By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
STILLWATER, Okla. – For Oklahoma State, the math remains the same as it was before Game One of the Stillwater Super Regional. The Cowboys still need two victories to reach the College World Series for the first time since 1999.
The problem is that Oklahoma State’s opponent needs just one more “W” and the Cowboys are in must win, desperation mode.
UC-Irvine, one of the last at-large teams selected to the 64-team bracket, continued its unlikely post-season push. The Anteaters, who advanced by knocking off the nation’s No. 1 seed (Oregon State) used its death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts approach to stun Oklahoma State, 8-4, Friday night at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
“We know we had to win two games,” Oklahoma State designated hitter Zach Fish said. “Going into Saturday, we know we still have to win two games. We’ll be excited to get back on the field.”
Game Two is scheduled for 9 p.m. Saturday. For those that prefer the glass-is-half-full philosophy, the Cowboys showed life in the bottom of the eighth thanks to Tanner Krietemeier’s 3-run homer and getting the tying run to the plate with one out.
“That’s something we can build off of,” Cowboys coach Josh Holliday said. “We didn’t play well as a team and they won some pivotal pitches at some key times. They won the middle innings and there were some moments we didn’t handle well. We’re better than that.”
Oklahoma State was hosting its first Super Regional. The Cowboys were generous and UC Irvine was more than willing to accept two errors, a balk, a passed ball, two hit batters and back-to-back run-scoring wild pitches (one while attempting to intentionally walk the hitter). Most of that charity helped fuel six runs in the middle three innings.
The Cowboys, who hit .355 and scored 27 runs in their three regional victories, were baffled and befuddled by UC Irvine starter Elliot Surrey. A bespectacled sophomore lefty from the John Tudor school of slop throwing, Surrey got the start because ace Andrew Morales started two games in the Corvallis Regional.
The bad news for Oklahoma State: Morales (10-2, 1.64 ERA) is scheduled to start Game Two. The Cowboys expect to start freshman Tyler Buffett.
“When we started this thing back in August if you had told us we were two wins away from going to Omaha, we would have taken it,” Holliday said.
Surrey went seven innings, allowing five hits (only two through the first five innings) and one run. Lefty reliever Evan Manarino used an approach similar to Surrey’s and was clutch with two innings of work to earn his first save.
“We were a little off balance and their pitchers did a good job locating their pitches,” Fish said.
Oklahoma State’s Jon Perrin, the team’s most reliable starter over the last month, worked a one-two-three first. He struggled through the next four, allowing five runs and needing a sparkling defensive play by right-fielder Conor Costello to end a first-and-third threat in the second.
“They can do some action and I didn’t handle it well. That’s on me,” Perrin said. “They’re a typical California team we’ll just need to handle it better.”
The Anteaters, like the critters their namesake consumes, populate and move around the bases in maddening and ruinous fashion. A fine example came in the top of the fourth.
A leadoff single was followed by a sacrifice, a hit batter (on an 0-2 count), a passed ball and a wild pitch and put runners on second and third. With two outs number eight hitter Adam Alcantara beat out an infield hit. Cowboys second baseman ranged to his right and tried to throw out Alcantara but he was safe and both runners scored.
UC Irvine took a 6-1 lead in the top of the sixth with a perfectly executed one-out squeeze bunt … with the bases loaded. With two outs and runners at the corners in the eighth, a double steal produced another run on catcher Bryan Case’s ill-advised throw to second.
Those “manufactured” runs exemplifies West Coast Baseball and it can drive opponents kray kray; the Cowboys will attest.