Cowboy Baseball Travels To Kansas For Big 12 Series
STILLWATER, Oklahoma - Oklahoma State returns to Big 12 Conference action with a three-game series at Kansas beginning Thursday night. The Cowboys are 19-13 on the season and tied for seventh place in the Big 12 standings with a 3-6 mark.
Led by Garrett McCain's .350 batting average, OSU is hitting .276 as a team, while the pitching staff owns a 4.00 ERA.
The Cowboys are coming off a 43-22 season in which they advanced to the College World Series for the 20th time in program history, making their first trip to Omaha since 1999 and finishing tied for third. Seven starters return from a year ago, led by corner infielders Garrett Benge and Dustin Williams, while Preseason All-American Tyler Buffett, along with Trey Cobb and Jensen Elliott, return to anchor the pitching staff.
The 2017 season marks OSU's fifth under head coach Josh Holliday, who entered the year with a 170-79 record at his alma mater and has led the Cowboys to four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
About The Jayhawks
Kansas is 15-17 on the season and sits sixth in the Big 12 standings with a 4-5 league mark. Led by junior infielder Matt McLaughlin (.336, 2 HR, 18 RBIs), the Jayhawks are hitting .233 as a team while the pitching staff sports a 4.23 ERA.
OSU is 139-52 all time against Kansas, including an 8-5 mark under Josh Holliday, but the Cowboys have not won a series in Lawrence since 2007 (four-straight series losses). Last season, OSU swept the series in Stillwater.
Thursday's series opener and Saturday's finale are available on ESPN3 and via the Watch ESPN app. Friday's game will air live on FS1, with Dave Barnett and Pat Combs in the booth.
All OSU baseball games are carried live by Stillwater Radio and air on KSPI 93.7 FM or Pete 94.3 FM/780 AM. Rex Holt, who is in his 35th season on the air with Cowboy baseball, will call the action, with Matt "Chief" Davis providing color commentary. Select radio broadcasts are also available online at okstate.com/watch.
Live stats for all OSU games can be found on the Oklahoma State website, with links available under the Schedule tab on the baseball home page. Fans can also follow the official OSU Baseball Twitter account, @OSUBaseball, for in-game updates.
In The Polls
OSU fell out of the national rankings last week (4/3), snapping a streak of 77 consecutive weeks of being ranked in at least one national poll, a streak that dated back to March 4, 2013. During that time, the Cowboys spent 18 weeks in the Top 10 and were ranked as high as No. 3 (by the NCBWA in 2014). They have finished in the top 10 in the final national polls twice in the last four seasons — 10th in 2014 and fourth in 2016 — and have ended the season in the top 10 in the national polls 20 times in program history.
Oklahoma State entered 2017 as one of only 23 programs in Division I history to reach 2,500 victories, beginning the year with 2,556 all-time wins to rank 15th all time. Of the 23 teams with 2,500 wins, only three have played fewer season's than OSU's 105 (Florida State - 69; Miami (Fla.) - 72; Fresno State - 88).
OSU entered the 2017 season ranked fifth all time in NCAA history with a .665 winning percentage.
The Cowboys' coaching staff is no stranger to the College World Series, with Josh Holliday and Rob Walton combining for 11 CWS appearances as either a player or coach.
Prior to leading his alma mater to Omaha in 2016, Holliday previously played on a pair of CWS teams at OSU (1996 & 1999) and coached in the CWS as an assistant at Georgia Tech (2006), Arizona State (2009) and Vanderbilt (2011).
Holliday is one of only 17 people to reach the College World Series as both a player and head coach.
Walton spent four seasons as a pitcher at OSU from 1983-86, and each of those teams appeared in the CWS.
Baseball In Their Blood
Baseball — and Oklahoma State — is definitely a family affair for Josh Holliday.
Josh's father, Tom, served as an OSU assistant coach for 19 years then took over as the Cowboys' head coach from 1997-2003, leading the program to a College World Series appearance in 1999 (and coaching Josh in his final three college seasons). Tom spent four decades as a collegiate coach and was inducted into the OSU Cowboy Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016.
Josh's younger brother, Matt, is an outfielder for the New York Yankees. In 13 major league seasons, Matt has been named to seven MLB All-Star teams.
Josh's uncle, Dave Holliday, was an OSU assistant coach from 1981-88 and has since held a variety of roles in Major League Baseball, including his current spot as a professional scout for the Atlanta Braves.
