By Jason Elmquist
OKLAHOMA CITY —
It wasn't as massive a meltdown as Thursday's Big 12 Conference Championship opener, but for the second straight night the Oklahoma State bullpen was unable to close out a contest and the Cowboys lost to Kansas 5-3 in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
"Our pitching has been outstanding in the later innings — our closers, our long relief guys. They've been shutdown guys all year, so maybe they just didn't have their best stuff," OSU's Zach Fish said. "But that happens. That's part of baseball — just like the fact that I haven't been swinging the bat all that well the last week and a half."
Some sloppy play by the defense led to KU getting the game's first score in the bottom of the first. KU's second batter of the inning reached base on a field error by Randy McCurry at shortstop and the next batter reached on a single that didn't even make it to the infield dirt. The next batter singled to center to plate the first run.
"We didn’t play a particularly clean game and some of our mistakes cost us," OSU coach Josh Holliday said. "We have to play more fundamentally sound. That has been our formula for success and we have to get back to doing those things well again."
Tyler Nurdin kept the damage minimal after loading the bases with a walk by striking out Connor McKay to end the inning.
After a scoreless stretch of 11 innings — dating back to the final seven innings of Thursday's game against TCU — the Cowboys finally got something going in the fifth inning on their third time through the lineup.
Saulyer Saxon led off with a single and Donnie Walton reached on a walk — his third of the game. After Tanner Krietemeier advanced them on a sacrifice bunt, Randy McCurry brought Saxon home on a single to left. Zach Fish gave OSU its second run on a two-out double to plate Walton.
Kansas responded in the bottom half of the fifth with a leadoff double by Tucker Tharp, who after being sacrificed to third scored on a two-out wild pitch by OSU's left-handed starter to knot the game at 2.
In the sixth, Aaron Cornell got a lazy infield single to leadoff for OSU and stole second. He advanced to third on a grounder to the right side by Saxon. Walton got his first official at-bat of the night by ripping a shot back up the middle for two-out RBI to plate Cornell.
"Throughout the season Coach Holliday and my dad (assistant coach Rob Walton) told me to get my pitch so that I can drive, and if it’s not there to just let it go and take the pitch," Walton said. "That’s the approach I had today and there weren’t a lot of strikes thrown, so I just tried to keep myself patient.”
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they had pension for stranding runners in Friday's contest. OSU left 12 runners on base with seven being stranded in scoring position.
"It's good to get runners on base, but it's better to score them," Holliday said. "We did draw some walks and draw some at bats out. It would have been great to bring a few more of those home. We've had some streaks where we've had some great two-out hitting that have turned some of those base runners into a product. We've just got to cross home plate more, no doubt about it."
The Jayhawks squared things up again in the seventh inning on a solo home run by nine-hole hitter Tharp — his first homer of the year and just the third home run hit in the tournament. Kansas kept the rally going with a error and back-to-back singles to reclaim the lead with the second unearned run of the contest. The damage held in check when Nurdin induced an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
Kansas got an insurance run in the eighth with a fielder's choice double play.
The Cowboys will face West Virginia, which beat TCU 10-3 on Friday, at 4 p.m. Saturday with nothing but pride on the line for the Pokes.
“Every time you play, it’s important. Every chance you get to compete and wear this uniform, it’s meaningful and I believe that our players know that it’s a privilege to play and present yourselves the right way," Holliday said. "We need to get out here in a good rhythm tomorrow and play baseball. That’s our focus and there is no question about it.”