The Cowboys' Arm Race

Have Frank Anderson and the Oklahoma State Cowboys ever entered NCAA postseason play better prepared than they will be this weekend? The Cowboys have had some good pitchers in Anderson's first three trips to NCAA postseason action as the OSU head coach but he's never had a pair of quality arms like he does this season with sophomore lefthanders Andy Oliver and Tyler Lyons.

Oliver and Lyons have combined for 18 victories this season (against just four losses). That's why the Cowboys are a No. 1 seed this weekend, and ranked as high as fifth in the nation.

Oliver, the Vermillion, Ohio native who is expected to get the start in Friday night's first-round game against Western Kentucky, has compiled a 7-2 record with a 2.20 earned run average in 14 starts this season. He has struck out a team-high 96 batters in 98 1/3 innings pitched, and has allowed opponents to hit just .211 against him. Oliver has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 12 of his 14 starts this season.

Lyons, from Lubbock, Texas, has been just as impressive as Oliver in 2008. He is 11-2 with a 3.33 ERA while striking out 86 batters in a team-high 100 innings. He was 7-1 in Big 12 action with four complete games, including back-to-back complete game victories against No. 4 Missouri (6-2) and No. 6 Nebraska (19-2).

Anderson wouldn't reveal Thursday who the Cowboys plan to throw against the Hilltoppers Friday night but it will be either Oliver (the Friday night starter in Big 12 play) or Lyons (the Saturday starter). "We're probably going to throw a left-hander tomorrow and Tyler Lyons is an option," the Cowboy head coach said.

Anderson came to Oklahoma State prior to the 2004 season with a reputation as an outstanding pitching coach (directing the University of Texas staff from 2000-03, including the Longhorns' national title run in 2002, and during nine seasons at Texas Tech from 1990-99).

But it hasn't been until this season that he's had the type of team – one with a strong pitching staff – that can do some serious damage in the NCAA tournament. And if Oliver and Lyons continue performing like they have throughout the spring, the Cowboys still have plenty of baseball to be played.

"I think we are," Anderson said when asked if his pitching staff is rested following last week's Big 12 Tournament. "I've never been a big proponent of pool play situation and I obviously would have liked to have had a chance to play on Sunday, but we are ready and we haven't played for quite a while.

"We haven't practiced a lot because of the weather. The weather has been so bad. We have had rain every night except for last night. From that standpoint, it's probably been good for (the team). If we hadn't had all that rain (earlier this week), we probably would have practiced two or three hours a day and probably worn them out. This way they're pretty fresh. We've gone about an hour or an hour and a half a day to give them a chance to get there feet moving. The biggest thing you worry about this time of year is working them too hard. We haven't had a chance to do that because of weather."

It all starts Friday night against Western Kentucky and the Hilltopppers sophomore righthander Matt Ridings, who has compiled a team-best 10-2 record and 3.63 ERA this season. Ridings has 93 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings pitched while walking just 34 as the Hilltoppers' ace.

But Ridings has taken a different route to his 10 wins than Oliver and Lyons have in compiling their victories. Ridings teammates have provided him with plenty of support in most of his trips to the mound. As a matter of fact, in eight of Ridings 10 victories this season his teammates have scored eight or more runs.

Ridings victories this season were against the following: 1) Bowling Green, 11-4; 2) Purdue, 12-5; 3) Louisiana-Monroe, 16-5; 4) South Alabama, 8-5; 5) Youngstown State, 5-2; 6) New Orleans, 17-1; 7) Arkansas State, 7-6; 8) Florida Atlantic, 11-5; 9) Louisiana-Lafayette, 11-4; 10) Florida Atlantic, 9-0.

Can the Hilltoppers score eight or more runs against the Cowboy pitching staff?

The better question may be: Can Ridings shut down an OSU lineup consisting of All-Big 12 honorees Neil Medchill (.359 with 10 home runs), Jordy Mercer (.325 with 10 homers and 51 RBIs), Rebel Ridling (.325 with a team-best 18 homers and 65 RBIs), Matt Hague (.356 with a team-best 84 hits), Tom Belza (.388) and Luis Flores (.299)?

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