OSU's Keys To Winning The Regional

The Oklahoma State Cowboys learned the path to Omaha on Monday. While fans scratch their heads over the No. 6 team in the country being overlooked for a national seed, Frank Anderson is preparing the Cowboys to host their first regional since 1997. By drawing rival Wichita State, a good Texas Christian team, and conference champion Western Kentucky the committee did not do the Pokes any favors.

The Hilltoppers have some power led by Cregar who has 20 home runs on the season. They certainly are a power threat with the wind blowing out.

Wichita State, on the other hand, is offensively weak outside of Gillaspie and Dirks. They made it to regionals on the back of an outstanding pitching staff. Boasting a rotation with three starters with more than nine wins and with ERAs below 3.00, the Shockers have the pitching to win. Nothing would make the long time rival happier.

TCU is a lot like WSU but a little more balanced. TCU utilizes a small ball approach to offense. The team batting average is just .302, but their on-base percentage is a respectable .383. They are solid defensively especially behind the plate. Catcher Bryan Holaday has nailed 20 runners on the year. But the pitching staff is the anchor of this team with a team ERA of 3.45.

There are three keys to winning this regional.

1. Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
A lot has been written of the one-two punch of Andy Oliver and Tyler Lyons. However, many fail to note that this is the best team ERA a Cowboy team as a whole has had since 1974 at 3.8. Just to put that in perspective, Gary Ward's first year was 1978. However, the Cowboys 3.8 falls short of both TCU's 3.45 and WSU's 3.56. The Cowboys have had trouble finding a consistent third starter and at times has struggled in the bullpen, which is why TCU and WSU have better numbers despite an outstanding year for the staff.

Oliver will be matched up Friday night against a solid right-hander in Matt Ridings. Ridings was a Freshman All-America last year and has 10 wins this season. Ridings is a high-strikeout, low-walk starter that could test the Cowboys. Oliver is among the nation's best southpaws. It's unlikely that Western Kentucky has too many fastballs like his.

Some would like to see Oliver not throw on Friday, but it is just too risky to do. Losing game one of the regional drastically diminishes the chances of winning the regional coming out of the loser's bracket. Given that WKU has a solid ace, Frank will not risk it.

Lyons will get the call on Saturday. Lyons would be recognized as among the nation's best southpaws if he wasn't No. 2 on the pitching staff. Whether its TCU or Wichita State, Lyons will be waiting. If WSU advances, it could easily turn into quite a pitchers duel of Shafer vs. Lyons.

The third starter will be either Matt Gardner or Tyler Blandford. Gardner is the experienced pick, but Blandford pitched well enough to win in the Big 12 tourney. It may be a gut decision by Frank once he knows the match-up. It is possible both could be called on to start if the Cowboys lose a game.

2. Come Out Swinging
Frank Anderson's team is 17-3 when it scores in the first inning, and 25-4 when the Cowboys score first. The Cowboys need to score early and often. Throughout the season, the Cowboy put pressure on Oliver by failing to score runs on Friday night. Given that, Oliver got nervous early at Bedlam. It is important that the Cowboys jump on their opponents early.

Scoring early takes the pressure off the pitching staff and can demoralize the opponent. This is especially important given the teams in the regional. WKU has the capability to comeback if it is allowed to, and both TCU and WSU have great starting pitching that can shut down the Cowboys if allowed to get in a groove early.

3. Ride the Wave
Regionals have a lot of up and downs in momentum. The trick is being able to ride the highs and lows. The Cowboys are facing three teams that won their tournaments so they are all on a bit of a hot streak. Hot teams are dangerous, especially if the energy in the ballpark shifts in their favor.

Luckily, the Cowboys have a lot of leadership to guide them. Rebel Ridling and Jordy Mercer played huge roles in last year's Super Regional run, but they are not alone. Luis Flores participated in a regional his freshman year at Houston and other members of the team were at least present at last year's regional.

The Cowboys ended the season playing to big crowds in Bedlam and the Big 12 Tournament, and that has exposed the rest of the team to regional-like conditions and should help prepare the team for what they will see this weekend.

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