OKLAHOMA CITY -- After three games of battling, really five games if you count the two Bedlam wins last weekend, the Cowboys had survived losing a lead in the ninth, a lot of heat and humidity, and a heavy investment of sweat equity, especially in putting away a very tough and gritty West Virginia team twice to get to Sunday in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship. Oklahoma State showed they were the grittiest of the gritty in both dugouts on Saturday as they scored in the first extra inning and held on to the 4-3 advantage to eliminate the Mountaineers and get to within one step of the quest that started with Bedlam.
Now the Pokes have one game on Sunday at 1 p.m. with the survivor of Bracket Two in Texas to win the Big 12 and earn the automatic bid to go back to the NCAA Tournament where they worked their way to Omaha and a return to the College World Series last June. So what was the first comment out of Cowboys head coach Josh Holliday after that four hour and 10 minute Saturday marathon at the Bricktown Ballpark.
"Nine a.m. baseball is for the birds," Holliday said in the postgame news conference before the cameras and microphones were turned on.
There wasn't anybody in the room that was disagreeing with him, but Oklahoma State's leading hitter, left fielder Garrett McCain was absolutely up for some Saturday "breakfast at the Brick". McCain entered the game hitting .382 and after a three-for-five day with four RBI including a three-run double in the sixth and the winning RBI on a single in the top of the 10th he finished with a .387 average and some really good memories of a tournament that had been kind of so-so for him the first two games.
Both the Cowboys and Mountaineers started with four-and-a-half scoreless innings and left a combined 10 runners on base. Oklahoma State started much like they did in the Thursday 8-4 win over West Virginia with two runners on in the top of the first, but this time instead of a home run Mountaineers starter Kade Strowd of Fort Worth, Texas struck out the Cowboys slugging catcher Colin Simpson. Simpson would finish one-for-five, but did get the respect in the top of the ninth when they walked him intentionally.
The Mountaineers struck first off Joe Lienhard, who had a solid outing with 5.1 innings allowing just two runs on five hits. In the bottom of the fourth, West Virginia's Darius Hill reached base on a walk and later scored on a sacrifice fly delivered by Jackson Cramer.
McCain's first big hit of the game came in the sixth with bases loaded only after Ryan Cash, batting just in front of McCain worked Jackson Sigman for an 11-pitch at bat and fouled off seven pitches before earning a walk. McCain slapped a three-run double to give the Cowboys a 3-1 lead.
The Mountaineers immediately responded by putting up two hits in the bottom of the sixth and scored their second run on a wild pitch.
In the bottom of the ninth, West Virginia scored a run off Jimmy Galusky's double to tie the game. The opportunity was set up when the Cowboys played Kevin Brophy to pull to left on the ground and deep to left in the outfield. Brophy popped it up to shallow left and freshman shortstop Cameron Dobbs going back on it misjudged the ball with the swirling wind and Brophy wound up on second base. It was the kind of bad break that this team struggled from recovering from much of the season.
First-team All-Big 12 member Garrett McCain proved to be clutch for the Cowboys as he knocked an RBI double in the 10th inning to score Jacob Chappell to capture the win.
The Oklahoma State bullpen was stellar as Cole Hearrean, Jake Cowan both pitched well and the closing team of Trey Cobb and Carson Teel finished the last four innings together allowing only three hits and one run. They just did it backwards as Cobb played set-up and Teel actually closed for the win.
"That was a very hard-fought game. I don’t know where you begin," Holliday said in trying to summarize the long contest. "Joe (Lienhard) gave us a good start. He did what you need your pitching staff to do, and that’s to get you deep into the game, so that you can navigate your bullpen. We had some chances early on. The young man for them has a live arm, and he gets the ball to home plate really quick. We weren’t able to get on time with their slide steps and there balls were quick. We just didn’t have a great look on him at times. We had opportunities. We certainly built some innings, but we just didn’t close them out. Then Garrett’s (McCain) clutch hit, which I haven’t seen a more clutch player in a long time in coaching. He clutches up and gives us a three-run double.
"From there, our bullpen did a great job. Cole (Hearrean) came in and shut down an out. Jake (Cowan) did his thing, and Trey Cobb was awfully good. Carson Teel, what else can you say? The kid came in there and filled up the strike zone," continued Holliday. "We dealt with a little adversity there when it felt like or looked like we might be on the verge of closing it out. We all know how the game is. We all know how games in the conference tournaments and in the ballpark where the wind is quite active upstairs. That ball just kept carrying. It was a tough play for Cameron (Dobbs). But we bounced back. That was a blow that earlier in the season, we may not have had the resolve to withstand. Then Brice Fisher, I was just really happy for him to come off the bench with a big double. (Ryan) Cash gets on there and Garrett with another huge clutch base hit to give us some breathing room."
McCain was extremely humble in discussing his contributions, which included knocking in all four Oklahoma State runs.
"I couldn’t have done it without this guy (Ryan Cash)," McCain said with Cash sitting next to him. "Both times he had really good at-bats. First time, eight or nine pitch at-bat and drew a walk. Then the time after that, he wore one in the arm that allowed me to get to the plate. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to help out the squad. I hadn’t had a really productive tournament so far, offensively, so I felt like I was letting the guys down, and I wasn’t really producing in situations that I should’ve been. I’m just glad I got to redeem myself a couple times today. Hopefully this propels us for tomorrow."
Texas was unbeaten in Bracket Two, but TCU battled back through elimination and forced the if necessary game with Texas on Saturday before the Horns won that second game which means the Cowboys and the Longhorns on Sunday. Texas played all day and used a lot of pitching to get there and Oklahoma State will be the team highly motivated on Sunday, but it has been that way for over a week now.