Eighth Inning Blues Lead To Red Storm

After a strong season and a sturdy finish to the regular season and solid start in the first three games of the Big 12 Tournament in Tulsa, the Oklahoma State Cowboys slipped into a bad habit, a funk, a problem finishing.

It started with the Big 12 Championship Game and an eighth inning filled with errors and pitching mistakes. The Cowboys nearly blew the first game in the Stillwater Regional when they allowed St. John's a run in the top of the ninth but won it on Tim Arakawa's walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth.

Then Saturday night against Arkansas the eighth inning was a disaster starting with a lead-off walk and culminating with two throwing errors on the pitchers, one on a sacrifice bunt, the other on a pick off move to third. In between, an almost unheard of wild pitch on an intentional walk that allowed a runner to score from third.

The eighth inning was at it again Sunday against St. John's as the Red Storm scored two runs to take a 2-1 lead. With the visitors from New York actually being the home team, closer Thomas Hackimer closed the Cowboys out with the help of a throw out on a steal attempt by the catcher Tyler Sanchez.

St. John's wins and plays Arkansas Sunday night in championship game one while Oklahoma State was eliminated.

"It was a tough ballgame," Cowboys head coach Josh Holliday said. "Obviously, I give St. John’s a lot of credit. They showed tremendous grit there in the eighth inning with a pretty good rally that proved to be the difference in the ballgame. They’re a quality team, so congratulations to them and best of luck as they continue on. I don’t really have anything else to say in terms of the rest of the ballgame."

In a game that developed into a pitcher's duel between the Cowboys all-purpose standout Conor Costello and St. John's gritty right-hander Chris Kalica the only run prior to the Red Storm rally in the eighth came in the third inning.

Ryan Sluder and Bryan Case got it started for the Cowboys with back-to-back singles, and then the Pokes used small ball with Jacob Chappell's sacrifice bunt. After Gage Green lined out, OSU scored when Case ran home from third on a passed ball that bounced away from Sanchez and down the first base line.

Cowboy fans were hoping the one-run advantage would survive, but it couldn't with that eighth inning. Costello was certainly not at fault as he gave his best pitching performance of the season with seven innings, allowing only four hits. Costello, who overcame a finger injury to pitch in the regional, did all he could before handing it to Trey Cobb.

"I think that it’s pretty clear that it was a pitcher’s day. Conor (Costello) pitched outstanding. He gave us a fantastic effort," Holliday added. "That’s the most he’s thrown in a game this year, and I thought he was really, really special for us."

"It’s the postseason," Costello said when asked about his injured thumb. "You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. It’s obviously disappointing. I’m going to miss the seniors and seeing those guys. It’s going to be really, really tough.

"We obviously expected a lot more, but that’s baseball. We’re not going to go down without a fight. That’s what Josh (Holliday) preaches and is always going to preach. It just didn’t turn out that way today. I was pretty much set no matter what that I was going to pitch."

Cobb had earned the win in the regional opener with St. John's after giving up the tying run in the top of the ninth on Friday. He started the eighth in ominous fashion with a hits batsman, but the Cowboys erased the lead runner and nearly doubled up the Red Storm on a sac bunt attempt.

However, a stolen base put St. John's exactly where they wanted to be, with a runner on second and one out. Cobb struck out Sanchez then walked Alex Caruso, before Robert Wayman, the Johnnies hottest bat, delivered a single up the middle to bring home the tying run. Michael Donadio followed that with an RBI single through the left side to put the Red Storm up 2-1 before Cobb got out of the inning with a fly out.

In the ninth, the Cowboys put the tying run on base after a one-out, infield single by Costello. But Costello was caught stealing at second on a hit-and-run play, and Sluder struck out to end the game.

"We hit some balls hard," Holliday said. "We hit some balls in the air. Today wasn’t a great day to do that, as it turned out in the end. Too many in the air and not enough on the ground to find holes.

"I’m not going to dwell on the outcome at this time," the third-year coach continued. "I’m obviously disappointed. You have to kind of gather your thoughts as a coach and reflect on your team the way they deserve to be reflected upon. That’s really what this is about.

"This team from start to finish was everything you could ask for. I don’t think we had one discipline problem from day one. Never late to practice, never got in trouble off the field. We set records in the classroom. We played really, really good baseball on the field. The kids wore the uniform with pride.

"It’s kind of hard to grasp that you’re not going to get to write some of these kids’ names in the lineup again, but their legacy for me is hard to surmise, especially when I didn’t think I’d be sitting here today. I anticipated this team pushing this thing a little further. (They are) a really, really special bunch of kids.

"The story for me isn’t that the season is over, it’s what they’ve done and what they’ve meant to our coaching staff and the overall health of the program long term because we wouldn’t be here without these kids, and we know that. Other than that, that’s about all I can come up with."

It was a good team, part of a group that won 10 Big 12 series in a row dating back to last season. A group that represented the school in a classy manner. Unfortunately, the late inning struggles have them packing up the gloves, bats and balls for this season.

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