Home Sweet Home
Allie P. Reynolds Stadium has been home to Oklahoma State baseball since April 4, 1981, and in those 37 seasons, the Cowboys have been nearly unbeatable on their home field.
OSU is 912-222 (.804) all time at Reynolds Stadium and has lost more than two consecutive games on its home turf only seven times (six in a row in 2007; four straight in 2016; three in a row in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017).
The Cowboys are 14-7 on their home field in 2017 and won the 900th game at the stadium vs. Texas State on Feb. 26.
OSU has won 11 of its 12 home Big 12 Conference series that spanned three games in its first four seasons under Josh Holliday, the lone setback coming last season vs. Texas Tech. From 2013-15, the Cowboys won nine consecutive three-game league series on their home field following a split in a rain-shortened two-game series with Baylor to open league play in 2013. (In 2015 OSU lost its only game vs. West Virginia in Stillwater — the final two games of the series were canceled due to weather).
On The Road Again and Again and Again and Again and Again and Again and Again and...
As has become commonplace, OSU opened Big 12 Conference play on the road in 2017.
The Cowboys have begun league play at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium only twice since 2003 (in 2005 and 2013), and the trend of opening Big 12 action away from Stillwater will also continue in 2018.
Since 2004 and spanning through 2018, OSU will have opened conference play on the road 13 times and only two times at home. Since Big 12 baseball began play in 1997, the Cowboys will have opened league play on the road 16 times and just six times in Stillwater.
Building A Winner
In the first four seasons as head coach at his alma mater (2013-16), Josh Holliday has built quite an impressive resume. Just a few of the highlights:
• The Cowboys have earned four NCAA Regional berths, advanced to two Super Regionals and earned a berth in the College World Series for the first time since Holliday was a senior for the Cowboys in 1999;
• OSU finished first or second in the Big 12 Conference standings each year (1st in 2014; 2nd in 2013, 2015 and 2016). The Cowboys won at least five of eight Big 12 Conference series each season (5 in 2013, 7 in 2014, 6 in 2015, 5 in 2016).
• The Cowboys finished in the top 10 in the national rankings in 2014 (10th) and 2016 (4th) after ending the 2013 season ranked as high as No. 19. In 2015, they were ranked as high as 17th in the final polls;
• In 2014, OSU advanced to the third Super Regional in program history and won its first-ever Big 12 Conference regular season championship;
• OSU hosted NCAA Regionals in 2014 and 2015 and was the top-seeded team both times.
• Holliday has coached 38 All-Big 12 performers, five All-Americans, two Big 12 Pitcher of the Year honorees and a Big 12 Player of the Year.
Nobody Does It Better
Josh Holliday posted a 61-32 record in Big 12 Conference play in his first four seasons at OSU, and that .656 winning percentage ranked as the highest of any coach in league history entering the 2017 season. TCU's Jim Schlossnagle was second at .653 with a 62-33 mark.
Big 12's Best
Oklahoma State's .683 winning percentage (170-79) over the last four seasons (2013-16) is the second highest in the Big 12 during that span, trailing only TCU at .691 (177-79).
OSU has also finished first or second in the league standings each of the last four years, and the Cowboys are the only Big 12 team during that span to finish over .500 in conference play each year.
Come-from-behind victories have become a trend for the Cowboys under Josh Holliday. OSU has overcome deficits to win 76 games in Holliday's four seasons, notching 18 comeback wins in 2013, 28 in 2014, 15 in 2015 and nine in 2016. The Cowboys have come from behind to win six times this season.
OSU returns five players who earned All-Big 12 recognition in 2016. Pitcher Tyler Buffett was an All-Big 12 First Team selection a year ago, while Garrett Benge picked up All-Big 12 Second Team honors.
Earning All-Big 12 honorable mention accolades were Trey Cobb, Jensen Elliott and Dustin Williams, while Elliott was also named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team.
Habitual Award Winners
OSU finished 2016 with 12 Big 12 Conference weekly award winners, the most by a team in a single season in league history (previous record was 11 by Baylor in 2012). The Cowboys also set a record with seven pitcher of the week honorees.
The Cowboys are continuing to be rewarded for their standout play this season as four Cowboys have earned weekly honors from the conference on five occasions — Garrett Benge (Big 12 Player of the Week on Feb. 27 and March 20), Travis Wacker (Big 12 Newcomer of the Week on Feb. 27), Carson Teel (Big 12 Pitcher of the Week on March 13) and Jonathan Heasley (Big 12 Newcomer of the Week on March 20). Teel and Benge (3/20) were also named Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week honorees for their performances
OSU is 45-26 in one-run games since 2013. Under head coach Josh Holliday (2013-pres.), 46 of the Cowboys' 92 losses have come by two runs or less, including seven this season.
