NJCAA Division II champion Murray State baseball team has come a long way

When Zach Crabtree and Lloyd 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.
by Jenni Carlson Published: June 15, 2013
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photo - Murray State associate head coach Lloyd Gage, left, and head coach/athletic director Zach Crabtree celebrate the team's NJCAA Division II World Series victory on Saturday, June 1, 2013. PHOTO PROVIDED BY MURRAY STATE COLLEGE
Murray State associate head coach Lloyd Gage, left, and head coach/athletic director Zach Crabtree celebrate the team's NJCAA Division II World Series victory on Saturday, June 1, 2013. PHOTO PROVIDED BY MURRAY STATE COLLEGE

Murray still won two of its first three games.

Then, it settled in and played some of its best ball of the season. A couple more wins put it in the national championship game vs. LSU-Eunice, which had won four of the last seven national titles.

Murray went to Eunice early in the season for a three-game series and lost all three games.

The Aggies got on the bus — they call it The Aggie Wagon — for the eight-hour ride home feeling awful.

“That's who we've got to beat,” Crabtree told them. “Those are the guys. That's where you measure where you're at, and we've got a ways to go.”

Murray State left Eunice with an 8-9 record.

The Aggies won 40 of their next 51 games, the last of them coming with a 4-3 victory against Eunice in the national championship game.

It was the first national title in any sport for Murray State.

“It was a lot of fun getting to see the guys dog pile and all that stuff after all their hard work,” Crabtree said. “I mean, it's rewarding to see those guys and what they've put in.”

This is a team filled with great individual stories. Outfielder Brandon Grimsley didn't play the first 30-plus games of the season, but after getting his chance, he didn't come out of the lineup. Pitcher Michael Barnhart played with a torn ACL. Second baseman Colt Pickens battled through a broken wrist.

Chalk it up to following the leader.

Crabtree does whatever needs to be done, and that includes driving the bus. That's not some sort of simile. That's reality. No matter how long the road trip, the coach is the one behind the wheel of The Aggie Wagon.

During the coaches' meeting at the world series, tournament organizers spent some time talking about game passes for bus drivers. Crabtree and Gage couldn't help snickering.

Even though the rest of the teams had fancy charter buses and professional drivers, Crabtree didn't mind his additional duty.

“He's a hard worker,” Gage said, “and he gets his kids to buy in.”

A blue-collar coach has built a blue-collar team that plays in a blue-collar facility, and this season, they were golden.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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