BY STEVE KRAH
Oakland City (Ind.) University won more baseball games in 2023 than in 2022 and that team set the single-season school record.
The power blue-clad Mighty Oaks got off to an 8-0 start, mixed in another seven-game win streak and went 34-24 this spring after posting a mark of 31-23.
“We did a really good job of the mound all year,” says third-year OCU head coach Andy Lasher. “We threw a lot of strikes.”
The staff was bolstered by sophomore right-handers Gehrig Tenhumberg, Christian Burgrabe, Ben Simmons, Hunter Callahan, Owen Spears, Milan van der Breggen and freshman lefty Evan Price.
Tenhumberg (Evansville Reitz Class of 2019) made 16 mound appearances (14 starts) and went 7-3 with 4.54 earned run average, 68 strikeouts and 18 walks, 83 1/3 innings.
Burgrabe (Marion, Ill.) made 18 appearances (11 starts) and was 5-5 with one save, a 4.50 ERA, 36 strikeouts and nine walks in 64 innings.
Simmons (Evansville Harrison Class of 2021) was in 15 games (all starts) and went 4-8 with a 4.72, 56 strikeouts and 26 walks in 74 1/3 innings.
Callahan (Cisne, Ill.) made 16 appearances (10 in relief) and went 4-1 with a 3.58 ERA, 37 strikeouts and 18 walks in 37 2/3 innings.
Spears (North Posey Class of 2021) was in 20 contests (17 in relief) and went 4-0 with a 3.91 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 14 walks in 48 1/3 innings.
van der Breggen (Netherlands) made 13 appearances (all in relief) and went 3-0 with a 5.40, 10 strikeouts and three walks in 25 innings.
Price (Rossville Class of 2021) was in 17 games (all in relief) and went 3-0 with five saves, a 3.00 ERA, 24 K’s and seven free passes in 21 innings.
“We had an entirely new infield from last year,” says Lasher, who had senior Jared Kirkman at third base, sophomore Xander Willis at shortstop, junior Sam Pinckert at second base and senior Treven Madden at first base in 2023. “There was new faces. We were athletic. We were able to score runs without having to hit the ball over the wall every inning.”
The Mighty Oaks stole 100 bases in 117 attempts.
“We had some guys step up and play really well for us down the stretch,” says Lasher, whose club qualified for the River States Conference tournament and then turned attention to the National Christian College Athletic Association tourney.
Oakland City went 3-1 in winning the NCCAA Mideast Regional in Wilmore, Ky. The ’23 season came to a close Monday, May 22 at the NCCAA World Series in Kansas City, Mo.
Pinckert (Heritage Hills Class of 2018) hit .337 (70-of-208) with seven home runs, 38 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases.
Freshman right fielder Garrett Causey (Evansville Central Class of 2021) posted marks of .309-5-37 with 36 runs.
Junior left fielder Noah Baugher (Louisville, Ky.) went .302-1-33 with seven triples, 35 runs and 15 steals.
Senior outfielder Victor Alvarez (Venezuela) chipped in .302-1-13 with 21 runs and 15 steals.
Willis (Mt. Carmel, Ill.) produced a .289-7-45 line with 44 runs and 18 steals.
Junior center fielder and lead-off man Aron Busick (Paoli Class of 2020) went .285-2-19 with 39 runs and 10 steals.
Kirkman (Memphis, Tenn.) contributed .272-0-17 with 24 runs.
Freshman catcher Oliver Hamilton (Gibson Southern Class of 2022) hit .265-2-18.
Madden (Vincennes Lincoln Class of 2017) added .260-4-26 with 30 runs.
Junior designated hitter/first baseman Conner Oxley (Southridge Class of 2020) tossed .214-2-28 with 26 runs into the offensive mix.
There were a number of transfers on the 2023 Mighty Oaks.
“We had to get them from anywhere and everywhere,” says Lasher. “It’s hard to win right away when you’re only freshmen though we have some younger guys who do play.”
Alvarez came from Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and van der Breggen from Indian Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa.
A private school with less than 1,000 students, OCU’s recruiting base is generally southern Indiana, southern Illinois and western Kentucky.
A 2009 graduate of Castle High School (Newburgh, Ind.) who played at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville, Lasher was an assistant at Olney Central, Eastern Illinois University and the University of Southern Indiana (Evansville) as well as manager of the summer wood-bat Dubois County Bombers at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., before taking over at Oakland City.
Lasher, 32, took over the program in April 2020 as T-Ray Fletcher ended his 26-year run as head coach and became athletic director and the team went from NCAA D-II to NAIA.
The 2020 season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that contributed to Lasher inheriting a roster of 18 players.
True seniors Kirkman and Madden have used up their eligibility, but most of the teams is expected back in 2023-24.
With renovations to Oakland City’s baseball stadium (formerly Pinnick Field), the Mighty Oaks played and practiced most of this spring at League Stadium, working around the needs of the Gene Mattingly-coached Southridge Raiders.
Groundbreaking for Mathew and Lindsey Konkler Stadium took place in November 2022. When completed, the facility will have turf infield with dugouts, backstop, press box, lights, scoreboard and outfield fence.
“We should be able to practice on it in the fall,” says Lasher.
His 2023 coaching staff included second-year assistants Joey Drury, Jack Murphy and first-time coach Ben Wilcoxson.
Drury (Center Grove Class of 2016) played for Lasher at Olney Central and then Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.).
Murphy is from the Chicago area and played at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and was an assistant at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., before coming to Oakland City.
Lexington, Ky., native Wilcoxson played at Kentucky Wesleyan University in Owensboro, Ky., and for Lasher’s Bombers. He was with OCU from August to May before going to play in the United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich.