As Cowboys catcher, outfielder and senior leader Gage Green put it in the post-game, "This time we're going to try it another way."
That other way was secured by the Cowboys riding the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Michael Freeman and some early and opportunistic offense to hammer Kansas State 10-1 on Thursday night to move into what is often described in these baseball double elimination brackets as the "catbird seat."
The Cowboys earn a day of rest on Friday while Kansas State and Oklahoma battle to see who gets to come back on Saturday and have to attempt to beat the fresher Cowboys twice to get into the championship game on Sunday.
With the win Thursday night at ONEOK Field, the 11th-ranked Cowboys improved to 36-17 and are within one victory of advancing to the Big 12 tourney title game for the second-straight year. Their next game would be Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against the winner of Friday’s Oklahoma/Kansas State game.
It's nice when there is truth in advertising or, in this case, truth in award winning as Freeman led the Cowboys to victory against K-State (27-29) and backed up or put an exclamation point on his Big 12 Pitcher of the Year honor from earlier this week. The 6-8 lefty tossed his fourth complete game of the season to improve to 10-2 as he allowed just six hits, all singles, and struck out seven.
OSU had plenty of offense behind their ace as coach Josh Holliday’s ballclub collected 14 hits, led by three apiece from Donnie Walton and Tim Arakawa. That duo also played outstanding defense up the middle with Walton and shortstop and Arakawa at second base combining to record 13 groundball outs and turn a pair of double plays.
“Another outstanding performance by Mike (Freeman), and with that being said, the defense our infielders played behind him and Gage Green’s job behind the plate working with him continue to be part of that recipe,” Holliday said.
“When Mike pitches there’s an abnormal amount of balls that are struck into the ground and struck with different rhythm and hops. Tim (Arakawa) was amazing at second base, Donovan (Walton) played exceptional at shortstop, Jacob (Chappell) was right there at third and Dustin Williams at first. You see balls hit in areas of the field that normally don’t occur, and that’s due to the sink on the ball and the late movement.
“Michael continues to be a rock, and you can’t say enough about his presence on the mound and his ability to go out there… once again, he was pretty well in control.”
OSU wasted no time giving Freeman a cushion on the scoreboard. In the first inning, the Cowboys plated a pair of unearned runs when KSU center fielder Max Brown dropped a fly ball, and they tallied three more in the second, two of those on a two-out single by Walton.
“On offense, we were dialed in right out of the chute, and we did a really good job in the first two innings against a very good competitor and accomplished pitcher (All-Big 12 right-hander Nate Griep),” Holliday said.
The Cowboys would go up 6-0 in the fourth, this time on a two-out, RBI double by Walton, before K-State managed its lone run in the bottom of the inning.
In that frame, the Wildcats collected three singles and a walk, but Freeman limited the damage to only one run as he induced Jake Wodtke to ground into an inning-ending double play after K-State had loaded the bases.
“I’m incredibly blessed to be a part of this team and to compete and do the things we do day-in and day-out,” Freeman said. “I just really try and work down with everything and just continually get ground balls like that. And these guys are incredible – the plays that Tim made, that’s just what he does every day. It’s easy to pitch when you’ve got guys like that in the infield. It’s really fun, and it really keeps me at ease trusting the guys behind me.”
Arakawa added that it’s equally gratifying to work defensively behind the lefty.
“When Mike is on the mound, you tend to stay engaged a lot more,” Arakawa said. “He does a great job. The pace that he works at just keeps you in it every pitch. It’s fun to play behind him.”
OSU finished the contest with eight different Cowboys collecting hits, including four who had multi-hit efforts. Walton’s three RBIs led the Pokes, while Corey Hassel drove in a pair of runs.
The Cowboys have a day off Friday, or as Holliday said a day of training to try to improve the ball club and get even more Cowboys comfortable with the post-season stage and confident to make plays to win games like Oklahoma State has done twice already this week in Tulsa.
Looking ahead, it is safe to say the Cowboys have done enough work to host a regional next week in Stillwater, and depending on other action around the country they may be playing their way toward the tail end of the list of eight national seeds or at least working to stay away from some of the more difficult Super Regional destinations if they advance in the bracket. One thing is certain in college baseball, at this critical time of the season there is always work to be done. However, the catbird seat does make it a little easier.