high school baseball knows the left hander will be a little tougher most of the time."
At the plate, Graviett is batting .415 with six homers and 30 RBIs. Catcher Nathan Seyer is the most productive offensive player, averaging .520 with a .827 slugging percentage. He also leads the team with 14 stolen bases and 37 runs scored.
Ryne Wood is Oran's No. 2 pitcher with a 6-1 record and a 1.79 ERA. He is batting .405. Other key players include Tyler Cookson (.424), Joey Bickings (.372, 32 RBIs), Matt Bucher (.355), and Garrett Roslen (.500).
On Thursday, the third place game will take place at 11 a.m., followed by the championship at 5 p.m.