FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — The game of baseball on Friday took Oklahoma State from the highest high to the lowest low.
With one swing of the bat in the top of the ninth inning at Baum Stadium, the Cowboys’ unlikely winning streak continued trending up when Garrett Benge stroked a triple to the right field corner, then scooted home on a wild pitch. The two-run rally gave OSU its first lead of the 2017 NCAA Tournament after having fallen three runs behind first-round opponent Missouri State.
Then, one swing of the bat in the bottom of the ninth changed the game, and O-State’s fortunes.
OSU’s six-game winning streak was crushed, and landed somewhere beyond the right field fence, when Bears slugger Jeremy Eierman slammed his second home run of the night, his 21st of the season, a walk-off shot that send Oklahoma State to the loser’s bracket with a 6-5 thriller.
“That was an amazing college baseball game,” OSU coach Josh Holliday said. “We just ended up on the wrong side of it.”
“I thought the game was over in our favor as soon as he hit it, and then the wind caught it and just took it with it,” said senior Trey Cobb, who gave up the final home run. “I mean, that’s a heck of a swing from that kid.”
Second-seeded Missouri State (41-17) moves on to Saturday’s 7 p.m. semifinal against the winner of Friday night’s Arkansas-ORU matchup, while the 3-seed Cowboys (30-26) get the Razorbacks-Golden Eagles loser at 2 p.m.
OSU faced a win-or-go-home scenario two weeks ago in the Bedlam series and swept Oklahoma. The Cowboys’ backs were against the wall again last week in the Big 12 Tournament, and they won the championship.
Now they face elimination again on Saturday.
“As far as we’re concerned,” Benge said, “we’ve been in our playoffs for a couple weeks now.”
Without Benge, this thing would’ve been over long before the ninth inning. He hit for the cycle — a first-inning double, a leadoff home run in the fourth, a single in the seventh and a game-tying triple in the ninth — and drove in two runs.
Garrett McCain, the Big 12 batting champion this season with a .394 average, hit a one-out single to start the ninth-inning rally. He scored on Benge’s triple to make it 4-4, and Benge scored on Jordan Knutson’s wild pitch to put OSU ahead.
Cowboys starter Blake Battenfield struggled early, yielding three runs on four hits and five walks, but Carson Teel settled things down with 3 1/3 innings of solid relief. The only run Teel allowed was Eierman’s 20th home run of the season in the fifth.
OSU scored single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth inning to “hang in there,” Holliday said.
The game’s most crucial play before the ninth came in the sixth inning when Ryan Sluder was thrown out at home on a bang-bang play from the outfield.
“I thought it was close,” Holliday said. “That’s probably all I’m allowed to say.”
The Cowboys have made a living on fantastic finishes, so even down 3-0, the stress level was manageable. The comeback was actually expected.
“Yeah, it was awesome,” Cobb said. “The guys performed in the clutch, Garrett and Garrett have been really good for us all year.”
Cobb was spectacular until the final swing. He struck out six in 2 2/3 innings and didn’t allow a baserunner before Justin Paulsen singled to lead off the ninth.
Even with Paulsen on first and Eierman at the plate, the Cowboys were confident.
“Obviously coming off of scoring there, too, the energy was high,” Holliday said. “And obviously the tension builds because you’re building to the last out, which is the toughest out in baseball. So the kids were on the rail, they were engaged, we had our guy on the mound in Trey Cobb. … It was awesome. That’s what this is about. It’s why you fight so hard to get here. The moment right there just turned, and they had it.”
Said Cobb, “You’re sitting there on the bench and everybody in the dugout’s confident you’re gonna win the game now. I threw the ball pretty well, really, through those three innings. The kid made a great swing. Fastball low and out. All credit goes to him. He’s a great hitter.
“It’s tough. You never want to end the game with you throwing the ball and them getting a home run like that.”
“(Cobb) has pitched more times in our uniform than anyone in the history of OSU,” Holliday said. “Game was on the line, right guy (on the mound) — sometimes the other team, someone does something special. That’s what happened.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.