The Cowboys are 4-5 in one-run games this season. Five of OSU's nine Big 12 games have been decided by two runs or less; the Cowboys are 1-4 in those games with a pair of one-run defeats and two two-run setbacks.
OSU has smashed program records for sacrifice bunts under Josh Holliday.
In 2014, the Cowboys were third nationally with a program-record 88 sacrifice bunts, which trumped the 2013 team's total of 74. In 2015, OSU led the NCAA with 81 sacrifice bunts, and four different Cowboys had at least 10 sac bunts, while the 2016 campaign saw the Cowboys post 64.
Donnie Walton finished his OSU career in 2016 with a school-record 55 sacrifice bunts, a total which ranks seventh on the NCAA's all-time list. Five other Cowboys who have or are playing under Holliday — Gage Green, Corey Hassel, Saulyer Saxon, Jacob Chappell and Ryan Sluder — also rank in the top 10 on OSU's career sac bunt list.
In four seasons under the direction of coach Rob Walton, OSU's pitching staff has turned in impressive numbers.
The Cowboys' success under Walton from 2013-16 includes 16 All-Big 12 pitchers, two consensus first-team All-Americans, two Big 12 Pitcher of the Year winners and a first-round Major League Baseball Draft pick.
Here's just a sampling of how the Cowboys have performed under Walton:
• Each of OSU's pitching staffs under Walton has recorded an ERA of 3.29 or lower;
• The Cowboys are coming off a 2016 season in which they led the Big 12 with 574 strikeouts, 10 shutouts and 21 saves, each totals that ranked as the second highest in a single season in school history;
• OSU's pitching staff led the Big 12 in ERA in conference-only games in 2014 (2.43) and 2015 (2.50).
• The Cowboys' 2.84 ERA in 2015 ranked eighth nationally and was the lowest by an OSU pitching staff since 1973.
• OSU recorded seven shutouts in 2013 and 2014 and had 10 in 2016, the second most in a single season in program history. Those totals also marked three of only six times in program history the Cowboys have tallied seven shutouts or more in a season; in the 26 seasons prior to 2013, OSU reached seven shutouts only once.
• Jason Hursh was a first-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, Brendan McCurry (2014) and Michael Freeman (2015) were first-team All-Americans and Freeman (2015) and Thomas Hatch (2016) were named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year.
• Freeman's 1.31 ERA ranked sixth in the NCAA in 2015 and was the fifth lowest in a single season in OSU history.
• McCurry set OSU records for single-season saves (19) and career saves (27).
Walk This Way
OSU lead the Big 12 Conference with a .389 on-base percentage despite ranking fifth with a .276 batting average. The Cowboys have drawn 172 walks, a total that ranks 17th nationally. Garrett Benge is third in the Big 12 and 24th nationally with 27 free passes.
I Feel A Draft...
OSU has seven players on its 2017 roster who have been Major League Baseball Draft picks: Garrett Benge (2015, Cleveland, 22nd round); Tyler Buffett (2016, Houston, 7th); Cade Cabbiness (2016, St. Louis, 21st); Trey Cobb (2016, Chicago Cubs, 12th); Jon Littell (2014, Washington, 39th); Andrew Rosa (2013, Boston, 30th); and Dustin Williams (2016, Pittsburgh, 36th).
In 2016, OSU tied a program record with 11 MLB Draft picks. (The 2007 Cowboys also had 11 draftees). The 11 draft picks tied the Cowboys with Mississippi State for the third most of any Division I program in 2016 behind only Texas A&M (13) and Southern California (12). Seven of the OSU players drafted were pitchers.
Of the Cowboys drafted last year, five of those went in the first 10 rounds, which marked the most top-10-round picks for OSU since five Pokes were taken in the top 10 rounds in 2008.
...But I'm Not Feeling The Draft
For the second consecutive year, OSU had multiple players drafted by Major League Baseball choose to return to Stillwater for their senior seasons.
This time, it was Tyler Buffett, Trey Cobb and Dustin Williams each spurning professional baseball. Buffett is in rare company with his decision as he is one of only two players selected in the top 10 rounds of the 2016 draft — from a total of 316 players picked — not to sign.
In 2015, Donnie Walton and Conor Costello were both drafted but returned for their senior year. Walton improved his draft status, moving up from a 23rd-round pick to a fifth-round choice, while Costello went from a 38th rounder in 2015 to a 32nd-round pick last year.
