NOBLE — The last time the Bears went to the state baseball tournament was in 1995, the same year Brad Anglin entered as a freshman at Noble. He watched that team advance all the way to the state final before falling in the championship game. It also was around that time that Derek Underwood was born.
Fast forward 18 years. The Bears are making their first trip back to the state tournament since that loss, with Anglin as the coach and Underwood as the starting pitcher. Connected by nothing more than baseball and history 18 years ago, both will be on the field at 11 a.m. Thursday at Edmond Santa Fe to try and make some new history for the Bears by winning the program’s first-ever state title.
To do that, Noble (32-4) must first go through traditional power Deer Creek (27-8), a mainstay at the Class 5A state tournament. Not that the Bears are daunted in any way.
“We have an opportunity here,” said Anglin, who has coached at his alma mater for the last six years. “We’re as good as anyone in the state, and we’re not content to just show up at the state tournament.”
It’s hard to classify the Bears as an underdog, despite the Antlers’ recent history. Noble won 19 straight games at one point this season and dominated in the regional tournament a week ago to advance to state. The Bears have just one senior on the squad, and the large junior class earned plenty of playing time and experience a year ago.
And as the Bears came together to pull out a number of impressive victories late in the season after losing two of three, so too has the town come out to support a team trying to make history.
“It’s been incredible,” Underwood said. “I’ve had people come up to me all the time from out of nowhere and ask me about the team. “It’s exciting to be here, and it’s an honor to pitch in state.”
Like his coach, Underwood said the Bears are out to do more than just make a long-overdue return visit to the state tournament.
“We knew we could make it this far and we’re so proud to be in the spot we’re in now,” he said. “After we won regionals there was a feeling where you just can’t get a smile off your face. But now all we want to do is win state.”
The Bears have the tools to do it. They have a deep pitching staff behind Underwood, something that is key as the single-elimination tournament progresses. They also have a potent offense that put up 47 runs in three games at the district tournament. More importantly, at least to Anglin, there’s no more pressure on the team.
“You could feel that pressure in regionals, but now I think the kids will be relaxed and just come out to play at state,” he said. “This town is behind us and even though we’re young, we have a lot of experience. We have a chance to make history.”
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