ENID — Freshman Clay Lockett couldn’t explain what was going through his mind as he stepped into the batter’s box Sunday afternoon at David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid.
“I could barely walk,” he said.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning in the championship round of the Region II tournament. The bases were loaded, and there were two outs on board for No. 18 Northern Oklahoma College Enid (37-17).
The Jets were playing for their lives and were in the midst of a rally against Redlands Community College. The Jets were down by eight runs at one point, but with one out left in the game, Redlands held just a three-run lead.
If the Cougars retired Lockett, the Jets would have been eliminated and their hopes of returning to the NJCAA Division II World Series would be dead.
Lockett’s knees trembled. He had just five hits on the year. But his sixth turned out to be his most important. After four pitches, Lockett finally saw a good pitch. The ball hung in the air.
“It flew out of here,” Lockett said of his first home run of the year.
The freshman launched the ball over the left field wall for a walk-off grand slam as NOC Enid defeated Redlands 12-11 in Game 1. The comeback victory forced a Game 2 and NOC Enid defeated Redlands again, 13-3, and clinched a spot in the World Series for the second straight year.
NOC Enid head baseball coach Raydon Leaton, who described Lockett as “an unsung hero,” said the Jets wanted to “get some slow guys off the bases” so the Jets could round more bases if they hit into the gap. That’s why freshman Ethan Williams and Lockett pinch-hit in the last two at-bats for NOC Enid.
“I’ve always preached to these guys, ‘You better work hard because you never know when your name is going to be called,’” Leaton said.
NOC Enid initially led Redlands by three runs after four innings in Game 1. But Joshua Detweiler and Austin Dahlenburg erased the Jets’ lead. Detweiler hit a two-run home run before Dahlenburg hit an RBI double to tie the game. Three Cougars recorded RBI base hits to give Redlands a four-run lead. Dahlenburg’s solo home run in the top of the sixth made it five runs. Then Detweiler’s three-run home run the following inning made it eight runs.
NOC Enid’s Game 1 rally began in the bottom of the seventh with a five-run effort. Freshman Alec Buonasera and sophomore Garrett Misenheimer each drove in two runs with a single and double, respectively. Sophomore Dylan Caplinger drove in a run with a single, as well.
Sophomores Lawson Isaacs and Jarrett Sweeney pitched four innings in relief of sophomore starter Kaleb McCullough, who allowed seven runs off eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Both Sweeney and Isaacs pitched in Game 2, as well. After throwing a scoreless 2 1/3 innings in Game 1, Sweeney threw five innings of Game 2, allowing just three runs off seven hits. Isaacs threw four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits.
NOC Enid wanted to relieve Isaacs after a couple of innings in Game 2, but Isaacs had other plans. Leaton said the sophomore kept returning to the dugout between innings and said, “This is my game, give me the ball back.”
Isaacs ended Game 2 with his fourth and final strikeout, and the NOC Enid bench poured onto the field in celebration. Amongst the post-game crowd, Sweeney said the return to the World Series is “awesome.”
The comeback win against Redlands and consecutive doubleheader wins in two days encapsulates how the Jets have played this season, Sweeney said.
“This team is really gritty,” he said. “We got down a little bit, but we grind out at-bats and grind out pitches and find a way to win, even if it’s not pretty.”
The Jets will get some much-deserved rest before David Allen Memorial Ballpark hosts the World Series on May 25. While sophomores like Sweeney and Misenheimer will relive the experience of playing in another World Series, Lockett, a transfer from Barton Community College, will get to play in his first.
Roff High School graduate Conner Priest also plays for NOC Enid, and Coalgate High School graduate Nolan Fanning is the team’s assistant coach.
Priest appeared in 13 games for the Jets so far this spring. He has recorded 36 strikeouts and issued 14 walks in 31.2 innings.
“He’s been awesome. He’s a starter sometimes for us on the weekends,” Fanning said. “He’s grown up a lot since he’s been up here. We like him a lot. He’s a great kid.”