NCAA Baseball: OSU Opens With Alabama

The Oklahoma State baseball team had lost to nationally ranked East Carolina 14-7 in late February, before coming back in the weather shortened Keith LeClair Classic and beating College of Charleston 7-6 and East Carolina in a rematch 7-6. While trying to get home from North Carolina, before a turnaround trip to the West Coast, the team was snowed in for two days in South Carolina.

When the Cowboys finally got back to Stillwater they had 24 hours to do laundry and leave again for the West Coast and wins over Gonzaga, Oregon State and San Francisco. Those experiences and the wins helped hoist the Cowboys' RPI and get them in the NCAA Tournament.

Now, the Cowboys return to South Carolina, specifically Clemson University, but first-round NCAA opponent Alabama is the concern, and not the weather, in Clemson, S.C.

"I was talking to some people over there and they remember it because they had to deal with it also," said Anderson. "I don't think we'll have any snow problems over there (this weekend)."

A lot of folks in the sport of college baseball don't agree with the Cowboys getting in after finishing ninth in the Big 12. The 32-22 record, no matter who the wins came against, doesn't impress and neither does a tough Big 12 that had eight teams earn slots in regionals with two, Texas and Oklahoma, hosting.

It doesn't matter, the Cowboys are in, and with a team that showed early they are capable of beating anybody including the tournament's two top national seeds, Texas and Cal State Fullerton, they are dangerous. The time off and missing the Big 12 Tournament, while irregular, may be a help.

"Obviously, it is unusual, but the way our schedule is condensed now with little practice time during the season it allowed us to go back and re-do some things and look at some things and make some adjustments you normally wouldn't have a chance to do. I thought it was good and we had some of our best practices during that week," Anderson said.

The best practice came after the announcement the Cowboys were in. The players don't remember why they almost missed the NCAA. They just know that they are in and playing Alabama at 2 p.m. (CDT) Friday in Clemson's Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

"Kids are much more resilient than coaches," said Anderson. "I still remember the struggles we had in conference and why I think we had them. That's one good thing about being younger like they are, they forget more of those things. We did address some of those things in practice, more from a mental standpoint than a physical standpoint."

Alabama finished 37-19, third in the SEC West, but they come in with little momentum from the SEC tournament doing the two and que (0-2) on Memorial Day weekend, losing to South Carolina and LSU.

The Tide has five All-SEC performers,including the Player of the Year in outfielder Kent Matthes with his .365 average, 14 doubles, 28 home runs, and 81 RBI.

A big loss is third basemen Jake Smith, who pitched some too. He was injured in the SEC Tournament and is now out for the season. He was hitting .359 with 18 home runs and 54 RBI. Designated hitter Brandon May takes over at third and owns a .343 average with 18 doubles, 12 home runs, and 68 RBI. As a team Bama hits .331.

While Anderson has the Cowboys in the NCAA for the fifth time in his six years, Tide coach Jim Wells is in the baseball version of the dance for the 12th time in 15 years.

"Jim has always had good offensive clubs over there and I've known him for a long time," said Anderson. "A lot of people give him a hard time because Jim never played, which is very unusual. That says you don't have to be a good player to be a good coach. They have a very good team, and they will be a good test."

Alabama isn't so great in the pitching department, but the ace and expected starter versus the Cowboys is right-hander Austin Hyatt. Hyatt is 8-2 with a 3.14 ERA in 100.1 innings pitched. He has 86 strike outs to 13 walks.

The Cowboys will throw a batting order at Hyatt that features Tyrone Hambly hitting for a .338 average, Neil Medchill hitting .337, Tom Belza is hitting .336, and Michael Dabbs comes in at .335. Amazing balance, but Anderson would like to see more out of the other five sticks in the line-up.

Expect to see Cowboys left-hander Tyler Lyons get the duty of quieting the Bama bats. Lyons is the most consistent of the talented, but underachieving OSU arms. Lyons is 6-5 with a 3.75 ERA in 84 innings pitched. He has 66 strikeouts to 21 walks.

Top seed Clemson (40-19) finished third in the ACC and will play Ohio Valley Tournament champion Tennessee Tech (30-22-1) at 6 p.m. (CDT).

Terry Don Phillips is the athletic director at Clemson. Phillips was at Oklahoma State in the same capacity for 10 years so he will have some interest in the Cowboys.

"I'm an Oklahoma State fan, always will be. The time I had to be a part of that program was a great time for me," said Phillips. "Now we want to win this regional and get on to the Super Regional, but I'm certainly glad Oklahoma State is out here and as long as they are not on the field together with Clemson then I'm rooting for Oklahoma State. If we're not on the field with them, I want OSU to win."

Phillips may be one of the few feeling an orange allegiance, but Anderson likes the idea of Clemson being a hot bed for college baseball and the regional crowds being passionate.

"They'll have great crowds and they'll have pretty raucous crowds," added Anderson. "I think it is exciting and I like to play in front of those kind of crowds."

"They have a passion for their baseball here and they have a rich heritage in baseball just like Oklahoma State," said Phillips. "We have outstanding crowds and we're in a construction mode with Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

"The first year (I was here) we re-did the main grandstand and this year just as soon as the baseball season is over we are building 1,000 covered seats behind the left field fence. We'll have restrooms, concessions, and a nice play area for the kids. We have some issues down our third base line where we need to add permanent seating. It will be filled during this tournament and the team will enjoy playing in this environment," Phillips added.

Should the Cowboys take care of Alabama and top seed Clemson win as expected, OSU will see a different type of opponent on Saturday. The Tigers don't win games with their swing but with their wing.

"We've had good pitching and probably don't score as many runs as they do in the Big 12, and Jack Leggestt has done a good job and he is going into his 17th year," said Phillips of his baseball program.

Clemson has a team ERA of 3.68 and four of its top pitchers come in with their ERA being under 4.00. The home team will be tough but this regional is much more manageable than most around the country this weekend. Oklahoma State is capable of advancing.

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