Zach Crabtree knows his baseball team doesn't have the best park in the world.
The playing surface is great — “As good as anybody we play,” he says — but the rest of the Murray State facility is average. The bleachers could be nicer. The locker room could be spiffier.
“We just have the more blue-collar-type facility,” Crabtree said.
Ditto for his program.
No bells. No whistles. No frills.
But this season, no one was better.
Earlier this month, Murray State won the NJCAA Division II national title. It was the first national championship of any kind in the 100-plus-year history of the Tishomingo junior college.
The Aggies won without a bunch of superstars. They were second in the nation in home runs but only had two guys hit 10 or more. They were solid on the mound but didn't have anyone win more than eight games.
“This team,” pitching coach Lloyd Gage said, “was the definition of a team.”
When Crabtree and Gage arrived at the southeastern Oklahoma school three years ago, the Aggies were almost as far as you could get from championship-caliber. The program was only a year removed from not having enough players to compete in the conference tournament at the end of the year.
Getting competitive was going to be tough, much less winning a national title.
To complicate matters, Murray State is in a rugged conference, NJCAA's Region 2. Western Oklahoma State has been a national powerhouse for the better part of a decade. Redlands Community College is always stout.
Makes it tough to get any traction.
But in their first year, Murray won a school-record 36 games.
The next year, Murray improved that record to 40 wins and won the regular-season conference title, a first in school history.
This year, it finished second during the regular season but won the conference tournament.
“We knew we could compete with anybody,” Crabtree said, “because of how good our conference was.”
And compete, they did.
The Aggies won regionals and super regionals, rolling through both to advance to the world series for the first time in school history.
Playing in Enid, they scuffled through the first three games, battling nerves, tough competition and a stiff Oklahoma wind blowing into the hitters' faces. Guys tried to make adjustments and change their swings instead of just hitting the ball hard.