USA Today Sports

Half the Cover Gone, Pokes Hanging in There

Think the Cowboys baseball team is out of it, not after a successful weekend in Lubbock beating the #4 team in the country two out of three. The Pokes may survive their own cover jinx. Read on.

This past weekend Oklahoma State baseball bused into Lubbock, Texas and Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park and won two-out-of three from the fourth-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Cowboys arrived in Lubbock sitting in a tie for eighth place in the Big 12 with a 4-8 record, but left with a 6-9 conference mark and some hope as they will not leave the state borders of Oklahoma for the rest of the season. For the team that was picked to finish second in the preseason and is coming off a Final Four finish in the 2016 College World Series this would all seem rather underachieving except half the cover has been gone for a significant portion of the season and another fourth of the cover has kind of gone missing. 

What?

Are you talking about the baseball? Cover, what cover?

No, I'm talking about the cover of the media guide for the 2017 Oklahoma State baseball team. Usually the cover is reserved for those standout players that are expected to lead both statistically and as examples for the upcoming season and there were high hopes for the foursome on the cover. It started with the rumblings late last year that ace reliever )and sometimes starter) Trey Cobb was having arm issues and might have to have surgery that would wipe out the senior season he returned for. It turned out rest was the remedy, but rest all the way until virtually the midway point in the season, but now Cobb is back and getting into the flow of things.

Ryan Sluder is a major weapon for the Cowboys but after a solid start, Sluder missed a chunk of games and has not been able to get into that groove hitting that the Cowboys have come to enjoy out of the senior outfielder. Sluder went 2-for-11 over the weekend in the Tech series.

The missing or at least part missing is first baseman Dustin Williams. Williams is not a big for average hitter, but the senior first baseman has "pop" in his bat and led the Big 12 last season with 14 home runs. The "pop" hasn't been there this spring with Williams hitting an improved .233, but he has just two home runs and 11 RBI after finishing last season with the 14 round trippers and 42 RBI. Williams has played in 32 of the Cowboys 39 games, but only started 24 of those.

The one player on the cover that has been there every step of the way is senior pitcher Tyler Buffett, and that despite a lot of burden on his shoulders with Cobb missing in action the first half of the season and sophomore standout and weekend starter Jensen Elliott coming up with an arm injury that has now resulted in "Tommy John" surgery. Buffett has been the only expected weekend starter on the mound for the Pokes since conference play got underway back in March.

Players, especially young players have stepped up and you might want to consider head coach Josh Holliday and pitching coach Rob Walton for honors. A wise coach once told me that players have no interest in knowing what you know and imparting that wisdom on them until they know the most important thing and that is that you care about them. Holliday and Walton, each in their own way, have the mindset of showing that to their players. They also have the very "new millennium" aspect of staying positive all the time, especially Holliday. His frustration will show on occasion, but he easily falls into the category of good attitude and body language that is constantly preached over in the West End Zone by the head football coach.

Despite a rash of injuries and some performance levels expected that have not been reached, the Cowboys have hung in there and now have 14 games left, all in Oklahoma, and 10 of them on the Oklahoma State campus. Freshmen, who I believe that what my radio teammate at Triple Play Sports Tom Dirato says is right, that they are ready when they arrive these days, have performed well, sometimes extremely well.

Carson Teel is a sophomore but the left-hander pitcher has twice been the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week, including this week after pitching three times in the week that also included a win over Oral Roberts and he picked up the wins in relief in the Friday and Sunday games against Texas Tech and their line-up, which came into the series hitting over .300. Garrett Benge had a heckuva weekend knocking in the winning run on Sunday in the 11th inning and scoring an insurance run. He was part of the rally on Friday in the top of the ninth to get the win. The other Garrett, McCain is leading the Big 12 with a .372 average and is second in triples (3) and stolen bases (15). Benge is also third in RBI in the conference with 43. Catcher and DH Colin Simpson is third in home runs in the Big 12 with nine.

Teel is seventh in the conference in strike outs with 54 and Buffett is right behind in eighth with 52. 

Has there been doom and gloom? Yes, Oklahoma State and there fans did not expect to be 23-16 at this point or 6-9 and tied for seventh in the Big 12, but it's a lot better than the movie "Dumb and Dumber" where they said there is a chance. This Oklahoma State team still has a path and it is one they have been down before that involved winning a bunch of games and doing it late in the season. They went on their roll in South Carolina last season all the way to Omaha. This time they need to do it at home and roll all the way into June and the NCAA Regionals. 


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