Pitching Will Be Key In Stillwater Regional

STILLWATER - There is no doubt that this weekend in Stillwater is going to be a lot of fun with some very exciting baseball. Mix the home team that has a lot of talent and toughness with a Nebraska team that is very balanced. Cal State Fullerton was preseason ranked number one and has a team ERA of 2.03. Mix in a four seed that seems to have no fear and showed it a year ago at N.C. State.

The first game at noon Friday between number two seed Nebraska (40-19) and third seed Cal State Fullerton (32-22) will be nationally televised, and the first game of the NCAA Tournament to be on ESPN's family of networks going on ESPNU.

At 6 p.m., the Oklahoma State Cowboys (45-16) will play Binghamton (25-25). It is the first regional baseball action in Stillwater since 2008 and only the second regional since the last Holliday (Josh's dad, Tom) was coaching the Cowboys to their last College World Series appearance.

"Our kids have had a good week or preparation and we are well rested and ready to go," Josh Holliday said today. "We are ready to go out and play and we have no excuses. We are comfortable."

Pitching will be the key for this regional. We're not saying that it will be 100 percent pitching but you had better be solid or you won't last. OSU had the decision to make being the top seed facing a four seed.

The Cowboys sporting a team ERA of 3.27 will go with freshman right hander Tyler Buffet. Buffet is 2-1 on the season with a 3.22 ERA and has struck out 30 and walked 23. Jon Perrin sits there waiting for the second game with his 7-4 record and 1.78 ERA.

"Our pitching is rested and we are set up well as it always is. Rob (Walton) does an amazing job with these kids and lining them up," Holliday added. "We will throw (Tyler) Buffet in game one and he has pitched the ball awfully good as of late and has had some fine starts of late against some very good teams and settings. The regular season has prepared us well in getting a freshman set to pitch in the ballgame tomorrow night."

Holliday showed his pitchers a lot last Sunday when he did not over pitch any of them in face of losing the Big 12 Tournament championship game. The team of Holliday and Walton will stay the course.

"For our kids to trust us, they have to know we're going to look out for them every step of the way," Holliday concluded.

Now, offensively, the Binghamton staff will have plenty to face as the Pokes sport a .274 batting average with 49 home runs, the most in the regional. Big 12 Player of the Year Zach Fish, who after an ankle injury in Oklahoma City at the Big 12 Tournament, says he is ready to go.

"Good, I've been working with Eli (Williams), our trainer, and Doc (Dr. Donald) Crawley for the last several days and I've been outside running sprints and the regular routine that we go through and I'm full speed this weekend," Fish said.

Fish has 11 home runs and 44 RBI to lead the team. Between Fish and Donnie Walton, Tanner Krietemeier, Gage Green, and all the other Cowboys the Binghamton pitching staff will have a lot to deal with and they will have to do it with their second best pitcher. Head coach Tom Sinicki says it's not because they are holding anybody back.

Sinicki said Jack Rogalla, who would be perceived to be the Bearcats top pitcher with his 5-8 record and 3.77 ERA, told the coach and the staff at the American East Tournament that he was sore and didn't think he could give the team what they needed. Jake Cryts, who is 5-5 with a 3.90 ERA, jumps in for the start against the Cowboys. He has struck out 36 and walked 32.

"We're here to play quality opponents and to play quality baseball ourselves," Sinicki said and saying they have no excuses and that they will play extremely hard and have confidence in their team coming off the American East win out of the loser's bracket with a pair over favored Stony Brook.

Nebraska counts the Arkansas series on the first week of April as when the Huskers turned their season around. They were 16-13 leaving Arkansas and they enter Stillwater 40-19. The math is easy, 24-6, the rest of the way.

"From a pitching staff standpoint, early in the year, we had a lot of trouble with free bases and giving up a lot of those," left-handed reliever Zach Hirsch said. "Coach (Darin) Erstad had brought that up and I can say after the Arkansas series (early April) that those free bases went down a lot. We've had people rise to the occasion and step up and make things happen when we needed them to. We've scratched out some big wins here and there."

"You look at our pitching staff and we have three or four guys that we can roll out there and do a pretty good job and then you look at our bullpen with guys like Zach (Hirsch) and (Bob) Greco and (Josh) Roeder and those guys have been solid," added left fielder Michael Pritchard.

The Huskers have a team ERA of 3.55 and have struck out 344 and walked 191. The numbers have improved throughout the season. Offensively, Nebraska is not a juggernaut but sports a solid team batting average of .293 with an average of almost six runs a game.

"Our hitters, we don't have any All-Americans and we aren't going to hit a lot of home runs," said Pritchard, who is hitting .311 with 21 doubles and 46 RBI. "We have a lot of guys that can do a little bit of everything bunt, hit some doubles. We just grind it out and the best thing about this team is each game it seems like it is somebody different (making plays)."

The Huskers will be challenged by a team that could just as easily been at home as a number one seed, even a national seed. The Titans from Cal State Fullerton were ranked number one in February, but it took them until May to play anywhere close to that caliber.

"Two weeks ago we had two feet in the grave and the good thing is we kind of figured out how to get out of it a little bit," second-year head coach Rick Vanderhook explained.

The definite personality of the Titans is pitching. They had a first round MLB Amateur Draft selection in Phil Bickford turn down the money to be a Titan. The team ERA is a national leading 2.03 and they have that gaudy 432 strike outs to 83 walks ratio. No free baseball with Cal State.

Thomas Eshelman, who will start against Nebraska, has a 1.92 ERA with 94 K's and just 7 walks.

"All of their numbers are amazing," Vanderhook exclaimed. "Our Sunday guy has a 1.45 ERA and I think he has a bunch of walks, I think he has like 14. I honestly can't tell you why we throw as many strikes as we throw. My first season my pitching coach Kirk Saarloos, who is at TCU now, was there and we didn't have a lot of depth on the pitching staff and we focused on throwing strikes, just throw strikes and we led the nation on the least amount of strike outs.

"Then last year the guys came in and they kind of breeded that among themselves with a new pitching coach. Thomas (Eshelman) came out and went 67 some innings without walking a guy to start the season and then just walked three the rest of the season. It helps. If you look at college baseball, walks are a big part of the game. You look at Oklahoma State and walks are a big part of their offense. If you don't walk them then they have to hit. We pride ourselves on throwing strikes and winning the 2-2 counts."

Pitching is not usually the emphasis at Allie Reynolds Stadium, a park that truly favors the hitters. However, in this regional you will need to keep those run totals down, and those walks and hit batsmen even lower. The pitchers that survive the intimacy and the Oklahoma heat and humidity will be the happy ones come Sunday or Monday night.

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