Nolan McLean delivers a pitch for Oklahoma State against West Virginia at the Big 12 Championship at Globe Life Field on May 25, 2023. (Photo Courtesy of the Big 12 Conference)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
ARLINGTON, Texas- Two programs ranked in the D1Baseball.com NCAA poll, No. 18 Oklahoma State and No. 21 West Virginia found themselves in the losers bracket after the first day of the Big 12 conference tournament.
A day later, West Virginia (39-18) is headed home following a 3-2 loss to Oklahoma State at Globe Life Field.
In the top of the first inning, Oklahoma State right fielder Chase Adkison drove a sacrifice fly to right field and Zach Erhard came in to score the first run of the game for the Cowboys.
The next batter, left fielder Nolan Schubart, tapped a ground ball off the edge of the pitcher’s mound and Roc Riggio broke to the plate after the throw to first base to come in and score to make it 2-0.
In the top of the second inning, West Virginia left fielder London Wallace led off the inning with a double, and scored when center fielder Brayden Barry hit a ground ball out to the shortstop to cut the lead to one at 2-1.
Mountaineers starting pitcher Ben Hampton had a stellar outing, going six innings and allowing three hits, no earned runs, walked one batter, and striking out two.
“I feel really good about the way [Hampton] pitched, and our at-bats against two guys you’re probably going to be watching in the big leagues here in three, four, five years from now,” said West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey. “We didn’t swing and miss much off [Nolan] McLean, and that’s hard to do ‘cause he’s going to be a big leaguer.
“And I think today’s game, if you just take out the result, will really help us going into next week because you’re not going to see better pitching and you’re probably not going to see better offense than that. I thought we played a really really good clean game”
In the top of the sixth, West Virginia tied it at two apiece when Sam White hit a ground ball to first base to score J.J. Wetherholt..
Cowboys starting pitcher Nolan McLean went six innings allowing four hits, two earned runs, two earned runs, walking one batter, and striking out four in the 25 batters that he faced.
In the top of the eighth with a runner on first, the Mountaineers Luke Wallace attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Cowboys catcher Dayne Leonard picked up the baseball and attempted to throw to first, but the throw was off the mark. Wallace was initially called safe, but the call was reviewed, and then he was called out for running outside the 45-foot lane, causing interference with the throw.
The Cowboys took the bottom of the eighth when Riggio drove a single to right field, scoring David Mendham to go up 3-2.
Oklahoma State relief pitcher Juaron Watts-Brown threw three innings to shut the door, striking out Wallace for the final out of the game to win 3-2 and keep their hopes for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament alive. Watts-Brown allowed just two hits, walked three batters, and struck out seven.
“Juaron [Watts-Brown] and Nolan [McLean], they both threw an amazing game to get us in the situation to where we had the chance to win,” said Cowboys head coach Josh Holliday. “The way we played today, the way we fought, I’m really proud of these guys, I’m proud of the way we performed and competed. We got the job done today and we’re gonna go out there tomorrow and do the same thing.”
The win was the 400th of Holliday’s career.
“I didn’t know about it until these guys told me. I’m glad it happened today though,” Holliday said of the milestone. “I mean, numbers like that are compliments to the assistant coaches and players and everyone that’s given me this opportunity to be at Oklahoma State first and foremost, because that’s a dream come true… I haven’t played a game since I got here, but I sure have enjoyed coaching them, so that’s a team thing, that’s a program thing, and that’s a player thing.”
Oklahoma State is looking for their Big 12 title since 2019 and will have to play either the loser of Game 8 tonight between sixth-seeded Texas Tech or seventh-seeded Oklahoma at 7:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN+
West Virginia University will have to hope their rating percentage index and strength of schedule, along with their D1Baseball.com ranking, will be enough to get them NCAA Tournament field.