By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
STILLWATER, Okla. – The cold, hard fact is that any sport with a championship has only one happy team closing the season with a victory. Oklahoma State finds itself on that long list of teams Division I college baseball teams whose last entry is an “L.”
Reaching the first Super Regional since 2007 and hosting one for the first time ever, the Cowboys were unable to extend their series to a winner-take-all Game Three. UC Irvine, one of the last at-large teams selected to the bracket, eliminated Oklahoma State with a 1-0 victory Saturday night at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
“UC Irvine came in here and played really well,” Oklahoma State coach Josh Holliday said. “We know how hard it is to get this far and to win when you get here.”
At the least, Oklahoma State (48-18) hoped to be one of the eight teams to reach the College World Series in Omaha. But in Josh Holliday’s second season in Stillwater, the Cowboys nonetheless put together a memorable season that included the program’s first Big 12 regular-season title.
UC Irvine supported the argument that great pitching rocks. Starter Andrew Morales, the Big West pitcher of the year and a second-round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals, was dominant even when provided with the slimmest of margins.
“We’ve been a fantastic team all year long,” Holliday said. “We just ran into a young man who pitched a fantastic game. That’s probably the best game we’ve had pitched against us this season.”
Morales, like the three pitches who worked Game One, was masterful with his location and changes of speeds. He particularly bedeviled Tanner Krietemeier, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Krietemeier, who had a three-run homer in Game One, twice was up with two outs and a runner at third but couldn’t deliver.
“Morales really attacked the strike zone, he did it with three different pitches and he certainly pitched a great game,” said Tim Arakawa, who went 2-for-4. “We put some really good swings on him; Tanner smoked one to right field with a runner at third. The ball just didn’t bounce our way.”
Oklahoma State hit .355 in three regional victories last weekend but the Anteaters’ pitchers put the bats in the deep freeze. The Cowboys were 12-of-65 (.184) with three extra base hits – none in Game Two.
“We done what we’ve been able to do all year as a staff,” said Morales, who threw 112 pitches and recorded seven of his eight strikeouts over the last 13 hitters he faced. “If you keep the ball down and hit spots and they can’t hurt you. My curve and slider was working well.”
Facing a must-win situation, Holliday tabbed Vince Wheeland as his starter. The senior was 10-0 with a 1.53 ERA but the right hander had made 28 of his 30 appearances as a reliever. His role for the Big 12 Conference regular-season champions was to bridge the gap from starter to closer Brendan McMurry. And Wheeland had been stellar in that role.
In his final appearance for the Cowboys, he threw a gutsy career-high 110 pitches in 6.2 innings. Wheeland constantly pitched out of trouble but three of the nine hits he allowed came in the first inning when the Anteaters scored their only run.
“We got a tremendous, courageous effort from Vince,” Holliday said. “He has been a fantastic performer here, probably one of the 10 best pitchers this program has ever had. He responded in a great way.”
With two outs and runners at first and second, designated hitter Jonathan Munoz stroked an opposite-field double down the left field line to drive in Chris Rabago.
“We were aware of his mix of pitches and we wanted to try to take him the other way,” Munoz said. “He came in with two fast balls and he left the second one up and I put a good swing on it.”
The Anteaters (40-23) celebrated their trip to Omaha (where they'll face Texas in their CWS opener) with an infield dog pile that was greeted with silence by the OSU crowd. The Cowboys had rallied to win 28 games this season and had won all 11 of their one-run games. Those turned out to be meaningless notes.
“This is a tough one to swallow and I’m not ready to deal with this … at all,” Holliday said. “I guess I keep learning about realities like this. It’s real and it hits you in the face awfully fast.
“Look at this place (Allie P. Reynolds Stadium). Sold out crowds, we got here we were averaging 200 fans a game. People care. We played a lot of meaningful baseball. It’s remarkable we won the Big 12 considering the depth of the conference and what Big 12 teams are doing in the post-season.”