By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
With a team batting average of .360 and scoring the second-highest number of runs in the nation at 492, the Connors State Cowboys have had their share of blowouts.
Which, in turn, has made for a sometimes boring time for its closer, Wagoner grad Justin Ferrell.
Of the Cowboys’ 49 wins this year in 58 outings, the team’s closer has all of 10 saves. That’s enough for a school record, set with the save in a 6-2 win over Seminole for the Region II championship Sunday at Jenks High School’s Hinch Field.
A lot on one hand, but not so much in the big picture thanks to an offense that has been able to put many teams away early. And more significantly perhaps is that he’s only had one blown save all year — that coming at Carl Albert on April 22 where he was touched for four runs on four hits in 2/3 innings, losing 6-5.
“Everyone was shocked,” Connors coach Perry Keith said. “I had to tell (Ferrell), ‘you’re not a robot, you’re not going to be perfect.’”
But it doesn’t mean the right-hander hasn’t strove to be. It’s a job he was given by Keith due to a deep group of starters and Ferrell decided he’d thrive in it. Ferrell also has a 1.29 ERA and is 4-1 with 42 strikeouts in 35 innings.
“I accepted fact the fact I would be the guy who would come in and shut things down and embraced the opportunity,” he said. “The only time I didn’t, I was working with a different catcher but still, it was on me. I was depending way too much on fastballs and when fastballs aren’t where they’re supposed to be, you’re going to have some problems.”
Keith says Ferrell doesn’t have to rely on a fastball.
“I thought when we got him here we’d put some weight on him and that breaking ball would get stronger, and it has gotten better,” he said. “He’s really taken to that role.”
Ferrell chose Connors among several junior college options. Oral Roberts at one time was in the picture but he preferred the JUCO route and a quicker path to being drafted by the pros.
“I did my research and saw the tradition that this school has on the field and with guys moving on to the next level,” he said. “It’s been successful and well, if you don’t get drafted after one year you go push yourself even more and see about where you stand after the second year.”
That tradition lives on this weekend when the Cowboys, No. 5 in the latest NJCAA poll, host the South Central District playoffs today and Saturday. The Cowboys (49-9) play Maple Woods, Mo., in the second game of the day at 3:30 today and then will face No. 1 Delgado (46-9) of New Orleans. Delgado and Maple Woods begin the tournament at noon.
Connors swept MapleWoods earlier this year, 1-0 and 10-1, on March 10. Ferrell wasn’t involved in either decision. MapleWoods upset higher-ranked Jefferson County (Mo.) and Crowder (Mo.) to get here.
“They’re hot but every team seems to get hot about the same time they play us,” Ferrell said.
Delgado has stayed hot and will return to Biff Thompson Field for the first time since 2008.
“They’re kind of the only game in town down there, being able to hand pick their talent in a good baseball area,” Keith said.
But the Cowboys are also hot at home, going 28-1 this year in the cozy confines of Biff Thompson Field.
Should all three teams split with one another, a coin flip will push one team into Sunday’s finale. The Cowboys skipper would like to avoid that — although the last time he flipped a coin on a diamond, he won and got home team in a tournament in Millington, Tenn.