Josh Holliday’s main goal in his first year as head coach of the Oklahoma State baseball program was simply to give each player on the team the best experience possible considering the coaching changeover and the uncertainty that comes with that.
It couldn’t have gone any better for the Cowboys, who finished second in the Big 12 Conference and earned an NCAA postseason berth after missing out in 2012.
But it also raised the bar of expectations rather quickly for Holliday, himself played on four NCAA Tournament and two College World Series teams.
“We want to take a step forward every day we wake up on the program, and our goal is to get better,” said Holliday, who played for OSU from 1996 through 1999. “That will never change. We expect to compete for championships, and that will never change. It’s just how quickly you can get to that point and it is something you have to deal with in terms of terms of tempering the expectations of the public. We expect to win every time we put on that uniform and win that day.”
Holliday said the 2013 team, realistically, was a group of overachievers. But the Cowboys returned a large portion of that team, including most of its offense and power numbers plus key guys on the mound.
So far, for the most part, the Cowboys have continued to progress. At 20-9 on the year and 3-3 in Big 12 Conference action, OSU is right in the middle of the pack in the early season title chase.
The Cowboys are getting it done on a fairly consistent basis, even though their hitting and pitching numbers aren’t quite what they were a year ago. As a team, OSU is hitting .261 as a team after hitting .283 last season.
The power numbers are there. Senior Tanner Krietemeier leads the Big 12 with six home runs and teammate Zach Fish is close behind with five after the two combined for 11 home runs all of last season.
But Krietemeier is hitting just .211 after scorching the ball with a .314 average last year. Fish, who hit .283 in 2012, leads the Cowboys with a .330 average along with junior Gage Green.
Returning infielder Donnie Walton is hitting .291 at the top of the order, but no other OSU regular with 20 or more starts is hitting above .215.
The Cowboys are averaging 5.8 runs per game on the year but just 3.0 in six Big 12 games.
“Offensively we’ve been on the verge of some big games and getting that clutch hit,” Holliday said. “We’ve got guys who are getting on base but we need that RBI chaser who knows how to sniff out a hit in a key moment or get that sac fly or make contact to get the runner home. We need to get more greedy on the offensive side and take the runs that are given to us. But we’ve put ourselves in position to really start coming together.”
OSU is in that position thanks to a solid pitching staff that is getting the job done despite only one of the three weekend rotation slots being solidified.
Junior right-hander Jon Perrin has emerged as a solid Friday starter, compiling a 2-2 record with a 3.05 ERA. He has been a hard-luck loser as of late, however, falling 4-1 at Baylor and 3-1 at home to TCU to start Big 12 play.
After that, it’s been a rotating door. Senior Mark Robinette and touted freshman Thomas Hatch started the final two games of the series at Baylor, then Holliday came back with true freshmen Tyler Buffett on Saturday at TCU (a 2-1 win) and left-hander Garrett Williams, the former Lubbock Little League standout, on Sunday against the Horned Frogs (a 9-4 victory).
Williams, who moved to Louisiana shortly after the Western Little League’s run to the World Series in 2007, was drafted in the 33rd round in June by San Diego but turned down the money to go to OSU. He is 2-0 with a 2.82 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 221/3 innings.
OSU also has a very good bullpen led by closer Randy McCurry, who has four saves and a 0.50 ERA after recording eight saves a year ago.
“We’re kind of working our rotation based on making sure we’re healthy and stretching out our pitch count,” Holliday said. “We’ve got options. What we’re trying to do is make sure we get guys into a good rhythm and keep them healthy. We’ve kind of settled in, if you will, to some quality options on the weekend. We’ll look at the opponent and if we think we’ve got a better matchup right or left, we’ll go that way.
“This is a talented bunch of kids who are learning the game and working their way toward becoming skilled players.”
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