STILLWATER — Josh Holliday never heard any strange voices offering cryptic messages upon taking over the Oklahoma State baseball rebuild.
Instead, the message was clear and agreed upon when Holliday and assistants Rob Walton and Marty Lees plotted the program’s future.
Build it and they will…
The coaches inherited some good players, yet also needed to supplement the roster. They could have gone for a quick fix and chased junior college talent ready to make an immediate impact. Or they could focus instead on high school players with more long-term appeal.
Build it and they will….
The choice was unanimous, with all three proven program builders agreeing that prep talent was the way, growing pains and all.
Build it and they will come on — that was the hope. And come on they have, with freshmen now filling vital roles for the Cowboys, complementing a strong veteran presence to fuel OSU’s run to a Super Regional, putting it on the doorstep of the school’s first College World Series berth in 15 years.
“We made the decision when we were hired to build this team through youth, and to do it the right way, so that we could hopefully establish long-term sustainability within the program,” Holliday said. “Kids playing here for three and four years and graduating and falling in love with Oklahoma State. And they wear this uniform with a lot of pride.
“That’s how we decided we were going to do this. And part of that was running a bunch of freshmen out there this year, knowing we were going to take some lumps. There were going to be some days where you scratch your head.
“Those kids have grown up.”
And they’ve grown into major roles.
Freshman Tyler Buffett, a right-handed pitcher from Albuquerque, now fills the No. 2 slot in the weekend rotation. He owns a 2-1 record with a 2.95 earned run average in 55 innings, including 10 starts.
Freshman Blake Battenfield, a right-hander from Claremore, is a key cog in the bullpen. His 26 appearances rank third on the staff. And he’s compiled a 4-0 record with a 1.70 ERA.
Freshman Trey Cobb, a Broken Arrow product, is another valuable bullpen piece, with a 2.62 ERA.
The Cowboys have also gotten contributions from Jenks’ Thomas Hatch and Amarillo’s Garrett Williams, who have been up and down, yet combined for 6 wins and two saves. Yep, they’re freshmen.
“Every time they stepped on the mound, they got better and better,” OSU catcher Bryan Case said of the freshman pitchers. “Being a catcher, you catch their bullpens all through the fall, you see where they start up to now. It’s just night and day.
“All the hard work they’re putting in is paying off and it’s rewarding for everyone involved.”
Veterans are the headliners on this Cowboys team. Zach Fish, Big 12 Player of the Year. First baseman Tanner Krietemeier. Outfielder and catcher Gage Green. Outfielder Saulyer Saxon. Ace Jon Perrin. Versatile reliever Vince Wheeland. Closer and all-time OSU saves leader Brendan McCurry. All were Frank Anderson recruits.
Holliday’s first wave includes shortstop Donnie Walton and right fielder Conor Costello, sophomores who have starred in this postseason. Tim Arakawa, a junior college transfer and another Holliday find, has been a clutch hitter as the everyday second baseman. Pitcher Alex Hackerott and outfielder Corey Hassell have also helped as sophomores.
Yet it’s difficult to project the Cowboys coming so far without the influence of this freshman class.
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