'Cat Spoil OSU's Big 12 Opener

OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma State entered the 2008 Big 12 Baseball Championship in a three-team race for a national seed with top-seed Texas A&M, playing in pool one, and Nebraska, the third-place finisher in the regular season just behind the second-seed Cowboys and joining OSU in pool two for round robin play.

Day one at the Bricktown Ballpark offered Oklahoma State a chance to jump in front of the competition as the Aggies dropped a 4-1 decision to Oklahoma earlier in the day, and just ahead of the Cowboys on the schedule, Nebraska pitching was jumped by a hungry line-up of Baylor Bears, 10-4.

The Cowboys were trying to turn around a serious losing streak in the Big 12 Baseball Tournament having lost their last eight games in the event. A year ago they lost all three games in pool play before going on to win a tough NCAA regional at Arkansas. Now the Cowboys were hoping to put an end to the Big 12 postseason skid.

They had a chance as they went to the bottom of the ninth trailing seventh seed Kansas State 3-2. If you are going to get very far down the "road to Omaha" you are going to have to pull out games like this.

The Big 12's top closer Daniel Edwards was there trying to close it out for the underdog Cats. The Cowboys had the top of the order coming up. Donnie Werbb started it off by striking out to the crafty Edwards. OSU shortstop and closer Jordy Mercer found the same fate striking out swinging. It ended with a hat trick of whiffs for Edwards as Matt Hague fanned for the final out. Kansas State wins 3-2.

Oklahoma State falls to 40-16 and will have a day off to think about its next two games in pool play -- at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against Baylor and then 4 p.m. on Saturday against Nebraska. Kansas State moves above .500 with a 28-27 record.

Oklahoma State coach Frank Anderson opted for caution in not starting ace lefty Andrew Oliver after he threw 132 pitches last Friday in a win over Oklahoma. Instead, Anderson went down staff to Tyler Blandford, who was 4-4 on the season with a 6.66 ERA.

Kansas State made the Cowboys pay for that move in the first inning as Blandford hit lead off hitter Derek Bunker on a 3-2 count. After Brett Scott flew out to right field, Nate Tenbrink took a grooved fastball by Blandford and belted it to the deepest part of the park and into the OSU bullpen some 400 feet away for a two-run home run. It was Tenbrink's team leading 9th home run of the season and gave Kansas State the early 2-0 lead.

In the bottom of second KSU shortstop Drew Biery helped out Wildcat ace Brad Hutt by diving to his right and with a stab of the glove that stole a base hit from Cowboy first baseman Rebel Ridling. Hutt was 6-4 on the season with a 3.56 ERA. Hutt lasted eight innings during the regular season against the Cowboys, outdueling Oliver in the Friday night opener in the series with OSU in Manhattan as K-State won 4-3.

The Wildcats continued to hit Blandford hard and added a run on a sacrifice fly ball in the fourth inning to make it 3-0.

It wasn't until the bottom of the sixth that the Cowboys seriously challenged Hutt as Jordy Mercer singled just beyond the reach of the shortstop Biery. Matt Hague drew a one-out walk to move Mercer down to second. Dean Green ripped a ball to deep right center that was flagged down but Mercer tagged to move up to third. Rebel Ridling worked Hutt but in the end could only muster a weak blooper behind second base that was caught by Biery to end the inning.

It appeared to be rally time again in the seventh inning as Luis Flores singled off Hutt through the right side of the infield and then moved to second when freshman Thomas Belza singled for the second time of the night, this one straight up the middle.

The bases were loaded when Hutt lost control of a weak breaking pitch that hit Tyrone Hambley. Donnie Webb hit the ball sharply but shortstop Drew Biery, who with his glove was the MVP of the night, fielded it on the run going to his right and threw to third for the force on Belza. Flores scored on the play for the first OSU run of the game. Mercer followed with a ground ball to K-State third baseman Nate Tenbrink, who bobbled it just enough and couldn't reach the bag laying out on the ground for the force. Bases loaded for the Cowboys for the second time in the seventh.

The Wildcats then made a call to the bullpen and Trevor Hurley came in and got Matt Hague to line out to second baseman Jason King. Kansas State maintained a two-run lead after seven innings, 3-1.

Blandford struggled early and gave up the home run on a grooved pitch in the first inning but in the end he had a decent outing that showed signs that he might be ready to make important contributions in the postseason when you will take whatever and as much as you can get from pitchers down your staff. Blandford came out in the top of the eighth after allowing three runs, just two of them earned, on eight hits. His second longest and quite possibly his best outing of the season.

In the bottom of the eighth, Anderson took an interesting shot as he pinch hit Rafael Thomas for Dean Green. The usual pinch runner that was a blazing wide receiver at Lufkin High School in Texas, blooped a ball just in front of K-State centerfielder Dane Yelovich and never slowed down rounding first before sliding head first into second with a hustling double.

After the Wildcats made a pitching change, going to the Big 12 leader in saves Edwards, Rebel Ridling struck out chasing an outside pitch. Neil Medchill lined out to right-center and then catcher Luis Flores worked a walk to put runners at first and third. Belza singled through the left side of the infield scoring Thomas and moving Flores to second. Anderson went to his bench again, this time to Michael Dabbs to pinch hit, but it did not work out as well as Dabbs struck out swinging. It was on to the ninth inning with K-State leading 3-2.

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