OAKLAND CITY -- Oakland City University's baseball season ended Wednesday afternoon because the Mighty Oaks could not put the finish on a game they led 4-1 after six innings and 7-5 after seven on Brooks Pinnick Field.
Hiwassee the Madisonville, Tenn., school that officially closed Friday after 170 years, scored twice in the top of the tenth and won 9-7 in the National Christian College Mid-East Regional losers' bracket final.
The Tigers thus took a 31-15 record into the mid-afternoon championship round opener vs. Bluefield (Va.) (25-25).
"Sometimes you do everything well but don't win. Tip your at to Hiwassee," said Oakland City Coach T. Ray Fletcher, whose Mighty Oaks closed with a 23-14 record including four wins in six games vs. Hiwassee.
By its university rule, OCU must reach the regional's championship round to accept an at-large bid to the NCCAA World Series, scheduled to begin next Wednesday in Easley, S.C.
"We've had several come-from-behind wins. Two weeks ago we trailed Johnson 11-0 in the fifth inning and ended up winning 15-14. Our guys keep battling," said Hiwassee Coach Shane Gardner, whose Tigers sought to force the regional championship round to an 11 a.m. Thursday game vs. Bluefield.
They were able to play pressure-free in the game that began shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday, a moment after OCU the Rev. Jeff Brawley said the pre-game prayer. "The NCCAA informed us this morning that we have a bid to the World Series. This win might give us a better seeding," Gardner said.
Bluefield, by its university rule, must win regional and thus qualify automatically for the World Series.
"Our institution requires us to be over .600 to accept an at-large bid," Coach Mike White said.
The Mighty Oaks' Wednesday loss came despite a gritty pitching start by Boonville-bred junior Devan Franz, who seemed en route to another hero role after getting the game-winning hit in Monday's 3-2 edging of Hiwassee, and a two-out game-tying single in the ninth inning of Tuesday's 5-3 losers' bracket semifinal win over Johnson (Tenn.). The lefthanded Franz, who spaced eight and three walks while striking out four and yielding just two earned runs in a rare mound start, left with a 4-2 lead after back-to-back one-out doubles by Garrett Dalton and Tyler Hisey in Hiwassee's seventh.
Sophomore Will Davis would have played a hero role had the Mighty Oaks won this one. Starting in right field, Franz' usual position, Davis hit a two-run homer to cap a three-run sixth for a 4-1 lead.
His homer marked the longest in OCU's 10-hit offense led by senior Brandon Taylor at 4-for-5 and freshman Noah Baugher at 4-for-6.
Relieving Franzin the seventh, Davis saw the lead cut to 4-3 when a throwing error let Hisey score.
Gibson Southern-bred senior Dillon "Tobe: Whitten, who threw 123 pitchers in eight inning to get Monday's win vs. Hiwassee, moved from first base to the mound to start the eighth despite Monday's work load.
"Tobe wanted the ball and you go with your best," said Fletcher, who saw Whitten produce a 9-2 record this season with over a strikeout per inning.
The Tigers' Collin Wheeler became a hit batsman to start eighth and scored on Wes Sutton's squeeze bunt. Jaylon Scamahorn, after singling, scored on Dalton's sacrifice fly for the visitors' first lead, 5-4.
OCU replied with three runs in its eighth. Baugher singled to score sophomore Austin Morris. Taylor, who singled in that inning after doubling and scoring in the seventh, scored on a throwing error for a 6-5 lead that became 7-5 when Baugher scored on a wild pitch.
But the Tigers scored twice in the ninth via C.J. Huff's double, a hit batsman, Wheeler's single and Strayhorn's squeeze-bunt single.
After OCU freshman Isaiah Barber relieved to start the tenth, Dalton and Hisey and Sam Edrington hit successive singles. After sophomore Skylar Brooks relieved Barber, Hogan Townsend's sac fly extended the score to 9-7.
Hiwassee senior Ryan Keefe, who relieved late in the eighth, withstood Baugher's bottom-of-the-tenth lead-off single and Franz' subsequent by retiring the next three batters to seal his win.
Dalton, a senior, batted 4-for-5 for the Tigers. Freshman Huff went 3-for-5, sophomore Townsend 2-for-3 in a 14-hit offense to 10 by OCU.