(photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
COLUMBIA -- When the Oran Eagles reached the Class 1A Final Four, they did it with offense. Little did they know that it was that same offense that would lead to their undoing in their semifinal game with Marion C. Early on Wednesday at the University of Missouri's Taylor Stadium in Columbia.
Marion C. Early defeated the Eagles 8-4 to advance to today's Class 1A championship game with New Haven at 5 p.m. Oran (19-5) will face Sacred Heart (16-4) today at 11 a.m. in the third place game.
It was Early fireballer Chris Gerleman that became the first pitcher to silence the Oran bats in quite some time. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior, who entered the game with an astounding 148 strikeouts this year, struck out 11 Oran batters.
The Eagles had been averaging more than 14 runs per game in their last four games.
"He definitely did a good job of throwing," said Oran head coach Mitch Wood. "He just kept the ball at the knees and away from us. He was getting some calls that I didn't think were strikes but if you keep your pitches consistently low then you're going to get those calls sometimes. We expected to hit the ball. What I was disappointed in was that we watched a lot of strikes. If we had gone down swinging I would've been a lot happier."
Gerleman left the game after the fifth inning with a seemingly comfortable 6-0 lead in order to preserve innings for today's championship. But reliever Tyler Doke, who got out of a jam in the sixth inning, lost control in the seventh inning after his team built an 8-0 lead. In just 1 1/3 innings, Doke walked five batters and hit two others, allowing the Eagles to cut the lead to 8-3.
That forced Early head coach Mike McHolland to come back with Gerleman to close the deal.
"We knew we'd bring Chris back in when they brought the tying run to the plate - we weren't even going to take a chance," said McHolland. "Plus they had the eight and nine hitter up - so we were confident Chris could come back in and get them out. We were trying to get Tyler to go two innings there, but we couldn't risk that chance with the tying run on deck."
Gerleman struck out Tyler Nelson, but then he walked in a run to make the score 8-4. He was able to get Garrett Roslen to ground out to first to end the game. Gerleman pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing three hits and five walks in picking up the win.
"What we heard on Oran was that their 1-through-9 could hit the ball," said McHolland. "Word got down there to the Southeast corner that they heard Chris could throw about 90 miles per hour and they couldn't believe that. His pitching came to the top today. Early in the game he was a little shaky, but as the game went on he got back to his routine like he had been the last two weeks."
Oran's Trey Graviett took the loss. He threw 5 1/3 innings, allowing eight runs (seven earned) off 11 hits with five walks and four strikeouts.
"Trey definitely wasn't at his best today," said Wood. "Even their outs were hit hard. He couldn't get his breaking ball across at all, so all he was throwing was a low 80s fastball right across the plate. When you get to this level and you throw that then you're going to get hit."
Even though the left-handed Graviett is considered Oran's ace, McHolland felt confident in his team's ability to produce some offense.
"We've hit left-handers pretty good all year," said McHolland. "This is only the third we've seen all year, but the kids love to hit left-handers. They were excited when they saw the scouting report that they had a left-hander - they couldn't wait to hit off him."
The Eagles had something brewing in the top of the first inning when Nathan Seyer led off the game with a walk -- but the catcher picked him off first. Ryne Wood then walked, but Gerleman was able to get out of the bind with a strikeout and a popout.
"We didn't take advantage of anything," said Wood. "In the first inning we screwed up on the bases. You can't give a good ballclub and a good pitcher outs. And that's exactly what we gave them at the beginning. It could've been a totally different ballgame if we had two on with nobody out. That's stuff we haven't been doing and that's the reason we're where we are."
Early (19-5) came back with three runs in the bottom of the first with an RBI-double from Gerleman and a two-run single by Ryan Tobin. The Panthers plated two more runs in the third inning off an RBI-single by Tobin and an RBI-triple by Jeremy Elmore to lead 5-0. Gerleman added a run-scoring triple and a two-run double in the fourth and sixth innings respectively to help the Panthers build an 8-0 lead.
Gerleman finished the day 3-3 with four RBIs, including two doubles and a triple. Elmore was 3-4 with an RBI and Doke went 3-4 with three runs. Tobin went 2-3 with three RBIs. Oran scored its four runs in the top of the seventh with only one hit - Tyler Cookson laced a single to left field to plate Seyer. Two of the runs were walked in and another run scored off a wild pitch.
Oran was led by Cookson's two hits with an RBI. Wood had the Eagles' other two hits.
"I didn't feel like our kids were tensed up until the sixth inning," said Wood. "They usually do a pretty good job of hustling in and out of the dugout and I was a little disappointed in the sixth inning that we didn't bounce back. But we were down 8-0 and I guess that's how it goes. But we're tickled to death. We've had a good year, but from day one we wanted to try to win a state championship. Hopefully they're disappointed because I am. Maybe tomorrow we'll bounce back and see if we can win third."
This is the second time that Marion C. Early has ousted Oran. The Panthers also defeated the Eagles in 1999 in the semifinals.
In Wednesday's other Class 1A semifinal game, New Haven defeated Sacred Heart 9-4. New Haven will play Marion C. Early in today's championship game at 5 p.m.
Sacred Heart will face Oran for third place today at 11 a.m.
In the semifinal matchup, New Haven's Jacob Scheer picked up the complete-game win. In seven innings, he allowed four runs on seven hits and no walks. He recorded six strikeouts.
At the plate, Jason Muir and John Nilges both went 2-for-4. Sacred Heart (16-4) was led by Ryan Rife, who went 2-for-4. Damian Cook, Ryan Thomas and Daniel Desmond all pitched in the loss.
New Haven improved to 16-9 with the win.