Big 12 Baseball: Can The Cowboys Stay Hot?

The Oklahoma State Cowboys, originally picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 coaches' poll, have completed one of the most improbable runs in school history to earn a No. 2 seed in this week's Big 12 Tournament. The Pokes, seeking Frank Anderson's second Big 12 Tournament title, enter the tournament as one of the early favorites to win it all.

The Cowboys recent success, however, has not gone unnoticed by their opponents, and OSU should expect each of its foes to save their best for the Pokes. The road to the championship game will not be an easy one, but the Pokes know what lies before them. The first test comes from ever dangerous Missouri, which is fresh off a sweep of conference champ Texas. Missouri has one of the best pitching staff's in the conference, and should not be overlooked as a possible upset winner in Pod B.

The Tigers will send out fully rested, crafty, lefty Nathan Culp on Wednesday against the Cowboys. Culp has been an anchor for the Mizzou pitching staff all year. Culp maintains a 10-5 record with a 3.15 ERA and pitched an 8-inning, 2-run jewel against the Pokes back on April 21 – just one of just three conference losses by the Cowboys since they started this impressive run back on April 11. Poke fans had worried about the prospect of seeing Mizzou ace Max Scherzer, but Scherzer threw a lot of pitches this past weekend and is battling nagging injuries, and will see OU on Friday.  

Mizzou's offense is a major reason the Tigers have struggled to not live up to preseason expectations. In conference play just two Tiger starters are batting over .300 – outfielder Evan Frey (.367) third baseman Brock Bond (.310). Frey is the kind of hitter who just gets on base, the only real power threat in the Tiger lineup is DH Jacob Priday.  

The Friday night special for the Pokes is surging Kansas. KU's 13 conference wins is a school record. Kansas has two probable starters in left-handed Sean Land or righty Ricky Fairchild. Fairchild has been known on occasion to throw pike balls and give up home runs, but the way the power alleys of Bricktown play, the ballpark is much more forgiving than Ricky sees in the Big 12. Land is a more stable pitcher, but with a 4.90 ERA, needs run support to get wins.  

Kansas, as a team, is worst in the conference in defense with 82 errors in 61 games. KU's mistakes and unreliable pitching has made winning very difficult. Do not sleep on the KU offense because there are some weapons there – guys like John Allman, who hitting .398 in Big 12 play, and Gus Milner, who has recorded five triples and sits fourth in the conference with 81 hits.  

The matchup everyone wants to see will most likely decide who goes to Sunday afternoon's championship game is Bedlam 4. OU has elected to send right-handed Daniel McCutcheon to the bump. Poke fans will remember McCutcheon caused quite a stir in the regular season meeting by predicting OU would win the Saturday game by a score of 15-2, only to see OU get shutout in the next 2 games. Say what you want about the guy's attitude, but he can pitch. McCutcheon leads the Big12 in strikeouts with 116 in 120.1 innings pitched. In the first meeting against the Pokes, McCuthceon allowed only two earned runs and K'd 10 batters. The key to beating McCutcheon all year has been to limit his run support. He will give up two or three runs, but the trick is to prevent that OU offense from scoring.  

If the Pokes are to win the Big 12 Tournament title they will need to execute in three main categories:  

Limit mental errors: Cowboy teams in the past have been plagued by mental mistakes, both in the field and on the base path. During this improbable run, one key aspect has been OSU's relatively low number of errors and base-running mistakes.  

Timely hitting: With regard to pitching, the Pokes are seeing the best of the best this weekend. These guys don't give up a lot of hits or a lot of runs so the Pokes need to get hits at the right time, specifically with guys in scoring position. When the Pokes get the lead off man on base, he needs to score every time.  

Pitching: The key to winning in Bricktown is always pitching. OSU's opponents are going to be supplying quality arms. The Pokes need good outings by their starters and they need to get good performances out of bullpen that has been suspect at times.  

One thing weighing on the back of Poke fans' minds in this postseason is the opportunity to host a regional. With an RPI of 13, a national ranking of 12, their success in the last 10 games, and second-place finish in the Big 12, the Pokes should be considered a near-lock to host. However, the Pokes need to take care of business, winning at least two games, to stay off the host "bubble" that Nebraska and OU currently find themselves on. The Pokes could conceivably lose all three games and still host, but it is in their best interest to avoid such an outcome which would give the committee a reason not to send a regional to Stillwater.

Big 12 Tournament

Game 1: Nebraska vs. Baylor, 10 a.m.
Game 2: Texas vs. Texas Tech, 1 p.m.
Game 3: Oklahoma vs. Kansas, 5 p.m.
Game 4: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri, 8 p.m.

Game 6: Texas vs. Baylor, 5 p.m.
Game 7: Nebraska vs. Texas Tech, 8 p.m.

Game 8: Oklahoma vs. Missouri, 5 p.m.
Game 9: Oklahoma State vs. Kansas, 8 p.m.


Game 10: Baylor vs. Texas Tech, 10 a.m.
Game 11: Texas vs. Nebraska, 1 p.m.
Game 12: Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma, 5 p.m.
Game 13: Kansas vs. Missouri, 8 p.m.

Championship: 1 p.m.

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