STILLWATER — Oklahoma State’s first run-in with a quality club didn’t go so well, as the Cowboys looked almost inept in a March 2 loss to Arizona State, striking out 15 times.
Two months later, to the day, they and their profile project much better.
Now at No. 9 in the national rankings, OSU opened its nonconference series against those same Sun Devils — and one of the same pitchers who handcuffed them before — with an 8-5 win Friday night at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
It was the fourth straight win for the Cowboys and their 18th in 23 games, pushing their record to 33-13 overall.
And it was a major departure from that March 2 meeting in Surprise, Ariz.
“I’d like to think we’re a better team, sure,” said OSU coach Josh Holliday. “That particular day we went out there and they were awfully good and we weren’t at our best. A lot of games have come and gone since then.”
No. 26 Arizona State rolled into Stillwater with two of the pitchers who combined for those 15 strikeouts — left-handers Brett Lilek and Ryan Kellogg — scheduled to start the first two games of the series. Lilek, who entered with a 1.75 earned run average, managed but eight outs this time. He was roughed up for six runs in 2 2/3 innings, although with little help from his defense.
Still, after the Sun Devils spotted him a 3-2 lead in the second, Lilek walked two of the first three batters he faced in the third, then allowed a run-scoring double to Tanner Krietemeier to tie it. A two-run error ended his day.
“We struggled at the beginning of the season,” said Krietemeier, who went 3-for-3 with two doubles, “but lately our game has been coming together. That’s been a big confidence booster. It’s nice to go out and play our game.”
The Cowboys tacked on two more runs against reliever Eric Melbostad to lead 8-3, while the Sun Devils managed but a two-run rally in the seventh.
OSU pieced together its pitching, with Jon Perrin starting and lasting 4 1/3, before Alex Hackerott, Vince Wheeland and Brendan McCurry followed.
It wasn’t a particularly clean game on either side, with just one of ASU’s runs earned, as the Cowboys committed three errors themselves.
Yet in OSU’s dugout, it was a satisfying game.
“It’s a great win,” Holliday said. “We beat a pitcher tonight that, the first time we saw him earlier this year, looked like a major leaguer. For us to come out and be so competitive with Lilek, who is an extremely talented kid, and fight together as a team up and down … it wasn’t beautiful. But they never are.
“But the moments where we found ways to score and respond were great. That’s a high level team that we are playing and a very sound win for our team. Some mistakes, sure, but no mistakes in effort and no mistakes in heart.”
And unmistakably, a win.
And a quality win, against a traditional power positioned two spots higher than OSU in the RPI at 35 entering the night.
Now the Cowboys get another look at Kellogg, in a 3 p.m. Saturday start that also stands as Senior Day for OSU.
“They walked into our park and you’ve got to defend your home turf,” said Cowboys second baseman Tim Arakawa, who got his team started with a two-run double in the second. “We went out (to Arizona) and we didn’t really play our best game. We weren’t that hot when we were out there. Now we’re starting to play really good baseball.
“This was somewhat of a statement game, but we’ve got to come back out here tomorrow and Sunday still hungry and humble. I’m excited about it.”