By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A year ago, Oklahoma State sophomore right fielder Zach Fish might have tried to pull Baylor starter Dillon Newman’s pitch to left field — usually resulting in an infield popup or a weak groundout.
But on a chilly day with the wind blowing in, Fish’s opposite-field, three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth provided the spark Oklahoma State needed to open Big 12 play with a 5-0 win over defending regular-season champion Baylor on Friday at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
“When I went up there, (Newman) had thrown me five sliders in a row,” Fish said. “He started me off with a slider, which I didn’t go for, but it was right there. I was just really waiting for a fastball away — something I could really drive into the gap. ... I saw it on the outer half and I had seen that pitch 100 times in batting practice, so it was really just staying within myself and going the opposite way.
“Last year I had a whole different approach than what I do this year. I had a real pull-happy swing. Coach (Josh) Holliday and I have been really working hard on hitting the ball to all fields with power and with average.”
Fish’s sixth-inning blast — his fifth homer of the season — proved to be all the offense Oklahoma State (19-3, 1-0 in Big 12) needed in a game dominated by pitching and defense.
Oklahoma State starter Jason Hursh (3-0) went eight innings and scattered five Baylor hits to pick up the win for the Cowboys, who won their eighth in a row. Hursh also had eight strikeouts and one walk.
“I had great defense behind me,” Hursh said. “I relied a lot on my sinker and just let them hit it right into the dirt. I think I got a lot of ground balls today and just let my defense have fun with it, and they did a good job.”
“Jason pitched fantastic,” Holliday said. “He gave us as good start on a Friday night as you could ever ask for against a very good team. When a couple mistakes behind him occurred, he didn’t blink, he just kept right on going.”
Hursh may have been dominant against Baylor (10-13, 0-1 in Big 12), but Newman (3-1) was equally as tough, allowing just two hits before the sixth inning.
That’s when things started to turn around for the Cowboys.
Gage Green was hit by a pitch before Tanner Krietemeier singled up the middle, putting runners on first and third for Fish.
It looked like Newman might wiggle off the hook after Fish took an ugly check swing on a slider for a called strike, but with the flick of his wrists the sophomore went from looking like a fish out of water to a hero — depositing the ball into the parking lot behind the right field wall.
“I really wanted to go for it because it was right there,” Fish said. “I told myself before the at-bat to wait for something off the plate — something that I could drive. I checked my swing because I didn’t want to go for it. I knew if I went for it I was probably going to pop it out to left field. ... I just tried to stay within myself and just hit it to the four-hole and the next thing you know, I put a little backspin on it and it felt good.”
Oklahoma State added some insurance in the top of the eighth as Randy McCurry and Robbie Rea both singled. Saulyer Saxon then scored McCurry with a safety squeeze before Rea took home on a wild pitch.
“The squeeze play is always in the game plan,” Holliday said. “We practice it all the time. ... We wanted to be aggressive there. It was good baserunning by Randy and he forced the defense to make a perfect play. The pitcher did a nice job with his feet but the catcher was just a little bit to the right, which gave Randy some room to slide into the back of home plate.”
But while Oklahoma State’s offense struggled to get going, it was Hursh and the Cowboys’ defense that kept them in the game.
That’s not to say Hursh didn’t have his struggles. Twice Baylor had runners on second and third — including the fifth inning, when Cal Towey’s double put two on with no outs. But each time Hursh found himself in a jam he managed to get out of it with his sinker, inducing groundball after groundball to keep the Bears off the scoreboard.
“(Oklahoma State pitching coach Rob Walton) just told me to keep the ball low and keep executing my pitches,” Hursh said. “We needed two strikeouts in that situation. I think I got one, but I mean hey, I got out of it. I got a couple ground balls and it was nice to get out of that jam.
“The sinker is a little harder when it’s so cold out here. You just have to trust your stuff and block out the elements and just play baseball.”
Fish led the Oklahoma State offense, going 2-for-4 with three RBIs. McCurry also went 2-for-3 with a double and a run.
And while Oklahoma State will look to extend its winning streak to nine games when its faces Baylor at noon Saturday, Fish said just beating the Bears once already is good enough to show that the Cowboys are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12.
“It’s huge because with our strength of schedule, a lot of people are thinking that we are a very average team and they want to see how we do against the Big 12 schedule. For us to come out here against a really good Baylor team and win 5-0, that’s huge for us. That’s huge from a respect standpoint and I think people are going to start looking at us and say, ‘Hey, these guys can really play.’”