ORAL ROBERTS 7, WIU 4: Eighth Inning Costs Leathernecks In Key Series Opener


Western Illinois was every bit the challenger to Summit League regular-season champion Oral Roberts for seven innings on Thursday.

Then the Golden Eagles took advantage of Leatherneck mistakes in the eighth inning, scoring three runs on the way to a 7-4 win.

It was the 13th consecutive victory for Oral Roberts (41-11 overall, 21-1 Summit League) and it put the Leathernecks (12-38, 8-14) into a precarious position heading into the final two games of the regular season.

Western Illinois fell a half-game behind Omaha for the fourth and final spot in next week’s conference tournament. Omaha has two games remaining with Northern Colorado, which is one game behind the Leathernecks.

The Leathernecks had an answer for Oral Roberts throughout the game, taking a 3-3 game into the eighth before the Golden Eagles took over.

“We made some bad mistakes at a bad time against a pretty damn good team,” Western Illinois coach Tayler Sheriff said. “We played a good game for seven innings — pitched well, played great defense. We grinded out at-bats. But then we made mistakes at a bad time.”

Jack Bell (2-5), one of the Leathernecks’ top relievers, entered the game in the eighth and gave up a lead-off single to Mac McCroskey. Holden Breeze, the next batter, showed as if he was going to bunt, but walked on four pitches.

Drew Stahl, the third hitter of the inning, did bunt to move up both runners. Jacob Godman’s single scored McCroskey to put the Golden Eagles in the lead.

Blaze Brothers’ sacrifice fly gave ORU a 6-4 lead, then Jake McMurray’s single was misplayed by center fielder Nick Mitchell, allowing Godman to score.

“We walk a guy in an obvious bunt situation,” Sheriff said. “It just sets up for a big inning. We let it snowball from one bad pitch to a walk, and then maybe a few more bad pitches, and then an error out there in center field that allowed them to get a third run in that inning.”

Western Illinois got a run back in the bottom of the eighth, then Oral Roberts closed the scoring on Matt Hogan’s solo home run in the ninth.

The Leathernecks kept pace with the Golden Eagles throughout the game. Kyree Alexander’s home run in the third inning tied the game at 2, then after Oral Roberts scored a run in the top of the fourth Western Illinois tied the game in the bottom of the inning on J.R. Heavilin’s RBI single.

“I liked the way our guys fought,” Sheriff said. “We’ve fought all year. It’s a little bit of who we are. We’ve got a lot on the line (this weekend), they’ve got a lot on the line. It was a competitive game, and we expect nothing less.”

Caden Kratz gave the Leathernecks seven strong innings, allowing seven hits.

“He had command of the fastball at the top of the (strike) zone,” Sheriff said. “He’s a guy that, when he’s effective, can use his fastball to get outs at the top of the zone. Soft flyouts, popouts. He was just kind of living up, and they never really had an answer for him. And we kept going with it.”

Harley Gollert (9-1) was the winning pitcher in 3 2/3 innings of relief. Cade Denton got his 12th save.

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