Coming into March 30, the Golden Eagles’ baseball team was stalling and looking for a boost. While going a combined 1-6 in the previous seven games, ORU was outscored 14-30 during that stretch.
The Friday night game kicking off a three-game series against Louisiana Tech was designated an Armed Forces night. The special evening intended to pay respect to those currently serving and those who have fallen in the name of our country, specifically Ryan Iannelli.
Iannelli, who played four seasons of baseball before graduating from ORU, was honored Friday night as a former ORU athlete and a fallen hero of America who died during combat operations in Afghanistan on Sept. 28, 2011.
The motivation for the game proved to be the boost the Golden Eagles needed. After a moving pre-game ceremony where Iannelli’s father threw the first pitch with Iannelli’s mother, Donna, and sister, Amanda, both present, it was time to play baseball.
The Golden Eagles played arguably their best game of the year, beating La. Tech 9-1. The story of the game was the young blood that chipped in to help give the Eagles the offensive spark they had previously been missing. ORU freshmen (Coker, Domenico, Trevino) combined for six runs off four hits and totaled six RBI in the game.
Mike Torrence pitched a gem for ORU, tossing seven innings, allowing one run off five hits while fanning five.
After the game, ORU senior Dave Demet, who lived with Iannelli when he played at ORU, gave a teary eyed statement.
“Nelli was a one in a million guy,” Demet said. “I’ve never met anybody whose smile and laugh was so contagious. He really treated me like I was his little brother, and I consider myself one of the luckiest individuals to have had him in my life.”
ORU would carry the momentum from Friday’s victory into Saturday’s game where they lit up the scoreboard 14-4.
Saturday was the day of the hitter, with every Golden Eagles starter, along with two pinch hitters, getting a hit for ORU. The Golden Eagles collected five doubles, 18 total hits and took advantage of four fielding errors by La. Tech in their biggest offensive output of the season.
However, starting pitcher Alex Gonzalez didn’t need 14 runs, because he was just dirty Saturday. Gonzalez only gave up one run on four hits Saturday, while abusing La. Tech batters with 10 strikeouts.
Although the Golden Eagles lost a closely contended game on Sunday (3-2), they seem to have found the jumpstart they needed to help them get back on track.
ORU played Friday night’s game with visible passion and zeal, seeming to channel Iannelli’s spirit throughout the game. His life was one of service and sacrifice to his family, his friends, his team and his country. The least the Golden Eagles could do for him was win.