By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahoma State showcased its offensive ability in its series opener against West Virginia on Thursday at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
Whether it’s small ball or the long ball — both of which came into effect — the 16th-ranked Cowboys are proving they can find a way to win here late in the season with a 7-4 mauling of the Mountaineers.
“Home runs are nice — with one swing of the bat can create two and three runs and that’s a heck of a lot better than needing five singles,” OSU coach Josh Holliday said. “College baseball is different, you don’t get many of those. So when you do get them, they’re sweet.”
The victory moved the Cowboys into a tie with Oklahoma for second in the Big 12 Conference standings. The Sooners start their series against conference leader Kansas State on Friday in Manhattan, Kan., with the Wildcats needing to win just one game to clinch the conference crown.
Oklahoma State (38-13, 12-9) finally broke through in the series opener against the Big 12 newcomers in the third, thanks to the Cowboys getting their third straight leadoff batter aboard.
Aaron Cornell led off with a single up the middle and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jarrett Higgins. A wild pitch on the first delivery to Saulyer Saxon, who was hit by the second pitch, moved Cornell to third and set up another gutsy call by Oklahoma State’s first-year coach — after a weekend full in the Bedlam series.
Freshman Donnie Walton was called upon to lay down a bunt on a safety squeeze play, which worked to perfection and Cornell got around the tag to score the first run.
“We’ve practiced that play maybe thousands of times with the safety, and when we put it together in the game it’s always a good feeling,” Walton said. “Josh likes to be really, really aggressive and I think we all do — around the bases even, too, with stealing, hit-and-run, safety squeeze, whatever it may be. We like to be aggressive on the bases.”
The second runner came across on a single through the left side of the infield by senior Randy McCurry. Saxon was waved home from second and beat the throw to the plate — which allowed Walton to advance to third. Robbie Rea followed with a shot back up the middle to bring in the freshman second baseman for the final run of the inning.
Oklahoma State scored three more runs in the fourth off of the long ball. Cornell hit a one-run shot into the net past the left field wall, and Walton hit his first home run as a Cowboy with a two-run shot just over the right field wall.
“It was pretty exciting,” Walton said. “... I’ve had some struggles the past few games, but working with Josh and my dad (assistant coach Rob Walton), helped me have better swings this game.”
The big bats proved to be important as the Mountaineers (30-24, 12-10) began to hit Jason Hursh in the top of the fifth. Three straight hits to lead off the inning led to three runs, but the OSU ace kept the bleeding to a minimum.
The Cowboys got one of the runs back in the bottom of the fifth. McCurry, in his first start since getting hit Saturday by Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray, led off the inning with a double and advanced to third on a fly out by Rea. The very next batter, Zach Fish, hit a sacrifice fly to deep left to allow McCurry to score standing up.
“(The shoulder) isn’t too bad, they’ve just been rubbing it because we’ve got to just keep it moving,” said McCurry, who went 3 for 4 with two doubles while also recording five assists in the field. “I got in there and got my reps.”
West Virginia got one more run across in the top of the eighth off of middle reliever Vince Wheeland, who came in to start the top of the seven for Hursh, who improved to 6-4 with six innings of work, three runs on five hits and no walks while striking out five.
Cowboy closer Brendan McCurry, Randy’s younger brother, came in and closed out the contest in the ninth inning to pick up his eighth save of the season, and fourth in Big 12 play.
Game 2 of the series will begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Allie P. Reynolds. The contest will be televised on Fox College Sports (Suddenlink channel 510).