Oklahoma State’s season remained alive without a single swing of the bat in the final half inning of Saturday’s Lubbock Super Regional.
Noah Sifrit, an OSU sophomore and Lubbock native, rounded the bases without a bat ever hitting the ball. He safely slid into home plate for the walk-off run, lifting OSU to a 6-5 victory over host Texas Tech in a must-win game for the Cowboys at Rip Griffin Park.
“It was a great baseball game,” OSU coach Josh Holliday said. “I’m proud of the way we fought, a great win for us, and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
The OSU victory ended an eight-game losing skid to Texas Tech. The last OSU win over TTU came in the 2017 Big 12 Conference Tournament.
The Cowboys (40-20) and Red Raiders will face off at 5 p.m. Sunday in a winner-take-all contest for the Super Regional title and College World Series berth.
“If any of you guys ask us if we could start the year and play one game for an opportunity to go to Omaha, I think we would all sign up for it, so really looking forward to the opportunity tomorrow,” TTU coach Tim Tadlock said.
OSU forced the if-necessary game by winning the drama-filled contest Saturday evening. OSU nearly gave away the game after taking the lead in the eighth inning, but took advantage of TTU miscues in the bottom half of the ninth inning.
Trailing 4-3 after TTU (43-18) scored a run for the third-straight inning, the top of the Cowboys’ order came up in the bottom half of the eighth inning. Freshman Hueston Morrill led off with a single to center field before senior Christian Funk pushed him to second base on a sacrifice bunt.
Senior Colin Simpson came to the plate and did exactly what he’s done for four years – blasting a crucial home run to give his team the lead. His two-run shot over the right field fence – on the first pitch – put the Cowboys ahead 5-4. They needed just three outs to win the game.
“It is a relief,” Simpson said. “I struggled a little bit through the year, and I finally found my swing, so to be able to come up in big situations like that and get the big hit that the team is being looking for, it’s a great feeling and definitely relaxing.”
Unfortunately, a sloppy play to begin the ninth inning put TTU in position to tie the game or take the lead. Gabe Holt hit a grounder to OSU shortstop Andrew Navigato, but his throw to first baseman Alix Garcia was a bit off target.
Garcia tagged Holt before the TTU sophomore rolled over the first base bag, but the ball came out of Garcia’s glove and rolled into right field. Holt fell to his knees – grasping one of his wrists – but quickly bounced up and sprinted to second base, putting the leadoff runner in scoring position.
Dylan Neuse followed with an infield single, pushing Holt to third base. Brian Klein came up next and blasted a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Holt and tying the game.
The Cowboys escaped out of the inning after intentionally walking Josh Jung. OSU pitcher Ben Leeper forced a fly out to right field and a groundout to keep the game tied.
In the bottom half of the ninth inning, Sifrit earned a leadoff walk on a full-count pitch one half inning after replacing Carson McCusker in left field. With the winning run on first base, TTU brought in Taylor Floyd.
The TTU junior pitcher proceeded to throw a wild pitch that allowed Sifrit to take second base before walking Garcia on four pitches – the last of which was another wild pitch where Sifrit took third base. Two batters later, Morrill was walked to load the bases.
With Funk at the plate, Floyd’s second pitch to the Fresno, California, native almost hit him in the feet before bouncing to the backstop. Sifrit came sprinting down the baseline and slid head first across home plate for the game-winning, walk-off run.
“Once they tied it up in the last inning, I knew I was the first one to lead off the game so my mentality was just to get on base and get my team a chance to win,” Sifrit said. “There were pass balls, and I took every opportunity I got.”
Tadlock talked about Floyd’s outing after the loss.
“Probably more than anything, missing location, bad enough where it’s a tough pitch to block,” Tadlock said. “Just missing. He’s a guy that when he learns to stay within himself and execute pitches, maybe not try to punch every guy out, even though it’s a situation where you needed to today, possibly, he’s going to be a better – he’s going to be a better pitcher.”
OSU took its first lead of the series in the opening inning Saturday. Morrill led off with a single and stole second base before Simpson hit an RBI single to right field for the first run of the game.
Texas Tech tied the game in the third inning, but the Cowboys took the lead back in the fifth inning. After a McCusker single and Garcia fielder’s choice, Morrill drilled the first pitch over the left-field wall. The freshman who isn’t known for his power hitting unlike the rest of his teammates, blasted his second home run of the season. It gave OSU a 3-1 lead that was taken away in the next two innings.
Both teams used five pitchers in a game that could have clinched a CWS spot for the Red Raiders. TTU starter Caleb Kilian lasted six innings and allowed five hits and three runs while striking out eight batters. The final three TTU pitchers combined to throw 1 1/3 innings.
For the Cowboys, starter Parker Scott also threw six innings, giving up four hits and two runs, while striking out five batters. Peyton Battenfield, who’s been lights out as a relief pitcher most of the season, allowed two hits and a run in just 1/3 of an inning.
Brady Basso and Joe Lienhard each threw 2/3 of an inning before Ben Leeper closed the door by throwing the final 1 1/3 innings, giving up one hit, one run and one walk.
The Super Regional finale is set for 5 p.m. Sunday.
“Of course. Game two is a big one,” Morrill said. “Winning this one definitely will give us momentum going into tomorrow, so we will see how it plays out.”