In its game against New Mexico on March 14, four Cowboy pitchers — Blake Battenfield, Jake Cowan, Cole Hearrean and Jonathan Heasley — combined to throw the 36th one-hitter in OSU history and first since 1998; it was the 13th combined one-hitter in program history and only the seventh one-hitter in a game that went nine innings.
Battenfield started and took a no-hitter into the seventh before a sharply hit ground ball glanced off OSU third baseman Garrett Benge for a single. Cowan (1.1), Hearrean (0.1) and Heasley (0.1) finished off the one-hit performance against a New Mexico team that entered the game second in the NCAA with a .358 batting average.
The Candyman Can
Tyler Buffett was reliable on the mound in his first two seasons in Stillwater, but he emerged as a star in 2016.
In an OSU-record 37 appearances, 31 of those in relief, the junior right-hander was 9-3 with nine saves and a 2.81 ERA; the nine wins and nine saves marked career highs. A unanimous All-Big 12 First Team pick, he led the Big 12 in appearances and ranked second in saves while also being in the top 10 in wins, ERA and opponent batting average (.229).
Also named to the National Pitcher of the Year Award Watch List by the National College Baseball Hall of Fame and the NCBWA's Stopper of the Year Watch List, Buffett was 2-0 with six saves in 13 relief outings in Big 12 play. He allowed only eight runs in 21.1 innings while racking up 21 strikeouts against league foes.
Moved to the starting rotation for the NCAA Tournament, Buffett was dominant in OSU's run to a third-place finish at the College World Series as he went 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA and recorded wins over Clemson, South Carolina and Arizona.
Buffett, whose 78 appearances is fourth on OSU's career list, is 5-2 with a team-high 48 strikeouts in eight starts in 2017 and posted the first complete game of his career in a win over West Virginia on March 31.
All-American In The Rotation
Tyler Buffett was named to a pair of 2017 Preseason All-America teams, earning a spot on the Collegiate Baseball Second Team and being tabbed a third teamer by the NCBWA.
After being a reliever the majority of his junior season, Buffett has secured the role of the OSU's Friday starter in 2017.
Dustin Williams tied for the OSU lead with six home runs as a sophomore in 2015 — and 15 games into his junior season, he'd already equaled that long ball total.
The Cowboys' first baseman finished 2016 as the Big 12 leader with 14 homers, the most by an OSU player since 2009 when Neil Medchill also had 14, and he was named an honorable mention all-conference performer.
Williams entered his senior season with 23 career homers and a .442 slugging percentage.
Garrett Benge put up video game numbers at the junior college level as a freshman in 2015, and he proved to be a valuable bat in his first season in an OSU uniform.
As a freshman at Cowley County CC, Benge was the 2015 NJCAA Division I Player of the Year after hitting .502 with 19 home runs, 97 RBIs, 26 doubles and four triples. In 59 games, he collected 103 hits and a .946 slugging percentage.
Manning the hot corner in Stillwater, Benge is OSU's leading returning hitter in 2017 as he hit .292 in his first season and ranked second on the club with 16 doubles and third with 40 RBIs while earning All-Big 12 Second Team accolades.
One of OSU's hottest hitters this season, Benge's .339 batting average ranks second on the team, and he leads the Big 12 in triples (3), slugging percentage (.643) and on-base percentage (.470).
OSU's pitching staff ranks 12th nationally with 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings, and the Cowboys' 307 strikeouts is 20th in the NCAA ... OSU's 22 hits against Arizona State on Feb. 21 were the most ever by a Josh Holliday-coached Cowboy club ... OSU is No. 58 in the most recent official NCAA RPI (4/12); Kansas is No. 91 ... The Cowboys are 4-4 against ranked teams this season, with wins over Arizona State, Arkansas, Missouri State and Oklahoma.
Trey Cobb became the Cowboys' go-to pitcher out of the bullpen in 2015. His team-high 31 appearances marked the third most in a single season in OSU history, and the right-hander compiled a 5-2 record and two saves to go along with a 2.61 ERA. In 58.2 innings — all in relief — Cobb racked up 53 strikeouts, and opponents hit just .221 against him as he earned honorable mention All-Big 12 accolades.
An honorable mention All-Big 12 selection again in 2016, Cobb made 24 appearances on the season, 12 of those as a starter, and was 4-7 with six saves and a 309 ERA. He ranked fourth in the Big 12 with 100 strikeouts in 81 2/3 innings, including a career-high 13 in six innings of work in a win against 18th-ranked Michigan and 12 in a victory vs. Baylor.
