*Story by Lucas Calvert with ECCC Athletics.
For the first time in program history, the Warrior baseball team of East Central Community College will make the 720-mile trip from Decatur to Enid, Oklahoma for the NJCAA DII World Series. The Warriors earned the bid after taking down the No. 1 team in the country in the LSU Eunice, 8-2, on Friday, May 19 in a winner-take-all contest.
After rolling through the tournament without a loss, the Warriors matched up with LSU Eunice in the championship and needed to defeat the Bengals once, while LSU Eunice had to take down ECCC twice. LSU Eunice won the first championship matchup, 13-1, but the Warriors bounced back in game two with a win.
“This is big for us of course,” said ECCC Head Coach Neal Holliman. “It depends on what you are striving for, and for us, it’s to win the national championship so this is a step in that process. It’s a big step though as this was our third time in this game, but I’m proud of our guys as we were able to conquer it today.”
East Central took the field as the home team after winning the coin toss. The game kicked off with Eunice grabbing an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. However, the Warriors wasted no time in retaliating. In the bottom of the first, Ramie Harrison came through with a fielder’s choice, driving in Eli Collins, who had reached base with a walk earlier in the inning.
The score remained unchanged until the bottom of the third inning when Mo Little continued his impressive performance, once again bringing home Eli Collins with an RBI single. The Warriors extended their lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth, with Collins stepping up again, this time driving in Hayze West with another RBI single. West had reached base with a single earlier in the inning.
Eunice managed to scratch back one run in the top of the fifth, but the Warriors’ offensive prowess persisted. In the same inning, Harrison delivered a crucial hit, plating Little and propelling the Warriors to a 4-2 advantage.
The contest reached its tipping point in the bottom of the eighth inning, as Brady McGee kick-started an explosive offensive display with a double. McGee promptly crossed home plate when Reid Hall grounded into a fielder’s choice. Manning Huffman then made an impact, singling and stealing both second and third base. In a bold move, Huffman eventually stole home plate during a walk. Collins put the finishing touch on the frame with a towering two-run home run to left field, bringing Kelby Jordan across home plate. Heading into the top of the ninth, the Warriors boasted a comfortable 8-2 lead.
David Burton took the mound in the top of the ninth inning and quickly got a flyout before striking out the final two Eunice batters, securing the championship victory for the Warriors.
The Warriors showcased an exceptional pitching rotation throughout the game. Mason Willis began the contest and delivered an impressive performance, completing three innings while tallying three strikeouts. Luke Cooley earned the win after pitching two solid innings and also striking out three Bengals. Grant Edwards and Andrew Yuratich also made significant contributions on the mound. Edwards recorded the team’s highest strikeout count with four, while Yuratich added one more strikeout to the team’s total. Collectively, the Warriors’ pitching staff struck out 13 Bengals, while giving up just six hits and two earned runs.
“We had a plan coming into today, we had our pitching planned out and divided up and our guys executed it perfectly,” said Holliman. “We try to be aggressive every year by taking extra bases and creating runs in every inning. We want to be a tough team to play and we did that this week.”
Offensively, the Warriors were led by the stellar performances of Collins, Leighton Jenkins, and Little, each contributing two hits. Collins emerged as the standout, driving in an impressive team-leading three RBIs, while Harrison made a notable impact with two RBIs of his own.
The Warriors will join nine other community colleges in Enid at David Allen Memorial Ballpark to round out the 10-team field. The double-elimination tournament is set for Saturday, May 27 through Saturday, June 3.