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Oklahoma State Shows Omaha Potential in Series Win Over Texas

With the Texas Longhorns entering the weekend with the longest winning streak in the nation at 15 games, it is a good time to ask “is Texas back?” And a good place to get some help with the question was Stillwater, Oklahoma for a Big 12 Conference showdown where the question “can the Cowboys pitching help get them to Omaha” could also be evaluated.

Texas made the trek north this weekend for just their second conference series of the season and the Cowboys’ second.

Texas ace Lucas Gordon (3-0) got the Friday start and had Oklahoma State hitters pretty well bottled-up all night, yielding just two runs over seven innings.

Ben Abram earned the Friday start for the Cowboys and was not bad, really, just allowing two big blows (two two-run home runs), but they were the difference in the ballgame. With the Longhorns trailing 1-0 in the top of the third inning, Garret Guillemette hit a blast 444 feet to straight away center field to put the Longhorns in front 2-1. Abram did not depart the game until he had recorded one out in the sixth inning. He was responsible for all five Texas runs, but his outing was solid against a hot Longhorns team.

Drew Blake and Isaac Stebens handled the rest of the night for the Cowboys on the mound and they combined to limit Texas to one hit over 3 ⅔ innings while striking out three batters.

Zane Morehouse (4) earned the save handling the final inning of work without allowing a hit and striking out one. Morehouse allowed a walk and made the situation feel interesting in a close game, but he closed out the 5-3 victory and helped Texas extend the win streak to 16 games.

Asked after the Friday outing about staying calm in the pressure situations, Morehouse said, “I just take some breaths and re-focus.” But he also credited his teammates for helping him with the mental approach, “They help calm me down a little bit and make sure I’m breathing,” Morehouse said. “We work a lot on the mental game, so we’re really prepared for that.”

Following the Friday night win, Texas head coach David Pierce appeared pleased and cautiously optimistic in what he saw out of Morehouse in the closer role. “Zane’s doing a really nice job of falling into that role and giving us that opportunity [to close games],” Pierce said.

“He’s going to kill me though,” Pierce said jokingly. “It’s never…easy, but nothing in this league is easy.” Pierce added, “He did a great job of leaving the lead off double at second base.”

Saturday night's low scoring 4-1 game did not feature a home run from either offense as the pitchers controlled the pace of play.

Juaron Watts-Brown had a dominant outing for the ages on Saturday night to account for the lack of offense by Texas. Watts-Brown pitched eight innings and allowed just three hits while striking out 12 Texas batters, accounting for half of the 24 outs he recorded. Proving that he deserved all the preseason accolades he received prior to the season, Watts-Brown threw 128 pitches in his start to almost single-handedly end the Texas winning streak at 16 games in the 4-1 win.

Travis Sthele took the loss for Texas as he gave up all four of the Oklahoma State runs over five innings. It was not a bad outing by Sthele, but he drew perhaps the toughest mound opponent possible in the three game series and suffered as a result. Four relievers followed Sthele to finish off the game.

The Sunday rubber match brought early fireworks when Guillemette hit a three-run home run, his second home run of the weekend, in the game’s opening frame.

It was also the last time Texas would score a run on Sunday. The Guillemette blast was also just one of the five total hits for the Longhorns in the game, with Porter Brown going 2-for-4 as the only Texas hitter with a multi-hit game.

Oklahoma State starter Brian Hendry completed four innings before taking his exit; he settled down considerably after the first inning home run to turn in a nice performance. Once again, the combination of Blake and Stebens followed Hendry out of the bullpen to hold Texas scoreless. Blake threw four one-hit innings and Stebens closed out the Longhorns with a scoreless ninth inning to give the Cowboys a chance to grab the series win.

Morehouse entered Sunday’s game in the bottom of the ninth inning needing three outs and protecting a 3-2 lead. After the leadoff batter flied out to right field, the Cowboys’ next three batters loaded the bases courtesy of a single followed by back-to-back walks. Nolan Schubart was the fifth batter to face Morehouse in the inning. The first pitch was wild and got past the catcher allowing the tying run to cross the plate. Schubart then lined a 2-2 pitch down the first base line past the drawn-in first baseman and the Cowboys were walk-off winners.

Following the Sunday loss, Coach Pierce was pointed in what he saw over the weekend and what needs to be ironed out going forward. “When you play good teams you can’t afford to be one or two pitches away or not make a defensive play or whatever the case is, you have got to finish the job. We’ve got to be better at finishing the job, that's all there is to it,” Pierce said.

The tale of the weekend, and of what the future might hold in terms of Omaha hopes for these two teams right now, might lie in the basic fact that Oklahoma State pitching only allowed Texas to score in four of 27 innings over the weekend. A fact that Oklahoma State head coach Josh Holliday pointed out after the Sunday series victory.

“I think our pitching was exceptional,” Holliday said. “Exceptional growth in our pitching staff. 27 innings and only four frames did they score. That’s big time. This is a pitching staff that quite honestly we’ve never had to replace this many innings at one time and I think Coach [Rob] Walton is doing maybe the best job he’s done in a long, long time. He’s bringing a lot of new faces along in difficult situations and I thought this weekend our pitching was exceptional.”

“Brian Hendry after the home run is the Brian Hendry we need,” said Holliday after Sunday's win. “Much more fierce, much more competitive.”

Coach Holliday also spoke quite a bit about the Cowboys’ relief pitching at the conclusion of the series. “The boys from Stillwater High right across the street, Drew Blake and Isaac Stebens, Holliday said. “What else can you say about that kind of relief pitching and ground ball defense? There’s no chance for something special to happen.”

Morehouse appears to have locked down the closer role for Texas, and with the possibility of Tanner Witt’s return this month, or at least by the end of the regular season, the Longhorns will have the luxury of trying new arms out of the bullpen to close games.

Can these two teams reach Omaha? Yes. Experience over the next two months will help pave the way.

Texas (20-9, 4-2) can hit the long ball and score in clusters, but they can also be slowed down, right now. One more hit in the key situations can make the difference between a series win or loss. At separate times, Texas hitters have been great, they will need multiple players to come up big in games from here on out, they have the hitters to do it.

Likewise, the Oklahoma State (22-7, 6-3) pitching staff proved that if they get decent starts at the top, their bullpen can close out games from the sixth inning on. The Cowboys can also put games away with their ace on the mound and allow the bullpen to breathe easier for a night and be more ready when needed.


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