Culver concludes NOC career; future ‘just a matter of where’

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
Culver concludes NOC career; future ‘just a matter of where’

By Sunday morning, Tyler Culver could begin to appreciate the accomplishments of his Northern Oklahoma College-Enid baseball team.

About 10 hours after the Jets’ season came to a disappointing end in the semifinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association Region II Baseball Tournament, Culver offered the following:

“It was one heck of a ride,” said Culver, a pitcher from Pawhuska who posted 10 victories (one shy of the team record) during his second and final season at the Enid school.

While the campaign concluded short of its desired destination, NOC-Enid compiled a 43-16 record — equalling the all-time victory mark the Jets set in 2002, when they placed third in the NJCAA World Series. That best-ever national showing had been achieved in the team’s second year under Coach Raydon Leaton — who just completed his 16th season at the controls for the Jets.

When Leaton came to Pawhuska High School for Culver’s signing ceremony in 2014, he was already looking forward to this season — mainly, because Enid’s newly-renovated David Allen Memorial Ballpark would again be the site of the Junior College World Series.

“We want to be in that Series, and we’d like to win it,” Leaton had said, as he indicated Pawhuska’s star hurler could help NOC-Enid in its quest.

Culver, a 6-3 righthander, delivered a formidable sophomore season for his coach. After the Jets suffered a setback Thursday in their opener of the Regional (also was played at the Enid park), Culver pitched the Jets back on course with a gem of a performance in Friday’s noon contest. He fashioned a nine-inning, complete-game victory over Redlands, 7-1. Culver allowed just two hits, while walking three batters (two of them in the first inning) and hitting one.

Oddly, Culver — who averaged more than a strikeout per inning in the course of the season — struck out only one during his Friday masterpiece. Taking a shutout into the ninth, he would probably have nailed it down had not the leadoff batter reached third base on a dropped fly ball. The unearned run scored following the error on the first of three ground outs Culver induced to end the contest.

Of his 127 pitches, Culver threw 78 for strikes. (He recorded first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 33 batters he faced.) Redlands’ hitters grounded out 20 times, with just four fly outs. Culver retired 11 straight batters after Redlands’ first hit, a one-out single in third inning. He also allowed a two-out triple in the eighth. The Jets had 10 hits, while scoring three runs in the third and adding three more in the fifth. Making his 12th start and 17th mound appearance, Culver improved to 10-4 for the year. In 69 1/3 innings, he notched 73 strikeouts and walked 34. He also committed only one fielding error.

Later last Friday, NOC-Enid avenged its opening-round loss by beating Carl Albert, 5-2. Picking up the pitching victory in that one was freshman J.K. Hadlock, another area product with Pawhuska ties. Hadlock, who graduated from Glencoe, is a grandson of the late Charlie Bighorse, a 1960 basketball All-Stater at PHS. Throwing 124 pitches in nine complete innings, Hadlock allowed three hits and two earned runs, while striking out three and walking five. T.J. Black homered twice for the Jets, who had 11 hits.

In Saturday evening’s consolation finals, the Jets were eliminated from the tourney by a 4-3 loss to their Northern Oklahoma College rivals — the NOC-Tonkawa Mavericks. Tonkawa jumped in front, 2-0, in the top of the second and added two more runs to lead, 4-1, in the fourth. Enid scored two more single runs in the sixth and eighth innings, but the Mavericks held on for the triumph.

Culver won his first four outings in February and had a 3-1 record for March. Following a no decision and a win to start April, he and the team hit a rough patch. While Culver lost twice in April and his first May outing, the Jets’ team slumped to 6-9 during a stretch of NOC-Enid’s conference schedule. Culver came back to win his last two starts — when they counted the most. He notched a victory for the team’s 41st season triumph May 7 and picked up the team’s 42nd win on Friday the 13th.

Although Culver will undoubtedly be continuing his pitching career, he is uncertain who his next team will be. He could continue his collegiate career next year at a four-year school. He also could be chosen in the Major League Baseball draft, scheduled for June 9-11.

Included among highlights of the recently-ended season, Culver struck out 11 batters in 4 1/3 innings during March 10 win over Ellsworth (Iowa) College. Shortly before the Jets went from unranked to No. 2 in the NJCAA’s poll, he also posted an impressive victory over preseason No. 1 Western Oklahoma. Last year’s NOC-Enid squad wound up No. 8 nationally.

The NJCAA Division II World Series will be played in Enid, May 28 - June 4.