With a mixture of 19 guys and a “little luck and talent,” the 1972 Oklahoma Christian University baseball team blazed a path to the NAIA National Championship, setting the tone for years to come.
Senior shortstop in 1972, Johnny Inman, said 1972 was a “special” season where everything fell into place.
“A combination of luck and some of the guys that we brought in that were available that year,” Inman said. “I think the talent was good, but there is always something to be said for being fortunate.”
Because of their accomplishments and their mark on Eagles Athletics’ history, the Athletic Department selected the 1972 baseball team as the 2019 Team of Distinction. Only the second team to receive this honor, members of the team will be presented with a plaque during the Homecoming festivities Saturday, Nov. 2, between the women’s and men’s basketball games.
Tony Sellars, a freshman pinch hitter and outfielder in 1972, said the honor makes him remember how unique and exceptional the team really was.
“It brings back a lot of memories and is truly a big honor,” Sellars said. “It was funny being a young guy and all that success we had that year. I was like, ‘Oh, this is something that will happen every year,’ and we never did it again. That’s what I’ve told guys: ‘Savor that experience, because you never know if you will get another one.’ We were the only team to reach the national tournament. That’s held up all these years—it is something that is a source of pride.”
Ranging from 17-year-old Sellars and married senior Inman, the team displayed a range of talent and maturity.
“We joked around and had a lot of fun and became a close unit,” Inman said. “Everyone recognized each other’s skill and what they contributed to the team. We used some different line-ups occasionally, and everyone had a chance to give their part and contribute.”
In 1972, Coach Max Dobson led 19 men (our current team has over 50 members) to a 30-10 season, winning District 9 and Area 3 titles before advancing to the NAIA World Series in Phoenix, AZ.
At the World Series, they lost their first game, 1-0, and moved into the loser’s bracket. In their final game, the Eagles lost to Lipscomb University, missing the chance to play for a national championship by one game.
Sellars said their first loss put them in a more difficult schedule, which proved difficult with a limited line-up.
“We couldn’t score a run,” Sellars said. “We had seen this team. They stayed at our hotel and they were up all night hooting and hollering and we thought, ‘Gosh, these guys aren’t taking it seriously, we’re going to go out and get them tomorrow.’ We fell into that loser’s bracket, which means you’re playing every day, and you’re using up your pitchers. It’s much harder.”
The 1972 team included two All-America selections. Pitcher Morris Karnes, Inman and Dennis Morgan was picked as All-District 9.
With only 19 players, the team contained three pitchers, which limited their rotation in tournaments, making their postseason run all the more impressive. Karnes, Brad Jones and Bob Thompson threw for the Eagles.
According to Sellars, those three threw more than any pitchers do now, giving the team confidence throughout the season.
“We had veteran pitchers, Bob Thompson and Morris Kanes,” Sellars said. “We had guys that finish games. We had three guys that did the bulk of the pitching. [We] didn’t go to the bullpen often. [They] threw a lot of complete games. It’s a lot different than what you see today. You rarely see a guy complete a game. It was rare for us not to have a complete game. It gave us a lot of confidence.”
Inman said the pitchers’ talent was amazing, but exhaustion and wear-and-tear resulted in the Eagles coming up just a bit short, making their performances throughout the long postseason play all the more outstanding.
“We probably did not really have enough pitching to make it.,” Inman said. “We had three pitchers that won every game for us that year. Those three were really, really good, but in a tournament like that it usually takes more. We had some terrific ones. We were just short in numbers.”
Coach Dobson set the line-ups and led the team to success, while also allowing them to lead from within.
“He was a very easygoing coach but also serious,” Sellars said. “He didn’t put up with any nonsense. He gave players the free reign to play the game the way they knew how. We had a lot of seniors and upperclassmen, and we followed their lead. Coach Dobson let that happen. He had a few rules and a few things he liked to see from us. Hustle was number one. We always played hard.”
According to Inman, Dobson created an environment where the team had fun, formed friendships quickly and played their best.
“We were close,” Inman said. “Part of them were new that we didn’t know very well. Tommy McLemore, who played third base, turned out to be probably as close a friend as I’ve had off of that ball team, and it didn’t take that long to happen.”
Sellars still supports Oklahoma Christian baseball. Over the last couple of years he has called the play-by-play on the livestream broadcast.
After accomplishing a feat no other Oklahoma Christian baseball squad has and being honored for it by being named the Team of Distinction, Inman said, “It’s always nice to be remembered.”