ORAN -- The Oran Eagles have knocked on the door of a Class 1 state baseball championship several times, but never quite stepped across the threshold.
Now, the Eagles return to Columbia with the talent, mindset and resolve to capture that first state title to go with three second-places and four thirds.
"I think anything short of a state title will disappoint them," said Oran coach Mitch Wood, who has guided the Eagles to eight final fours. "If we go up there and lose both games, they've still had a heckuva year and I'll be proud of them no matter what happens, but, at the same time, you've got to set goals in life and try to attain them and that's what they're doing right now."
Oran (25-4), currently riding a 13-game win streak and ranked sixth in the state, will meet Sacred Heart of Sedalia in a semifinal at Taylor Stadium, on the campus of the University of Missouri, on Wednesday at 11 a.m.
"They're 20-2 and they're a pretty salty ballclub," said Wood, of the Sacred Heart Gremlins. "That No. 3 hitter is supposed to be legit. He's hitting around .750. Sounds like they've got a pretty decent bunch, but you just don't know who they've played day in and day out. We've seen some teams up there that didn't belong and we've seen some good ones, too."
The No. 3 hitter is Jaric Reid, who is currently hitting .754 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs and is on pace to break several Missouri high school records, including batting average, hits per game, extra-base hits, slugging percentage and total bases. Reid needs five total bases to surpass the mark set by Sikeston High School standout Blake Dewitt in '04.
Impressive individual statistics, to be sure, but teams win championships and this Oran squad appears to have few weaknesses.
Hitting, defense, pitching and attitude have been stellar for the Eagles since a mid-season jelling of young and veteran players.
"We're playing great defense and hitting the ball up and down the lineup and that's what you've got to have late in the season," said junior pitcher/
outfielder Chase Seyer. "We're playing real well right now. We're mainly young again with a lot of sophomores, but they're a good group. You don't have to do much leading. They just play ball."
Added Seyer, who's making his second trip to state, "This year we're playing together more as a group, as opposed to when I was a freshman. We had a couple of young guys but most of them were older and we didn't really mix well. This group plays well together. We've been playing together since T-
The Eagles are hitting a robust .360 as a team, led by sophomore second baseman Kody Campbell at .506, junior designated hitter Austin Dumey at .429, sophomore catcher Caleb Seyer at .421 and sophomore shortstop Tyler Beardslee at .372.
Campbell, on his season-long surge at the plate, said, "I just try to go up there, look for good pitches and put good swings on it.
"We're playing pretty good baseball right now. We're just going to go up there and try to keep playing good baseball."
Wood, who primes his teams for the postseason by competing against larger class schools throughout the season, said he would be shocked if the Eagles saw any better pitching than they've seen already.
"We've seen some real good pitching throughout the year," he said."
The defense, anchored by a solid middle-infield combination of Campbell and Beardslee along with sophomore center fielder Cody Dirnberger, a defensive specialist, has been nearly impeccable, for the most part.
A switch of senior Joey Williams from catcher to first base and Caleb Seyer from center field to catcher further solidified the defense.
Williams, making his third trip to state, said, "I want first (place). I want to bring one home because I'm done. We've just got to go up there playing hard and doing what we usually do."
On his position change, he added, "I was willing to try something different and it worked."
The other senior starter, third baseman Paul Bucher, perhaps best exemplifies the fight in this team. Bucher, still not 100 percent, overcame a serious early-
season illness to battle his way back into the lineup as an everyday infielder and spot pitcher.
Heading the pitching corps is Chase Seyer and Dumey, both sporting 6-1 records with Seyer coming off an impressive outing, a complete-game shutout of Saxony Lutheran in the quarterfinals.
Sophomore Alex Chasteen is 5-1 on the mound and has supplied an effective bat low in the order when tabbed for starting outfield duty.
Wood likes the manner in which his team goes about its business, neither getting too high nor too low.
"They've been pretty focused," he said. "They really don't get too excited. I told Coach (assistant Larry) Boshell, after the quarterfinal win, that they didn't seem very excited about this, but I think that's a good thing."
Obviously, Oran players have a higher goal in mind.
Stoutland and Silex tangle in the other semifinal at 2 p.m.