By Jason Elmquist
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Not building on leads and putting teams away has been a bit of a bug for the Oklahoma State baseball squad this season. And it reared its ugly head again Thursday in the first day of the Big 12 Conference Championship at Bricktown Ballpark.
In the twilight hours of Thursday's opening round Texas Christian University rallied from four down — including a six-run rally in the ninth — to upset the second-seeded Cowboys 8-4 in the early morning hours of Friday in Oklahoma City.
"Of the course of nine innings we could have done some things that could have helped our cause, so I don't point strictly to that (the bullpen woes in the ninth), but it is magnified because they were able to string together some base hits," OSU coach Josh Holliday said. "... We'll have to do a better job of getting ahead and expanding our leads and not just hold on to a four-run lead. But of course we didn't create a lot of opportunities because their kid was pretty darn good."
The tournament was delayed three hours in the morning due to weather, with the opener finally starting at 12:35 p.m. — which originally made it appear as though OSU will start until close to midnight. However, the first two games were just over two hours each to help push the start time to the final game to 9:09 p.m. but the final out recorded until 12:35 a.m.
After the two teams swapped scoring threats in the first inning — and TCU coming up short of another threat in the top of the second — Oklahoma State made good on its opportunity. The Cowboys put up four runs on TCU ace Preston Morrison, who leads the Big 12 in ERA at 1.22 held OSU scoreless in 8 1/3 innings in the game earlier this year. Morrison was pulled after 3 2/3 innings — his shortest outing of the year — after giving up the most runs in a game for the TCU right hander.
An inning after setting the OSU single season record for sacrifice bunts (17), freshman second baseman Donnie Walton finally broke the scoreless tie.
The Cowboys loaded the bases with a double by Robbie Rea, a walk by Jarrett Higgins and an infield single by Saulyer Saxon — the latter two coming with two outs. As the Cowboys have gotten all year, they received a clutch two-out hit on a shot by Walton just over the leaping shortstop to plate Rea and Higgins.
Tanner Krietemeier kept the inning going by finding the gap for a two-run double to score Saxon and Walton.
After that, TCU reliever Trevor Seidenberger clamped down on Oklahoma State, giving up just one hit and one walk while striking out nine. He went the final 5 1/3 innings to earn the victory.
"He was pounding the zone really good and was mixing it up with his curveball and fastball," Walton said. "I think he had a change, too, that was pretty good. But yea, he was very difficult to hit. He had a good night."
The Horned Frogs got one of the runs back in the top half of the third thanks to an error by Hursh on a pickoff attempt to first — which allowed the runner, who had reached on single, to advance to third. A sacrifice fly to right allowed the runner to walk home.
TCU scratched another run across in the sixth off relief pitcher Jon Perrin, who started the sixth in place of Hursh who went five innings with one unearned run on four hits and three walks with five strikeouts. Perrin gave up a two-out single after giving up a single and a walk and was replaced by Vince Wheeland, who recorded the final out of the inning on a pop up and retired eight straight batters before giving up back-to-back hits and a walk in the ninth.
What transpired next was reminiscent of OSU's last ninth inning against TCU in the Sunday finale of the regular season series in mid-April. In that game, the Cowboys held a two-run lead heading to the ninth and TCU got a walk-off three-run double off closer Brendan McCurry.
Thursday night — or more, Friday morning — McCurry came in to close out the game in the ninth after Wheeland loaded the bases with one out. McCurry gave up a bloop single to center to allow two runs across to tie the game. After a wild pitch, OSU gave an intentional walk to load the bases for the force play. The next batter was hit by a pitch to score the go-ahead run. TCU added three more runs on single through the right side of the infield and an infield single.
"We felt like Vince was throwing the ball good and was executing the pitches well. We had Brendan ready if we needed him, but (Wheeland) was throwing the ball good," Holliday said. "Felt good about having him be the guy right there and was making pitches. He had them both ready. ... We weren't afraid to go to Brendan at all, but we felt like Vinny was in control of the game and was doing a great job of pounding the strike zone and executing pitches."
Seidenberger struck out the Cowboys in order in the bottom half of the ninth to clinch the huge comeback.
The OSU has work to do now in the second day of pool play. The Cowboys will take on Kansas, who beat West Virginia 7-2, at 7:30 p.m. Friday.