It has been a wild year for winning streaks and Oklahoma Baptist baseball is right in the mix for one of the most notable in the nation.
The Bisons won 22 straight games to start the year and reached two milestones in the process. With a March 13 doubleheader sweep against Roosevelt University, the Oklahoma Baptist win streak set a record for the best start in program history with the 21st win. Then the team reached the plateau for the program’s most consecutive wins at any juncture of the season with its 22nd straight before finally losing a game to Northwood University March 14.
How does this pertain to Bay Area baseball? The Bisons just happened to be fueled by four San Mateo Country baseball players — Matt Page, Julian Merryweather, Steven Knudson and Cory Faubel.
Page — a Serra grad and transfer from Skyline College — is in the process of amassing one of the greatest careers in the history of the NAIA program. The sweet-swinging lefty earned NAIA Player of the Year honors as a junior in 2013 when he led the Bisons to within one win of advancing to the NAIA World Series.
This year, Page is picking up right where he left off. Anchoring the Oklahoma Baptist lineup hitting in the No. 3 spot of the order, the senior entered into play yesterday hitting .487 with six home runs and 34 RBIs through 24 games.
“He’s got kind of a target on his back, but so far he’s been outstanding for us,” Oklahoma Baptist manager Bobby Cox said.
With a long line of Bisons All-American first basemen having preceded him, Page had some huge shoes to fill. Previous to his arrival, Oklahoma Baptist had boasted three consecutive All-Americans at the position. He replaced 2011 All-American Daniel Batista at first, who replaced 2010 honoree Anthony Lopez. And Lopez replaced Josh Colazao, who earned the honor as a junior in 2008 and was named a second-team All-American in 2009.
Well, Page has delivered. In fact, it was his swing of the bat that cinched consecutive win No. 20 for the Bisons. In a 2-1 win over rival Oklahoma Wesleyan on March 13, the game went into the bottom of the ninth deadlocked at 1-1. With Page leading off the inning, he promptly rocketed an inside fastball over the left-center wall for a walk-off home run.
“He’s just that kind of kid,” Cox said. “He thrives on pressure and RBI situations. Those kind of guys can be hard to find.”
Before transferring from Skyline, Page battled through injuries throughout his sophomore year. And his numbers reflected it as he hit .287 with three home runs and 23 RBIs. When he initially arrived at Oklahoma Baptist, he paled even further. According to Cox, Page hit for about a .100 average in fall ball. But he still cracked the opening day lineup in 2013 and immediately started tearing it up.
“It was one of those deals when the light switch went on and he’s been going ever since,” Cox said.
This year, Oklahoma Baptist added plenty of firepower to protect Page in the batting order. Knudson is an El Camino grad who went on to play at Cañada College in 2012. It was there he paired with then-sophomore Zack Turner — now the senior cleanup hitter at USF — as one of the most prolific power-hitting tandems in California Community College baseball. The duo finished one-two in the Coast Pacific Conference race for the home run crown. Knudson finished second only to Turner in the conference with eight home runs while hitting .303 with 41 RBIs. He went on to redshirt last season and transferred to Oklahoma Baptist as a sophomore.
Knudson got his Oklahoma Baptist career off to a bang with a pair of home runs on opening day in a 24-4 romp over Dallas Christian. Page also had a big opening day, adding a homer to the hit parade while tabbing eight RBIs.
After missing some playing time due to two weeks of scuffles that followed, Knudson has found his groove as of late. Over the Bisons’ last four games, he has gone 9 for 14 with eight RBIs and is currently hitting .339 with three homers and 18 RBIs on the year.
“Now that we’ve been doing well, he’s been in the lineup pretty much every day, and I don’t see him fading off,” Page said.
Then there is Merryweather, who took the same route as Page in graduating from Serra and playing two seasons at Skyline. Now a senior, Merryweather is lighting up radar guns. According to both Cox and Page, Merryweather tops out at 95 mph and has the results to show for it, currently boasting a 5-0 record with a 0.55 ERA while notching 48 strikeouts in 33 innings.
“He’s got it figured out now,” Cox said.
Now the goal is simple — one more win than last season and a trip to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Ohio.
“They got close to a World Series — one game away,” Cox said. “They’ve kind of made the commitment to make the trip back to Lewiston and make another run at it.”
And the Bisons certainly have the talent and the confidence to do it.
“Obviously, we’re confident enough that we think if we play well there’s not a team in the nation that can beat us,” Page said.
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