The opening day starter for the Cowboys vs. UT Arlington, Cobb's next six appearances came in relief before he re-joined the weekend starting rotation March 14 against Abilene Christian.
On The Shelf, Out Of The Bullpen
Trey Cobb took the mound for the first time in 2017 on April 1 against West Virginia after missing the first seven weeks of the season recovering from a broken bone in his elbow. Already in the top 10 all time at OSU in appearances (77) and saves (9), Cobb looks to add to those totals with a prominent role out of the bullpen during the second half of the season.
Used as the Cowboys' closer in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, Cobb thrived in that role as he recorded four saves in the tourney, tying for the most of any pitcher in the postseason. In six relief outings, the righty turned in a 0.64 ERA, allowing only one earned run in 14 innings, and recording 15 strikeouts.
Looking For a Repeat Performance
OSU's pitching staff was among the nation's best in 2016, and Jensen Elliott is a big reason why. The freshman right-hander was in the Cowboys' weekend starting rotation throughout the year, making 17 starts and finishing with a 9-3 record and 3.50 ERA. He led OSU with five wins in Big 12 play, where he was 5-1 in eight starts.
Elliott won his first-career start on Feb. 20 at UT Arlington with five shutout innings, and in the series finale at West Virginia he became the first OSU freshman since Matt Smith in 1998 to throw a complete game to carry OSU to a win.
An honorable mention All-Big 12 and Big 12 All-Freshman Team pick, Elliott also earned elite status nationally as he was tabbed a Freshman All-American by both Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America.
Elliott is 3-0 with a 3.63 ERA this season and has at least six strikeouts in each of his four starts but hasn't pitched since March 12 due to an arm issue.
Cowboys In The Outfield
In outfielders Garrett McCain, Ryan Sluder and Jon Littell, the Pokes return their most experienced group of position players in 2017. That trio has combined to make 305 career starts and play in 380 games.
In his final collegiate season, Sluder looks to return to his 2015 form when he was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team after leading the Big 12 with a .403 batting average and .710 slugging percentage in conference-only games. He finished the season with a .309 batting average and a team-best six homers. He has seven doubles and is 7-for-7 on stolen base attempts this season.
Littell caught fire in last season's NCAA Tournament, where he was OSU's second-leading hitter with a .379 batting average (11-for-29) in nine games. He's carried that into 2017, where he's hitting .308 with three homers and 21 RBIs. He has missed OSU's last eight games since suffering injuries in an outfield collision with McCain at TCU on March 26.
McCain has been successful on 29-of-31 stolen base attempts in his career and currently leads the Pokes in hits (42), batting average (.350), triples (3), runs (31), stolen bases (11), hit by pitches (10) and on-base percentage (.470).
New Additions Producing
OSU's active roster includes 16 newcomers, and 15 of those have made their debuts this season.
Nine pitchers have toed the rubber for the first time as Cowboys, and that group has combined to strike out 95 in 89 2/3 innings of work. Highlights include:
• Freshman Jonathan Heasley has made 14 appearances and been used as a starter and closer. He sports a 3.77 ERA and a 2-4 record (winning his first two starts), and his three saves are tied for the team lead.
• JUCO transfer Cole Hearrean has a team-high 15 appearances, all in relief, and owns a 3.52 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings.
• Freshman Brady Basso has racked up 23 strikeouts in just 15 innings. The southpaw has allowed just four runs in eight appearances and won his first-career start against Northwestern State in which he struck out nine in four innings.
Seven new OSU position players have seen action, with several earning significant playing time and/or starting roles.
• Freshmen infielders Cameron Dobbs and Ryan Cash have combined for 32 starts at shortstop and second base.Dobbs had a memorable debut as in his first-ever game, he started at shortstop against Arizona State and went 4-for-5 with four RBIs and four runs scored; Cash is hitting .357 and leads the team with five sacrifice bunts.
• JUCO transfer catcher Travis Wacker was one of the most productive Cowboys in the lineup prior to suffering a broken finger March 1 as he hit .381 in his first seven games to go along with 10 RBIs and a .619 slugging percentage. He returned to the lineup vs. West Virginia after missing 16 games.
• Freshman Michael Neustifter has seen time at catcher, DH and first base, while fellow frosh Cade Cabbiness and Trevor Boone have emerged as key contributors in the outfield as the season has progressed.