NCAA Baseball: Cowboys Pack For Success

As the Oklahoma State Cowboys unpack at the Radisson Hotel in Fayetteville, Ark., for what they hope will be a successful stay and run through the Fayetteville Regional of the NCAA baseball tournament, the squad left a few items unpacked and back in Stillwater. The frustration of being a number one seed that has to go on the road is one.

All the griping about how there could be a lack of hotel rooms and how that cost the Cowboys a chance to play on their home diamond at Allie Reynolds Stadium where they were 28-4 this season is counter productive to winning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

Oklahoma State head coach Frank Anderson simply said that the issue will be addressed and corrected after the season so that no future deserving Cowboy squad will have to go on the road when they could play at home. The other issue left in Stillwater was last week's 0-3 performance in the Big 12 Tournament that included Saturday's 21-6 loss to rival Oklahoma.

"That's last weekend and we have to realize that those three games are over and we have another three or four ahead of us," said second baseman Shelby Ford. "We have to look at each separate game by itself and not look at the whole weekend at one time."

Ford is a stabilizer in the Cowboy infield where defense, particularly that of freshman shortstop Jordy Mercer, came apart last week in Oklahoma City. Mercer, after making just 10 errors all season, had three in the opener against Missouri, another one against Kansas, and a mental error early in the barrage by OU. Ford said he is communicating with Mercer and the rest of the infield every opportunity.

"When we'd get together at the mound I was saying, ‘It's okay, let's get it together and make those plays,'" added Ford.

Third baseman Tyler Mach, the Big 12 Player of the Year and just named All-American, agrees with Ford. Mach is hitting .378 with 16 home runs and 66 RBIs. He's got plenty of positive to draw upon without letting the negative creep in.

"Those are games you put behind you," said Mach. "We know we did wrong out there and we have to use that as a stepping stone to this weekend and getting better."

Anderson said he's addressed the Big 12 Tournament and now is firmly focused on what lies ahead - a 2 p.m. meeting with fourth-seed and Ivy League champion Princeton on Friday.

"Our effort needs to be there every time and I didn't think it was like it had been all the way through (the season)," said Anderson. "Sometimes we finish in a flurry and we competed very well and had a chance to go down there and didn't give our best effort. That's one thing the NCAA Tournament allows you to do is get back on track, and I would expect us to compete very well. I think we'll be excited and ready to play well."

Princeton enters the regional tourney with a record of 19-24-1 and will pitch its ace Christi Staehely, who has a 5-1 record with a 2.30 ERA. He is also a right-hander.

"It's no secret that people have been trying to throw left-handers at us," said Anderson. "I think it is important that we have quality at bats all the way through. At this point I don't think it's right that we look one way or the other, we just need to go out and compete and play clean baseball. That's one thing we didn't do at the (Big 12) tournament was play clean baseball like we had for about six or seven weeks there."

But facing a right-hander will help. Princeton is no joke and with experience playing and coaching on teams in cold weather environments, Anderson knows how much better the Tigers can get when the temperatures get warmer late in the spring and into the summer. The Tigers have done just that.

"I don't know what exactly it is but they've won 15 or 16 out of the last 20," said the Cowboys coach. "Northern schools like that, and I've been a part of that situation, early in the year you kind of get your head knocked in a little bit. If you can hang in there and you have some character about you ... not a whole lot different than what we did, they turned it around and got hot at the right time. They know they have to point to their conference playoff. They point to that one series and try to get in there that way."

Should the Cowboys win they would be seeded to see second seed and host Arkansas. The Razorbacks are 38-19 and coming off a conference tournament disaster of their own as they went "2 and Q" in the SEC Tournament. Ace left-hander Nick Schmidt pitched six innings of a no-hitter 3-0 win over the Cowboys back in February in Alabama. However, there is a good chance the Cowboys avoid seeing Schmidt, who is 9-3 with a 2.98 ERA, in a possible second game match-up.

"Dave (Van Horn-Arkansas head coach) said the other day that they are going to throw Nick Schmidt against ORU, and ORU is a good club and you can't by pass anybody," said Anderson. "We'll likely see (Daryl) Maday. He has been their second guy and actually has thrown better the last couple of weeks than Schmidt. They've had to shuffle some things and do some different things like all of us have. Dave (Van Horn) does a good job over there and with the crowd they have support."

Maday, a 6-1, 220 pounder, is 2-2 after becoming a starter late in the year. Maday also has a 2.51 ERA. If Arkansas is upset by Oral Roberts, and that could happen as the Golden Eagles beat Arkansas in their only meeting 5-4 and swept OSU, then it will be ORU and OSU on Saturday night. The Cowboys' two meetings with the Golden Eagles came in the midweek, so is that a difference maker.

"Not so much from the position player side, and actually we ended us seeing Ashman and he ended up being their number one pitcher," said Anderson. "Rob (Walton) does a great job and he's a great pitching guy and they are built on pitching and defense. They have some options that we don't have in that they can play a lot of kids early and they don't have to worry so much about their conference and RPI. It's kind of neat how he brings some kids on and where he gets them by the end of the season."

There should be a good crowd of orange clad fans that travel to watch the Cowboys and support their effort, but Arkansas can be a madhouse, and baseball crowds at Baum Stadium sometimes resemble those in the fall at Razorback Stadium across campus. They call the hogs and the crowds develop a football mentality.

"It is, and it's a fun crowd and they really get into it," Anderson said looking at the positive. "I think they appreciate good baseball. If you make a good play they acknowledge it and we expect big crowds all the way through."

And hopefully plenty of good plays that should have been packed on the bus back in Stillwater.

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