The Cowboys long considered themselves Big 12 championship worthy.
“That was kind of what our goal was,” said senior outfielder Saulyer Saxon, “we thought we were a championship-caliber team at the beginning of the season.”
Because, let’s face it, it’d been a long time since Oklahoma State won a regular season conference baseball championship. Dating-back-to-Gary Ward long. Never-in-the-Big 12 long.
Well, erase the doubt – the Cowboys sure have – sitting atop the Big 12 standings entering the final weekend, with a magic number of 2 for clinching at least a share of the title, while also owning the tiebreaker with second-place TCU.
“To see that goal come around, that would be awesome,” Saxon said. “And I think it would be huge for the program. I mean, it’s headed in the right direction, obviously. And I think it’s only going to get better.”
Ah, yet consider who stands in the way.
Yes, it’s the Big 12’s eighth-place team, but not just any eighth-place team. It’s Oklahoma.
Big ballparks and flowing brews.
Lost popups and dramatic long balls.
Bad blood and… more bad blood.
Bedlam, beginning Thursday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, then shifting to Tulsa’s ONEOK Field for Friday and Saturday games.
And yes, it’s Bedlam, even if the Sooners are lagging in the standings. Think they wouldn’t like to derail the Cowboys’ dogpile?
“Absolutely,” said OU center fielder Craig Aikin. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking, ‘If we could win two out of three and TCU takes care of business, or if we come in there and sweep, they can’t dogpile — even if they win the conference.’
“You can’t dogpile after a loss.”
OU shortstop Sheldon Neuse might be a freshman, but he’s finely tuned to the rivalry and what it means.
“We don’t want them to win it,” Neuse said. “Anything we can do to keep that from happening, we’ll do. We’re gonna try to get a sweep.”
That’s the spirit.
And that’s what makes this interesting, even with the two teams seemingly headed in different directions.
“Not the usual eighth-place team where you don’t have to worry as much going into the weekend,” said Cowboys right fielder Zach Fish. “They’re a good ball club. And they always play us really tough.
“We just have to make sure we bring our A game and play as well as we have been lately.”
Lately, the Cowboys have been good. Very good, standing at 39-13 overall and 16-5 in the conference.
Winners of 10 straight games and six straight league series, OSU hasn’t dropped a conference weekend set in nearly two months, dating back to the Big 12 opening series at Baylor. Since then, the Cowboys have won 24 of 29, soared up the rankings to as high as No. 6 and put themselves in position not only for some Big 12 hardware, but to maneuver their way into a possible NCAA national seed for the postseason, resulting in Regional and Super Regional rounds in Stillwater.
The Sooners, meanwhile, have gone in reverse, entering the weekend at 27-25 on the season, 6-12 in conference play.
After taking series’ from Kansas State and Kansas to start Big 12 play, OU has dropped its last five conference series and 15 of its last 18 games overall.
Pitching problems have betrayed the Sooners, who were in the national rankings as recently as April 7.
Still, this weekend dangles as a carrot.
“Sweeping them would send the message that we’re ready to go battle in the Big 12 Tournament,” said Sooner second baseman Hector Lorenzana.
The Cowboys have something much different in mind.
“When I first got here my freshman year, it was something you wanted to do, but you didn’t expect to get it done,” said OSU senior outfielder Aaron Cornell. “Now, it’s within grasp.”