Oklahoma State needed all 11 of its runs against Kansas State Sunday. The Cowboys gave up nine runs on a combination of lackluster pitching and poor fielding, barely eaking out a series-sweeping 11-9 victory.
The Cowboys (21-9, 7-2 Big 12) jumped out to a 6-0 lead on the Wildcats (10-19, 0-9) early by batting through the lineup in the first inning. Poised to cruise for their first conference series sweep of the season, the Wildcats exploited the OSU defense to make things interesting.
"They were definitely a scrappy team," said OSU centerfielder Jose Virgil. "They hung in there and they never gave up."
Starting pitcher Joe Weaver began to fall apart in the second inning walking two batters and allowing one run. He gave up four runs in 4.2 innings.
"It's a tough game for some people to pitch," Holliday said. "It's the third game; hitters are relaxed. You'd like to have a real dominator go to the mound in the third game."
Junior lefthander Shane Hawk, who has been money in the bank for OSU this season, relieved Weaver in the fifth, but struggled as well.
"This time of year, pitchers like to get an inning in here and there just to maintain rythmn; I didn't think any one of our three guys today had very good rhythmn," OSU coach Tom Holliday said. "We put the game in jeopardy."
Hawk controlled KSU's offense for 1.2 innings before miscues rendered him ineffective.
In the seventh inning Wildcat first baseman Tim Doty got on base with one out to begin the KSU rally.
An error, a basehit and a walk later, the Wildcats had the bases loaded only down 11-5. KSU designated hitter Brad Anzman brought them all home with a triple hit to the wall in center field, then made it home on a base hit up the middle by centerfielder Terry Blunt cutting the lead to 11-9.
"I did struggle; got no excuse for it," Hawk said. "It's been a week, I haven't pitched since the last series, the last game against Kansas, and I was a little rusty. There's really no excuse. I should be able to go out and continue what I was doin‘, but I guess bad days come along every once in a while."
Despite the seventh-inning rally by KSU, Hawk finished the game with no earned runs in 3.2 innings and got the win to improve to 6-0.
Junior reliever Daniel Rew netted the save by striking out the last two batters he faced with runners on second and third.
"I knew I was going to throw today sometime," Rew said. "I had a couple of days off, and I was ready to get back on the mound whether it was going to be in the bullpen after the game or late in the game somewhere."
Holliday said the time off may have been a factor in OSU's pitching performance.
"Those were the three guys that were overly fresh," Holliday said. "Yesterday it sounds really good to have those three people ready to pitch today, but the only thing in the back of your mind is that none of those three guys have really pitched in six, seven days."
The Cowboys finished the game with three errors and struggled fielding the ball the entire game, making it that much harder on the pitchers.
"You can't show any emotion really," Hawk said. "You've gotta go and tell a guy ‘hey, concentrate on the next one; we'll get a double play.' That's how we try to look at things. You can't stress on the things that happen before, you've gotta go forward."
Despite their defensive troubles, the Cowboys came away with the win and are now sitting atop the Big 12 conference.
"It feels good. We knew we were this good," Virgil said. "It was just a matter of the new guys getting a feel for what Division I baseball is all about. I think we're finally startin‘ to roll a little bit. The bats are definitely coming around and look for us to be in the run in the end."
The Cowboys have had the offensive wheels rolling, scoring 10 runs in five of their last six games. Virgil launched the Cowboys in Sunday's game, 4-for-5 and three runs scored, and throughout the series going 9-for-12 with three RBI, two stolen bases and eight runs scored.
"I've been working with Wine-O (hitting coach Robbie Wine) the last couple of weeks trying to figure my swing out, and I think I figured out what I've been doin‘ wrong, just thinking to much at the plate," Virgil said. "Hopefully I can keep it goin‘ the rest of the season."
Although the offense has been red-hot lately to put them ahead of the Big 12 pack, Holliday said they are not letting up.
"Its a work in progress — we are not sittin around talking about how good we are," Holliday said. "We're just trying to get better, and we see the areas that need improvement. It is nice to be in first place, but we still have got work to do — we're not finished yet."